1980 retrospective: You have learned much, young Star Wars
The Empire Strikes Back, later re-titled Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back is directed by Irvin Kershner and stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, and Peter Mayhew. George Lucas served as executive producer and wrote the film's story.
In 1977, George Lucas forever changed the film industry and the blockbuster concept with the release of his fun, fresh, and exciting Star Wars. The success was off the charts, giving way to helping shape Star Wars into the worldwide phenomenon that it is today. Taking into account the way that A New Hope ended, a sequel was inevitable, and the now millions of roaring Star Wars fans would certainly come back hungry for more. By 1980, the year The Empire Strikes Back was released, there was only one such notable example I can think of in which the sequel arguably surpassed its predecessor. That sequel being The Godfather Part II having out shined the worldly beloved The Godfather, though if you want my personal take, I thought the first Godfather was impossible to top (sorry to all you Godfather Part II and III fans out there). But with regards to Star Wars, how could George Lucas and company possibly find a way to not only keep his franchise going strong, but make it even better and more interesting than it already was before? The impossible did indeed happen. Lucas worked and worked his Star Wars brain cells enough to not only deliver a worthy follow-up to one of the cinema's most lauded treasures in A New Hope, but deliver a sequel considerably better than A New Hope.
Lucas heavily limited his involvement in The Empire Strikes Back's production, wanting be independent from Hollywood and also hoping to finance the film with his own money. It seemed like a foolish decision, as many Hollywood producers back then scoffed at the idea of investing one's own money in a project. Turns out the only real trouble that Lucas had during development was in writing the screenplay alongside science fiction author Leigh Brackett. Brackett wrote a first draft in early 1978, but she died of cancer before Lucas could get a chance to speak with her about it. This left Lucas with having to write the next draft himself, which is when he thought up the idea of using Episode numbering as well as the film's infamous plot twist. Lucas offered the directorial role to Irvin Kershner, but Kershner initially turned it down believing that he could never match the success that A New Hope achieved. Kershner's agent made him change his mind, though.
If we all thought A New Hope was a fun and exciting space adventure, then we have another thing coming with The Empire Strikes Back. The fifth episode in the Star Wars universe belongs in a rare breed of films that can be accurately described as a story in which the villain wins. I mean, the title The Empire Strikes Back would automatically tell you that this is a point in the Star Wars time period in which the Empire and the The Dark Side experience some form of success. It's not so open-ended like Wrath of Khan is as a title. So even though this is a film that has its villains emerge victorious, there's no reason to feel cheated or overly upset because there is no sense of closure with this movie. Yes, there will be another sequel. And besides, where's the excitement in watching nothing but the heroes succeed? And as this is a Star Wars villains' film, it requires a darker tone and a more ambitious approach in handling its character development. There is no greater indication of this than the infamous twist, which is so well known in the public eye that I don't know why I'm hesitating to just state it. I suppose I want to be kind to those of you out there who may be reading this and just happen to be new to Star Wars.
Taking place three years after the end of A New Hope, the Rebel Alliance is experiencing hard times in their on-going fight with the Galactic Empire. The Rebels, led by Princess Leia, were driven away from their home base on Yavin IV and set up a new base on the freezing ice planet, Hoth. Luke Skywalker sees the force ghost of the deceased Obi-Wan Kenobi, who instructs Luke to travel out to the swampy Dagobah system in order to find the Jedi Master Yoda and train with him to learn more about the ways of the Force. The Empire locates the Rebel base on Hoth and forces the Rebels to flee once again. Luke travels with R2-D2 to the Dagobah system, while Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C3PO fly on the Millennium Falcon, attempting to escape from Darth Vader and the Imperial Fleet. Han, Leia, Chewy, and C3PO eventually make it to Cloud City, where they meet up with Lando Calrissian, an old friend of Han.
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and company all reprise their respective roles from A New Hope, and it is worth mentioning how much better Hamill, Ford, and Fisher are with their acting and handling of lines from the script. They all show a lot more confidence in what they're doing, not seeming as if they are trying to force anything or look as if they fear being fired at a moment's notice. But the thing that is really ironic about this film is how this was the least amount of involvement that George Lucas had in a Star Wars episode, and it is considered to this day by many to be the best chapter of the Star Wars saga. Considering that the film continued to take the franchise in the right direction and has basically everything you could want in a Star Wars film, how could you not say it's not the best Star Wars episode? Or let's take it a step further? What's not to say that The Empire Strikes Back should be considered the greatest film sequel of all time?
- The battle on Hoth is the film's most memorable action sequence, in which the Rebel fighter jets combat the Empire's sturdy AT-AT Walkers. Lucas was inspired by the tripod alien ships from H.G. Well's War of the Worlds in his creation of the Imperial walkers, and to successfully create the stop motion movements of the Walkers, animators studied the walking patterns of elephants. If you've seen an elephant walk, you can see quite a striking resemblance with that of how the Walkers maneuver. Anyway, what makes this battle so neat is how it really is a metaphor for the entire movie: The Rebels desperately try to combat the Empire, but this time around, Darth Vader and company are just too much to overcome. The Rebels' guns and turrets stand no chance against the mighty force of the Walker blasters, which easily destroy everything in sight. Even better is how the film can't mask anything or attempt to be sly with its animation or effects, having the battle take place in a bright, snowy environment where basically everything is in plain sight. Lucas planned for this to happen, feeling that he didn't want to "cheat" in a way that someone could with a space battle.
