Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pop Culture Class featuring the X-Men!

Yes, it's that time again. Time for another lesson in pop culture, so put on your pop culture hats and let's get started. Oh, and remember; it always stays crunchy in milk!
Before we get into the movie itself, let's talk about some trailers. I'm a big fan of trailers. My wife frequently gets upset with me for wanting to watch them on DVDs. She wants to just go straight to the movie, but I like to watch the trailers. Today, two trailers I hadn't seen before.

First up is the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Now, I've been seeing blurbs for this  one for a while, but I've been ignoring them. I still remember the disaster that was Tim Burton's attempt to revive the Apes franchise, and I couldn't keep the bad taste out of my mouth whenever I saw anything about this new one. I haven't been interested in checking out the trailer for it, so it took having it shoved in front of a movie that I was watching for me to pay attention to it. The first hook was James Franco. I can't help it; I like the guy. I'm not saying he's the best actor ever, but, my gosh, he's impressive. He took over 60 hours of class in one semester (and I thought I was impressive when I did 24 hours one semester). The next hook is that this isn't simply another ape movie. It's a morality tale about what we're doing to our world and the irresponsibility with which we use technology. I went from having less than zero interest in this film to really wanting to see it.

I have only thing to say about the other trailer: Hugh Jackman. Okay, well, Real Steel, surprisingly, looks like it may prove to be a decent film even without Mr. Jackman. However, Hugh being in it almost makes it a must see for me. Which, actually, is surprising, since, when I first heard they were making a movie based on Rock'em Sock'em Robots, I was aghast with disbelief. I mean, what's next Operation: The Movie? Or, maybe, Monopoly? Wait, I know! Battleship! The producers have, wisely, done away with any ties to the toy, at this point, and, what's left, is what looks like a genuinely good movie.

At this point, have you forgotten what movie we're here to see?

X-Men: First Class gets the opening exactly right. It returns to the same scene that opened the first X-Men movie, so we see, again, young Erik Lehnsherr being dragged away from his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. We get slightly more of what happens to Erik, this time, though, and we also get to meet Sebastian Shaw, played expertly by Kevin Bacon.

However, from there, the movie bounces around and forward through time and feels a little rushed. Like there was more they should have been showing but had to cut it all out. That's always difficult when they're trying to provide enough back story and introduce several characters all at the same time, and they almost pulled it off smoothly, but not quite. Things (mostly) smooth out when we get to the present day of 1962. Oliver Platt gets a role, and, I have to say, I love Oliver Platt, so it was a joy to see him in  the movie. Rose Byrne, of Bridesmaids, is in as Moira MacTaggert, and she is also quite good.

The main failing of the movie may just be a failing in me, although I'm not convinced. It might be one caused by the studio, in  this case Fox, not Marvel, not really knowing what audience they want to target. Marvel seems to have worked this out, for the most part, in  their own movies, but the X-Men franchise seems to be struggling with it. The conflict lies in how to deal with fans of the actual comic books. If you stray too far from the comics, the fans get into an uproar, but, sometimes, if you stay too close to the comic, the broader audience won't go see the movie at all (I could be wrong, but I think Warner Brothers is about to have this problem with Green Lantern (which is not to say that the movie's not going to have a big opening, but I think that may be where it ends)). When movies adapted from comics first started getting popular, that's how the studios approached it, balancing fans against people that never read comics, people who only knew of the characters peripherally. I'm finding my issue lies in a third area, that group of people that at one time followed comics but has been away from them for an extended length of time. This is the audience, the nostalgia audience, that Fox keeps messing up with. And it's a much larger audience than the audience of current fans. These are the people with the kids who, if the movie is good, will take their kids back to the same movie over and over again.
All of that to say that one particular character in the movie really bothered me. Bothered me to the extent that it was distracting to me. For someone currently following the X-Men comics, this character shouldn't be an issue, but, as I watched the movie, not having even looked inside an X-Men comic published in the last decade, I couldn't see Azazel as more than a cheap Nightcrawler rip off. That character, in particular, decreased my enjoyment of the movie, because Nightcrawler has always been one of my favorite X-Men.

Of course, I came home and did my background research before I started this post and discovered Azazel is a character that's been introduced since my sojourn in the comic book world ended. And he's such a Nightcrawler rip off because he's, yes, Nightcrawler's father. I won't go into my issues with that, since they have nothing to do with the movie. Most people, though, aren't going to go home after the movie and look up the character and find out there's a (unspoken) reason he's in the film. Again, maybe my reaction is just mine, but I would be surprised.