- Luke and Darth Vader engage in the film's lightsaber duel, and much like the Hoth battle, the duel continues to effectively tell the story without plummeting into sheer fan service. Luke tries several times to swipe at Vader, but Vader is able to counter nearly every one of his moves. Vader knows that Luke is good, but that he still has much training to still complete, and because so, Luke isn't able to win. Luke has his lightsaber knocked out of his hands, and gets surprised by a Vader sneak attack, which would be typical setbacks for a premature Jedi.
- It is a rather painful exercise to try and talk bad about such a highly regarded film like The Empire Strikes Back is. The only thing that I can say did upset me in some way was how little C-3PO made an impact on the story. The majority of the film is him following Han and Leia around, usually objecting to anything they choose to do and telling them the odds of survival, a massive no-no in the Star Wars universe. Having a character be annoying in a film is one thing, and that one thing is usually comic relief, but the goal should be to properly using said character's annoyance in a way that can enhance the story, instead of having them come off as wasted space. Han and Leia pretty much take the words right out of your mouth whenever they tell C-3PO to shut up, even going so far as to temporarily shut him down. And in case you were wondering, no, C-3PO is in no way annoying like Jar-Jar Binks was (not even close).
As with all great films, every great thing you could say about it has pretty much been mentioned before by someone else. So what possible new thing could I possibly leave you with about the most acclaimed Star Wars episode? Only this: if there ever was a debate about the greatest movie sequel of all time, then I'm stumped to think of a better choice than The Empire Strikes Back. Not The Godfather Part II, not Terminator 2, and not even Aliens, the latter two of these three being right up there with The Empire Strikes Back in my book. It didn't seem possible that a film as popular and as influential as A New Hope could be matched, let alone leapfrogged for the title "Best Star Wars Movie". But George Lucas did it. He made the impossible happen. He took a story, an idea, a galaxy of endless potential, and a saga that won the hearts and adoration of millions worldwide, and he made it even better. There will never be another The Empire Strikes Back, no matter how ambitious that the new trilogy gets with its new story. One can only wonder what this film would have been like had George Lucas been the director and maintained more creative control.
Recommend? Absolutely, though see A New Hope first.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Captain America: The First Avenger is directed by Joe Johnston and stars Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, and Stanley Tucci.
The first thing that I want to briefly discuss is the rather confusing title that is Captain America: The First Avenger. Strictly going by the MCU's time period, no question about it that Captain America was the first Avenger. This, however, is not the first movie in Phase One of the MCU, which had started with Iron Man back in 2008. So shouldn't Iron Man be considered the first Avenger, since he is the first one to be addressed in Phase One?
Water under the bridge. Let the misleading title not take away from all of the wonderfully good things that Captain America: The First Avenger does as a movie in and of itself, even though it can't help but be another advertisement for the first Avengers get-together. A superhero movie can do a lot of things, and as it normally is with Marvel, the end goal is to produce a fun and exciting adventure that doesn't attempt to be anything notably groundbreaking. And that's exactly what we get here.
At its core, Captain America: The First Avenger is a faithful origin story of Steve Rogers and how he came to be America's patriotic super-soldier. The plot begins in March 1942, where Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Weaving) steals a valuable artifact called the Tesseract. Schmidt is able to harness the power of the Tesseract to create a series of advanced weaponry as well as enhancing himself with its energy. In New York City, we meet the paper-thin Steve Rogers (Evans), who, despite his physical setbacks, is passionate about serving his country. Rogers' passion catches the interest of German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci), who recruits Rogers into becoming part of his super-soldier experiment. Rogers successfully undergoes the experiment, being turned into a taller, beefy fighter. After Rogers rescues a child from a Nazi spy, he becomes a national icon going by the name Captain America. Rogers goes on tours throughout the country to promote efforts in fighting the war, until he is finally given the opportunity to use his newly acquired abilities to combat the enemy. This eventually leads Rogers towards a confrontation with Schmidt, who, after undergoing his own super-soldier experiment with the Tesseract, eventually takes on the name Red Skull.
It would seem quite easy for a Captain America movie to model itself on emphasizing American nationalism and ideas of justice and liberty, but that's not what's going on here. Captain America shows his passion for serving his country by being out there in the heat of the action, willing to take life-threatening risks when need be. We don't waste time with pretentious speeches about serving the men alongside you or about what embodies the spirit of the red, white, and blue.
- The action is fast and explosive, exactly what you'd want from a summer popcorn film like this one. Some might get turned off by the extended use of CGI, but the film is always moving along at a steady pace so as to never get bogged down with excessive fists and bullets.
- Hugo Weaving plays a surprisingly convincing Red Skull, being able to generate enough menace to come out as one of the stronger villains in the MCU, which has always been hampered by weak villains.
- The movie flirts with out-of-line humor, which is still to this day my biggest gripe with the MCU. This problem was its most tamed during the first go-around with the MCU characters and is far worse in later MCU films. And just to be fair, it's not like none of the dialogue is funny at all. I did get a few good laughs.
So while Captain America: The First Avenger is by no means a masterpiece of the superhero genre, it excels in the areas that it needs to, delivering high-octane action and an enjoyable story to boot. And with a nice villainous performance by Hugo Weaving, this early addition to the MCU is definitely one of its better ones. This is my personal pick for first film to watch if you happen to be brand new to the MCU.
Power Rangers: Krispy Kreme style
Power Rangers, also known by the name Saban's Power Rangers, is directed by Dean Israelite and stars Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, and Elizabeth Banks.
The Power Rangers were both desperately begging for a decent reboot and asking to leave well enough alone. The very name Power Rangers I find impossible to say without repressing a chuckle, even though it's a far better name than something like the Morphin Squad or something else stupid. If you've seen at least snippets of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers 90's flick or TV show, you will quickly learn that the Rangers fighting a barrage of baddies comes off as cheesy, harmless fun. For the most part, it was aware of what it was and didn't try to be anything overly serious or melodramatic. That is not quite the case here in 2017, where director Dean Israelite attempts to morph the story of the superhero quintet into a somber teenage drama, despite maintaining a humorous edge.
The Power Rangers consist of five social outcasts in the town of Angel Grove. There's Jason Scott (Montgomery), who blows his football career after a failed prank attempt. Then there's Kimberly Hart (Scott), part of a cyberbullying incident involving an image of one of her friends. Third is Billy Cranston (Cyler), an autistic, nerdy loner. Fourth is Trini (Becky G), a girl questioning her sexual orientation which has led to her having a shortage of friends. Finally, there's Zack (Lin), a bilingual teenager who is taking care of his sick mother. The five come together at a mine one night where they uncover the the power source of the Rangers: the Power Coins. Each one of the quintet takes a coin, discovering later on that they each have become stronger and have acquired superhuman powers. The five eventually come into contact with the consciousnesses of the robot Alpha 5 (Hader) and Zordon (Cranston). Zordon informs the five about the history of the Rangers and the existence of the evil Rita Repulsa (Banks), who betrayed the Rangers in an earlier time and is currently in the process of resurrecting. Rita works on finding pieces of gold to raise her servant Goldar, who will find the Zeo Crystal, which could destroy all life on Earth if Rita gets it into her possession. Zordon tells the new Rangers that Rita will be back to full power in eleven days, and if they intend to stop her, they must bond together and discover how to morph.
The main issue with this version of the Power Rangers is how middle of the road it is. This is a movie that nails average on the head so hard that it's actually kind of impressive. For as many good things that I could possibly say about this movie, there is an equal number of bad things. Israelite directs this movie with no obvious ambition to mighty morph the Power Rangers into something audiences can invest in and dissect with eager curiosity. And at the same time, he directs the movie with careful attention at avoiding overbearing goofiness that would evoke more eye rolls than laughs. Credit the movie with this: it's the first blockbuster superhero movie to feature LGBTQ and autistic superheroes.
- The movie is well-casted. Each of the Rangers gets a moment to be funny or do something meaningful to the plot, and you might notice that each Ranger has a different type of ethnicity since an all-white cast would most likely have been met with hellfire from the passionate, diversity-obsessed folks in the audience.
- You might be wondering why did I mention Krispy Kreme in the beginning? That, my friends, is because a major integral plot point in the movie involves Krispy Kreme donuts. Let me repeat that. A MAJOR INTEGRAL PLOT POINT OF POWER RANGERS INVOLVES KRISPY KREME DONUTS! Product placement happens all the time in movies, but you really reach something utterly bizarre and over the top when your story depends on the use of such product placement. Of all the things in the world that Power Rangers could have chosen to advertise, they choose delicious donuts. They certainly thought it could pass off as a funny joke. All I think it does is be the cue for thousands of people to place their palms in their faces.
I really am struggling to come up with reasonable high and low points, simply because the movie is just so average in every conceivable way. There's nothing horrible here by any means, and at the same time, there's nothing great. The movie tries to be more gritty and serious than every previous Power Rangers installment, and it doesn't really work out. It's also trying to be humorous and charming, and it doesn't really work there either. Every good cancels out every bad, leaving you with a rather empty and not-very-fun superhero flick. Sorry, Power Rangers. Your cinematic morphin time is still yet to come.
(because that's as average a grade as I can give)
Mother knows best
mother! is directed by Darren Aronofsky and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
If there was such a thing as the race for most polarizing film of the year, then it should stop right here and now, because I don't see any way that any other film that has yet to be released or has already been released this year could possibly provide any meaningful competition to the likes of mother! To have your film be regarded as polarizing is usually as much of a complement as it is a harsh criticism, and it's usually the case for movies that go for the artsy, thought-provoking approach like mother! goes for. If you had to ask me what my thoughts are on how the Average Joe's and Plain Jane's of the world perceive artsy, make-you-think movies nowadays, I would tell you that today's Average Joes and Plain Janes don't like those said films, because who wants to go to the theater anymore and really engage their brains with what is unfolding on-screen? Go see an action film. You've got your hero, your villain, and a basic plot. Nothing else to really think about as you lie back all cozy in your seat, enjoying a barrage of guns and explosions. Or go see a cheap horror movie, where you spend 90 minutes just to get some jolts into your system. Now, what if someone suggested that you go see a movie that has a lot of symbolism, thematic depth, and thought-provoking ideas? Unless you happen to be a dedicated cinephile, the most likely answer you will give is "Nah man. I'll pass."