The only real failing of the movie is that it succumbs to that long held movie tradition of the crash course training event whereby a completely untrained individual or group becomes expert at what they're doing in a matter of moments. In this case, the training of the X-Men lasts an entire week, and they actually comment on it during the movie, "Look at what we've accomplished in just a week..." For a movie that spans 18 years, you'd think they'd have worked out a better way than to cram all the training into that last week of the storyline, but no... It's unfortunate.

Other than that, it's a good movie. Fox seems to have learned from its mistakes with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, although they may have also created some continuity issues between the two movies. Maybe they'll work those out at some point, but I doubt it. Now that I know Azazel is a real character, I'd actually go see it again. There's a lot to absorb in a movie like this, and it would just be nice to watch it without getting prickly every time Azazel pops onto the screen.

As for the cast and characters, as I already implied, Kevin Bacon made an excellent villain. He's undervalued as an actor, so it's good to see him in a high profile role, again.

January Jones is perfectly cast as Emma Frost, the white queen of the Hellfire Club. She goes from the role of the ice queen Betty Draper (Mad Men) to embodying that image literally. She doesn't show a lot of range, but, then, she doesn't need to.

James McAvoy is a pleasure as Professor X, or, really, just Charles. There are glimmers of the character as performed by Patrick Stewart in McAvoy's performance, and, really, what more can you ask for than that? The only issues with the character come from the writing and not the acting. The issue stems from the desire to create a more basic conflict between Charles and Eric than one just of method. They play Xavier not just as wanting peaceful co-existence between mutant and human but as wanting the humanizing of mutants. Not that he wants them to not be mutants, but he wants them to be indistinguishable from humans. He sort of comes off as a bigot in this respect.

The purist is, of course, Magneto. He believes in embracing mutantness, and, well, if you've seen the other X-Men movies, you know where this goes. Michael Fassbender does an admirable job in the role. Once he dons the helmet, he even rather looks like Ian McKellen.

It was nice to see Banshee included. He's another of those X-Men that I really like that's often overlooked. He's an interesting character that they're really never delved into enough, so it was cool to see him in the mix. Caleb Jones did an adequate job in the role, but, honestly, I just kept seeing Rupert Grint superimposed in the role.

Which brings us to Jennifer Lawrence. I'm sure all of you fans of The Hunger Games have been wondering when I'd get to her. Unfortunately, I don't have anything really positive to say about her. No raving about her performance. There's also nothing bad to say about her performance; it just wasn't anything that stood out. Possibly, the role didn't require anything of her other than to stand around and be herself, look pretty, but Mystique never really came into focus. There was a lack of emotional intensity that should have been present.

Oh, and there's an awesome Wolverine cameo. That alone is almost worth the movie even if it had been horrible. Since it wasn't horrible, the Wolverine cameo really is icing on the cake. Not awesome cake, but good cake. With awesome icing.


  1. I'm going to go and see X-Men: First Class today at the theater some time. Thanks for the review!

  2. Awesome review of X-Men~ very thorough! A friend of mine worked on the set of Real Steel and he said Hugh Jackman was really nice. He (the friend, not Mr. Jackman) sent us a few souvenir penant flags from the movie set. I'm so excited to see it!

    And I love watching trailers too. I would watch a whole movie's worth of trailers--drives my husband crazy :)

  3. I love movie trailers...I am always on apple movie trailers seeing what is coming soon! However I am with your wife on the going straight to the movie when I am watching a dvd. I just read the first book in the Hunger Games series. I thought I would try to read them before seeing the movie.

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  5. Thanks for your thoughts on First Class! I can't wait to see it.

    I'm also excited for the new Apes movie. It looks great!

    (Sorry for deleting the above comment, by the way.)

  6. Well, Michael, how did you like it?

    Jess: Yeah, everything I've seen about Mr. Jackmanleads me to think he's a genuinely nice guy. He's one of my favorite actors.

    Jennifer: I'm not surprised about you and trailers. heh
    I'm not sure how I feel about Hunger Games. Everyone keeps going on and on (and on) about how good it is, but the premise just doesn't attract me at all. However, if I do read them, I think it will have to be after the movie. My experience with reading a book just prior to the movie is that I can't enjoy the movie.

    Kelly: No problem on the deletion :) And, yeah, doesn't Apes look great!

  7. Wow, you thought a LOT about X-Men: First Class! I just came out of it thinking something like... "I enjoyed that" :-) And that was as deep as I went. I haven't followed the comics, so I only know what I've seen in other movies.

  8. Yeah, I tend to be that way with, well, everything. When I (much) younger, my friends used to get mad at me because I would cause them to disenjoy things (after the fact) because of my (according to them) over analysis of, well, whatever it was. Frequently movies. The disparity was that I could perfectly enjoy something despite the flaws, because I made allowances for them. My friends, who hadn't seen the flaws, were then upset about finding out they existed at a all.