I am one to vouch for the fact that thought-provoking, analysis-heavy movies have lost touch with mainstream theater audiences today, usually finding themselves buried under a barrage of big budget tentpole films that require little to no brain power to follow and understand. Why else would this movie get an average F grade from people on CinemaScore? Aronofsky is purposefully taking people out of their comfort zone and forcing them to work up the juices in their brains. On the other hand, it could just be that my assumption of audiences becoming dumber is wrong (I hope that's the case), and the issue is actually that Aronofsky's attempt here at being clever and deep isn't executed properly. When you have a movie that polarizes people like this one does, there doesn't really exist a middle ground in which someone can just brush off the film as passable and decent. It's either perceived as a masterful work of art or a hot mess. My personal feeling toward the film still remains indecisive, being right on the fence dividing masterpiece from piece of crap.
The basic story centers on a couple played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Bardem's character, simply known as Him, is an acclaimed poet currently suffering from writer's block. Lawrence goes by Mother, and her occupation is never stated during the film. She spends her days renovating the large, Victorian-style house that the two live in. One day, an old Man (Ed Harris) stumbles upon the house asking for a place to stay. The Poet agrees to let the Man stay, despite the objections from Mother. It is soon revealed that the Man has a wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the couple make themselves at home. Mother doesn't take well to this at all, but it only gets worse from there when more and more people arrive at the house, sending things into utter chaos.
The first immediate sign that mother! is attempting to be something other-worldly is the fact that no character in the movie is given a proper name. This is also a sign that a lot of what goes on in the movie is taking place in some surrogate reality. The one other movie that most comes to mind is David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., which follows a strikingly similar pattern to the way mother! structures its plot. The first three quarters of both movies follow a straightforward line, until the movie falls into some out-of-this-world dream-like state that would completely lose all of the objective, logical viewers in the audience. But unlike Mulholland Dr., mother! climaxes with an absolutely apeshit finale that isn't supposed to be dream-like, and caps off with an ending that supposedly brings everything full circle, where as Mulholland Dr. sort of leaves you hanging up in the air. If you take away the last ten or so minutes, mother! seems to become more and more nonsensical by the minute. But even when considering what happens in those final ten or so minutes, I'm still not sure if the movie still doesn't make any sense, or if it does achieve master status.
I want to think that Aronofsky is intending for his movie to be interpreted in many ways. After thinking through everything I saw, I just cannot shake the notion that everything that happens is meant to serve as religious allegories. We're not talking "meaning of life" or anything profoundly surreal like that. We're talking biblical references and religious zealots and all those sort of things. With that said, mother! may very well be a turn off to the hardcore atheists and other non-religious folks on top of the objective Spocks in the audience. But maybe it's not a religiously-themed movie at all. I think it is, and I haven't found anything to convince me otherwise.
- All themes and ideas aside, it's worth nothing the strong performances given by everyone, especially Lawrence and Bardem. Lawrence has already shown how she is able to successfully display a full range of emotions from her work in the likes of The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook. Here, she really nails turning herself into an emotional wreck who is helpless to stop the madness unfolding right before her very eyes. Bardem seems really invested in his role as well, and he nicely complements Lawrence.
- One thing I can say for sure that I hated about mother! is its poor camera work. Nearly every scene looks as if it was filmed handheld, but the worst part is how the camera has an unhealthy obsession with Jennifer Lawrence's head. Every time she's on screen, it's either right up in her face or close up on the back of her head. There's also a few shaky cam sequences that don't succeed at generating any sense of tension or uneasiness when Lawrence's Mother is wandering around the house, going out of her mind. I spent the movie desperately begging for a medium or wide shot in which the camera didn't seem to move, and I don't recall ever getting it.
I was at first tempted to not give this movie a grade because of how indecisive I felt about it. After thinking it over enough, I can say that I did enjoy the film, though its allegorical narrative isn't as effective as Aronofsky was hoping it to be. The bad camera work is also a major setback. Perhaps the movie is secretly brilliant and people just aren't thinking about it in the right way. But how can we? Aronofsky leaves so much up to interpretation, and some of what he does leave open-ended doesn't really seem to make sense when you think about how everything comes together in the end. Is it about religion? It is about the human condition? Whatever it is, mother! should be the most recent example of how a controversial, symbolic storyline can be cinema's biggest double edged sword.
Recommend? If you know someone who you can talk about it with, then I would see it.
I have seen the future, Captain. There are no flags.
Captain America is directed by Albert Pyun and stars Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Scott Paulin, Ned Beatty, and Darren McGavin.
Would you believe me if I told you that there actually was a point in time when DC was the top dog of the superhero world and Marvel was nothing more than a hapless laughing stock? If I had to guess, an accurate estimate of that time period would be the late 1970's all the way through the end of the 20th century. DC was finding success with the Richard Donner Superman films and later with the Tim Burton Batman films, while poor Marvel was trying to get some kind of mileage out of their lame Captain America TV movies and short-lived Spider-Man live-action TV series. And while comic book movies weren't exactly the cat's meow until they became huge money-makers in the 21st century, DC was at least making them respectable. Marvel was like that one poor kid at school who just couldn't find a way to fit in, and every time that kid tried to do something meaningful, he got laughed at and berated by the bigger, meaner kids.
Let's just say that Marvel was basically irrelevant before X-Men, Sam Raimi, and the MCU all came into the picture to help perform a complete U-turn and turn a bad joke into an unstoppable juggernaut. But let's rewind for a second. I'm going to ask that you pretend it's 1990 and you are a dedicated fan of Marvel's comic book superheroes. Also pretend that you're aware of those awful late 70's Captain America TV movies, the Spider-Man live action series, and that Incredible Hulk TV series (which, to be fair, isn't terrible). Things aren't going well for your beloved Marvel superheroes, who are just no match for the likes of Superman and Batman. But not to worry! For there is reason to be confident. You have come to understand that Marvel has pretty much hit rock bottom, and what happens once you hit rock bottom? The only way you can go is up, so Marvel is most likely to rebound and get back on track. The future is bright!
Well my friend, have I got some bad news for you...
Hitting the UK in 1990 and in the US two years later was Marvel's first attempt at giving the Captain America character a feature-length production, and oh my goodness, did it go horribly wrong. This was not Marvel hitting rock bottom. This was Marvel taking a jackhammer and burrowing their way through the imaginary bedrock of rock bottom and entering an unholy sanctuary that only the most heinous and unforgiving works of cinema would ever dare to breach. It's a satanic realm where the likes of Movie 43 and Manos: The Hands of Fate have dinner parties, and only the worst of the worst of the worst have reservations. And while Captain America isn't anywhere near as repulsive as Movie 43 and Manos, it still should not be viewed by any normally functioning human being. The first time I saw it, which actually wasn't terribly long ago, I was simply astonished at just how bad the whole thing was. And just so I could feel better about writing this review, I forced myself to watch it again, and nothing changed. I am positive that a lot of people don't even know this movie exists and for good reason. The film had a shaky production history and a limited theatrical release, and anyone who had the misfortune of seeing it most likely buried any memory of seeing it firmly into the dirt.
We can talk all day about all of the oh so many reasons as to why this version of Captain America turned into such an atrocious misfire, and I guess it's worth starting with the plot. The movie opens in Fascist Italy in 1936, where the government breaks into the home of boy genius Tadzio. Tadzio is taken away to be the subject of an experimental project to create a so-called supersoldier. One of the scientists, Dr. Maria Vaselli (Carla Cassola), objects to Tadzio being the test subject and flees to the United States. Seven years later, the U.S. government selects Steve Rogers (Salinger) out of 600 possible volunteers to be America's test subject for their own supersoldier. The experiment proves successful, transforming Rogers into Captain America. The Captain goes to confront Tadzio, who now goes by the name Red Skull. Red Skull defeats Captain America and straps him to a missile aimed at Washington D.C. Captain America is able to detour the rocket towards the middle of nowhere in snowy Alaska, where he remains frozen solid for fifty years. Researchers find Rogers in the ice and manage to dig him out. Rogers thaws out from the ice and runs away, still believing he's in the 1940's. Rogers eventually finds out that the Red Skull is still out and about, needing to find a way to stop him once and for all.
So the plot seems pretty cut and dry with Captain America going up against his archenemy in Red Skull., except that the movie can't even get its basic plot right. When Captain America isn't fighting Red Skull, the movie plays off like some bizarre soap opera that looks like it should've been cancelled after two episodes. It also zips through several scenes, barely giving you time to soak in whatever you just watched and killing many chances the movie has at providing any sort of excitement or emotional appeal.
- Captain America is best enjoyed with a close-knit group of bad movie loving friends and a few cold drinks in hand. I am not one who finds Captain America hilariously bad. I find it just shockingly bad. There is absolutely nothing about this movie worthy of any small semblance of praise except its potential for a wild drinking game with friends.
- Basically everything is a low point, but I'll pick and choose what stands out the most. And what does stand out more than anything is the truly horrendous editing, done by some guy named Jon Poll. Truly I say, this is some of the worst editing I have ever seen in a feature length film. It mostly comes during the action/fight scenes which are constructed using a fast cutting technique that completely obscures what's going on. I felt a physical resistance from my eyes after just a few seconds of the rapid fire cuts, and the thing that really grinds my gears is how unnecessary it is. I would not be surprised if someone out there suffered a seizure while watching the fight scenes, because it is just too many cuts for one normal brain to process in a short time span.
- Matt Salinger is nothing short of awful as Steve Rogers/Captain America. And if you recognize that last name, I tell you yes, Matt Salinger does have a connection to Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger; Matt is J.D.'s son, and I have no idea how he got to be casted as the lead. There is nothing charismatic about Salinger, moseying along through the film with no enthusiasm or ambition to make the Captain appear super in any way. What he does do is turn Captain America into a heartless coward. Not once but twice does Captain America pretend to be sick while driving in a car with someone, only to take the car for himself and leave his passenger stranded along the road. There's also a scene in the woods in which the fully suited Captain America is running away from Red Skull's henchmen. This happens well after a scene in which we clearly see Captain America take down some henchmen no trouble. Remember, shockingly bad.
So Salinger and the editing are the absolute worst things in a movie overflowing with worst things, and there is just a small handful of other superhero films that I can think of that come anywhere near as bad as Captain America. You will feel black and blue by the time this movie finishes its red, white, and blue assault on your senses during its wretched 97 minutes. To say that Captain America is just a bad superhero movie is not good enough. This is an abomination to the cinema and a permanent stain on the reputation of Marvel and their comics. You might be one of the lucky ones and find this movie to fall into the hilariously bad category, but I am not one of those lucky ones. I am one who can only sit in stunned silence at the epic disaster that unfolds before me. If you can find any way to wash all knowledge of Captain America from your memory bank, please do so immediately, preferably with some very strong alcoholic beverages. Do not give it one second of your precious time, and don't be afraid to deny its existence if such a question about it should miraculously come your way.
Recommend? No. Just pretend that it doesn't exist.
Man of Steel is directed by Zack Snyder and stars Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe. It is the first installment of the DC Extended Universe.
There are a lot of ways that I could begin discussing Man of Steel, and I think the best place to start is in the production beginnings, most notably in the friendship and ongoing relationship between Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. In 2008, Warner Bros. was hoping to give the Superman franchise a modern-day reboot, and Goyer was able to convince Nolan with a successful idea that would eventually grow into another superhero universe. This is not Nolan's film, however, for his only big credit for Man of Steel would be producer. This is Zack Snyder's film, and now having seen it twice myself, I can easily say that Snyder is trying oh so hard to make his own Batman Begins. For how much Nolan analyzed and explored the origins and motivations of Batman in the first installment of his Dark Knight trilogy, Snyder attempts to do the same thing here with Superman. But for whatever reason, Snyder goes for the darker, no-nonsense approach. More on that later.
The plot for Man of Steel is more so a mash-up of the plots of the two Richard Donner Superman movies. The planet Krypton is facing destructive implosion after years of becoming unstable. Jor-El (Crowe), the chief advisor of Krypton's supreme council, orders that the council give him possession of Krypton's genetic codex. Suddenly, an uprising takes place, led by General Zod (Shannon). Knowing that Krypton is doomed, Jor-El steals the codex and infuses them into his recently born son, Kal-El, who was the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries. The baby Kal-El is sent away on a rocket, just as Zod arrives to kill Jor-El. Zod's rebellion is repressed, leading to his arrest and banishment into the Phantom Zone. Krypton explodes, and Kal-El's rocket eventually makes its way to Earth and crashes in Smallville, Kansas. Kal-El is discovered by the couple Jonathan and Martha Kent, and the two raise the baby as their child, giving him the name Clark. Clark grows up, eventually seeking to find out who he really is and where he came from. As Clark begins to discover his purpose and who he is, General Zod escapes from the Phantom Zone, eventually making his way to Earth.
Like the first Superman, we get the back-story of Superman, witnessing Krypton's destruction and moments of Clark's childhood. And like the second Superman, General Zod and his evil gang serve as the main antagonists, making their way to Earth after escaping the Phantom Zone (but this time, not because of a mistake made by Superman). How much you will like or dislike Man of Steel will mostly depend on how passionate you are about Superman, his motivations, and his back-story. I am not the most hyperactive Superman fan out there, which is why I find myself wedged right in the middle in terms of Man of Steel's approval scale. Is it a masterpiece? Not by a long shot? Is it terrible? Not at all. The best word that I can come up with to describe Man of Steel is serviceable. For anyone who desires nothing more than to watch Superman fly through the skies and punch out evil Zod henchmen, Snyder delivers those goods as well as anyone else could. As for those who also want to see memorable storytelling and complex character development, well, you won't really find it here.
- The action and visuals excel, fueled by an adrenaline boosting Hans Zimmer score (sadly, we don't ever hear the John Williams' Superman theme). The film does admittedly flirt with a Michael Bay-esque explosion and destruction overload, though most of it comes in the film's third act.
- A special shout-out should be given to Kristy Carlson and Lora Kennedy, who made as good of casting choices as you possibly could for this kind of movie. Henry Cavill perfectly matches the muscular build and curly black hair that are normally associated with Superman. Amy Adams, who was going on her third attempt at landing a Lois Lane part, thrives as Ms. Lane and doesn't come off as a completely helpless damsel in distress that she could so easily be reduced to. Russell Crowe also shows as Jor-El that he has quite a knack for playing the all-knowing character that gets other characters up to speed (another example would be his role as Dr. Jekyll in the most recent Mummy). Michael Shannon makes Zod convincing, and Kevin Costner fits as a solemn Jonathan Kent. Carlson and Kennedy would also be back for the casting Batman v Superman, and joining them was someone by the name of Jo Edna Boldin. I'll bet Boldin was the one who casted Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.
- Back to that whole Man of Steel trying to be Batman Begins thing. There are some striking comparisons between the two films that just cannot go untold. Man of Steel is told in a nonlinear format and puts a lot of focus on the origins of its central hero. It also relies on getting its female lead closer to the hero because the female lead dives too deep into forces beyond their control. Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes were childhood friends, though. Lois Lane, at least in this film, is an overly curious reporter whose ambition leads her to finding Superman. I know these sound like nitpicks, but hear me out.
The main thing I'm trying to get at is that Snyder is trying to recapture the magic that Christopher Nolan displayed with Batman Begins. He's trying to provide a deeply layered psychoanalysis of one of the world's most beloved superheroes and believes giving Superman a darker edge will help him get his intended effect. Snyder tries to enhance this effort by making scenes look de-saturated, ignoring any basic form of color correction as well. This darker, more serious take on Superman is the low point. It just doesn't fit. It fits for someone like Batman because he's a superhero that thrives in the darkness and having his appearances as concealed as possible. Not Superman, though. We can agree that Superman is meant to embody hope, justice, and the American way, proudly saving the citizens of Metropolis and putting evil criminals away. This is a version of Superman that doesn't smile or appear to be radiating confidence, which I blame more on Snyder's direction than Henry Cavill's acting. What we get here is a Superman that is troubled and brooding. If Richard Donner's 1978 Superman showed us anything, it's that Superman can learn his origins and not be in a sour, mopey mood while doing it.
I can see where Snyder was going with his darker, more serious approach to Superman. He was hoping to make Superman more human and relatable. A nice ambition, but one that amounts to attempting to fit a round peg into a square hole. Some people might have bought into a darker, no-nonsense Superman, but I'm sure there were many others who didn't. The best thing that Man of Steel has going for it to distinguish itself from other Superman movies is that it gives Superman a much-needed 21st century overhaul. The action and effects stand out, and the cast is as good as you could make it. I really think Henry Cavill can make this Superman work. That just might depend on what kind of tone and direction his next solo Superman film gets.
Recommend? Yes. It's worth seeing once.
Tonight, We Spawn in Hell!
Spawn is directed by Mark A.Z. Dippe' and stars John Leguizamo, Michael Jai White, Martin Sheen, Theresa Randle, Nicol Williamson, and D.B. Sweeney. It is based on the comic book character of the same name and was Dippe's directorial debut.
Oh there's nothing like a bad superhero movie. A hero's quest to stop the evil villain and spread justice is marred by a clueless crew of filmmakers who make the hero look like a total buffoon and who have no idea how to properly execute the comic book material that someone placed in their laps. Spawn was released at one of the worst times a comic book movie could be released, and it attempted to be part of what was a long line-up of dark, brooding, attempt-to-make-you-feel-crappy superhero flicks that tried to be gritty and failed. The funny thing is, Spawn was actually kind of lucky coming out in 1997, for that was the same year that Joel Schumacher sent the Batman franchise into an 8-year hiatus with the release of the heinous crime to cinema that was Batman & Robin. I hope Mark A.Z. Dippe' sent Joel Schumacher a thank-you letter saying something like, "Dear Mr. Schumacher, Thank you for releasing Batman & Robin the same year as my first directorial project, Spawn. Because of you, my movie is safe from being considered the crappiest comic book movie of 1997. Warm regards, Mark A.Z. Dippe'" Spawn has all the faults of a first-time director, but he's not entirely to blame for all of the film's missteps. We should also be pointing fingers at screenwriter Alan B. McElroy, whose script is anything but acceptable. This is the same guy that would go on to write the universally hated Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and a couple of WWE films, which never seem to be any good. So in hindsight, we should not have expected anything from this material.
Here we have a story involving some kind of centuries long war between Heaven and Hell. One of the rulers of Hell named Malebolgia needs someone to lead his army in Armageddon into battle at the gates of Heaven. This leader comes in the form of Al Simmons (Jai White), a CIA Black Ops assassin who is killed by his boss Jason Wynn (Sheen) while undergoing a mission at a biochemical factory in North Korea. Simmons is sent to Hell after he dies, where Malebolgia makes a deal with him. If Simmons agrees to lead the Armageddon army, he will be able to return to Earth and see his fiancee, Wanda Blake (Randle). Simmons agrees, but when he returns to Earth, he finds out that five years have passed, and Wanda is now married to another man. Guiding Simmons down the path of evil is the clown-like demon called The Violater (Leguizamo). Also taking interest in Simmons is a mysterious man with a hat named Cogliostro (Williamson).
Thankfully, Spawn doesn't overstay its welcome with a quick 96 minute run time. In those 96 minutes, however, we get a bare bones plot that is rather confusing to keep up with, especially if your first viewing is your first ever exposure to the Spawn character like it was for me. You have to keep up with not only everything involving the heaven-hell war, but also with everything that Simmons does on Earth during the film. Speaking of Simmons, I feel I should mention that after he goes to hell, he looks like a cousin of The Thing from Fantastic Four.
Anyway, Simmons' look is just scraping the surface of everything bad going on in Spawn.
- Yikes. What can I possibly say about Spawn that is good? I guess if anything, it's not horrifically boring. Not unless you don't have a sort of morbid fascination when watching a movie that you know is bad, and you want to proceed to laugh at said bad film in any way you can. I would credit Spawn with some comedy points if it was unintentionally hilarious, but the problem is, the movie actually tries to be funny! And is it funny? No. Not at all.
- Where Spawn really comes up short is in its cut-rate special effects. The sequences in hell are the worst in the film. Malebolgia looks like an awkward CGI cookie cut-out, and the hell backgrounds are totally fake-looking. Though on the plus side, sequences of Spawn using a cape to emerge and disappear are some neat visuals that are about the best that the effects get. By 1997, there must have been some sort of quality standard for visual effects, a standard that Spawn doesn't come close to reaching. Never mind the film's meager $40 million budget. Zippe' should have just cut down on the violence, because, sometimes, it's quality over quantity.
- Alan B. McElroy's script is really bad, featuring several awkward bits of dialogue and a story that doesn't know how to effectively get its point across. We get our first bad signal right from the get-go when the movie just dives headfirst into its background with no slow build-up. The narration we get is rushed and leaves your head spinning not even before we see the absurdly-long opening credits. When Simmons goes to Hell for the first time and agrees to lead the Armageddon army, Malebolgia tells him, "If you fail to lead my army, you will die." Apparently there is a Hell for Hell, but no, it's just a head-scratcher line from the script. I would give more examples, but I'd rather just let the truly curious watch the movie and find them.
- The movie is also super ugly to look at, being dominated by disgusting shades of colors most likely found in a dump or a sewer. Guillermo Navarro was the film's cinematographer, and he would go on to later win the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Pan's Labyrinth. What the hell was going on here? When the film's not taking place in hell, it's doing something in a location filled with murky lighting that sometimes isn't really comprehensible. If Navarro hasn't disowned his connection to this film already, then I hope he does it some day before he dies, or else Satan might need to have a few words with him.
I knew Spawn got pretty terrible reviews, so my expectations were pretty low. I must say though, wow. This was much worse than I imagined it would be. This is a major superhero misfire on multiple levels, and even though it's not Batman & Robin bad, it gives Batman & Robin a run for its money. I pray and hope that I don't ever have to re-watch Spawn at any point in my remaining life time. And, of course, it ends in a way to set up a sequel. Too bad that sequel never got out of development hell and will certainly never see the light of day. Spawn is depressing and chintzy, offering nothing stimulating or memorable for comic book junkies or any general movie goer. The superhero genre is much better off without the likes of Spawn defiling its name.
Recommend? Hell no
Now the time is here / For iron man to spread fear
Iron Man is directed by Jon Favreau and stars Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shuan Toub, and Gwyneth Paltrow. It is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It didn't hit me until I re-watched Iron Man for the first time since I saw it in theaters just how much it can be compared to the likes of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Wealthy genius playboy Tony Stark has the mental prowess and supplies to turn himself into a superhero, much in the way that Bruce Wayne overcame his fears to eventually transform into The Dark Knight. The playboy-style, spotlight-loving personality of Tony Stark is most reminiscent of the late 90's Batman, particularly in Batman & Robin, where Batman makes public appearances as if he was a celebrity and not the superhero who thrives in the darkness. Unlike Batman, Iron Man never had the blessing of being put to film multiple times over several decades. It was not until he jump started the MCU that Iron Man got his proper introduction to the 21st century. Now it seems like he's showing up in ever other MCU movie.
While it probably isn't obvious from my previous reviews, I will just come out and say that my interest and approval of the MCU has heavily waned recently. I think their films have just gotten worse and worse after the release of the first Avengers, no longer offering anything fresh and innovating. I can still pick and choose specific MCU films that I highly approve of, and Iron Man is one of them. For anyone who was desperate to see Iron Man's origins on the big screen, it doesn't get any better than right here. And not only does the film serve as a well-told origin tale, it also comes through as a well-crafted superhero flick with enough action and exposition to be appealing even to non-comic book readers like myself.
Think of Iron Man like Batman Begins. We meet Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), who becomes the head of the highly successful Stark Industries after his parents suddenly pass away. Tony has it all: fame, money, beautiful women to take to bed, and a genius brain. He travels to Afghanistan one day to give a presentation on a new missile dubbed "Jericho" that is intended to make enemies run and hide at a moment's notice. A terrorist group captures Tony, however, and imprison him inside a cave, refusing to release him until he builds them a Jericho missile to use. Upon being captured, Tony has an electromagnet implanted into his chest to save his life from wounds that he suffered. In the cave, Tony befriends fellow captive Yinsen (Toub), and the two work together to devise an escape plan. Tony and Yinsen work together to build a suit of armor, powered by Tony's electromagnet. Tony is able to successfully escape from the cave and returns home with a change of heart about the use of weapons in Stark Industries.
- Iron Man stands out from other superhero films, especially some other ones in the MCU, because of its smart plot. Tony Stark matures before our very eyes through the film's 126 minutes, and his reasoning behind becoming Iron Man is as good a reason as you'll ever find in a superhero origin. Tony Stark wants to believe that his weapons can be used for a greater good and in a smarter way, much to the disagreement of some of the other characters, primarily the shady Obadiah Stane (Bridges). We can find many examples and metaphors for nuclear weapons, but Iron Man comes at us with ideas and themes about weapons, period. Why do humans use weapons? Are they just meant to strike fear into groups of people we fear? When is it and when is not okay to use weapons? Should we have them at all? Superhero films reach lofty heights when they address realistic themes and not just restrict themselves to mindless popcorn fun.
- The film's pacing is a noteworthy high point as well. Everything keeps moving without ever getting bogged down in pointless dialogue or action filler. The film is always able to keep your interest.
- Iron Man's only notable slip-up is in its weak villain. I never thought that the MCU had strong villains, and that's no exception here. You can just look at the poster and deduce that Jeff Bridges' Shane turns out to be the film's antagonist, because he's got that obvious evil smirk going. There is absolutely nothing that happens during the film that would even attempt to convince you that Obadiah Stane will remains pals with Tony Stark. The most I can say about Stane is that he wants all of the power and ideas for himself. Jeff Bridges had googled the Book of Obadiah from the Bible and found that retribution is a major theme. Retribution is part of Stane's character, and it makes sense because Stane gets upset at how Tony wants to turn away from the direction that made Stark Industries so successful in the first place. It's just so obvious and easy to figure out that the retribution theme loses credit because so.
Despite my personal feelings towards the MCU, I have to give credit where credit's due. Iron Man succeeds in every facet necessary for a superhero movie to succeed, especially one that covers an origin. With a solid lead performance from Robert Downey Jr., a well-constructed plot, and enough satisfying action set pieces, Iron Man is a well-oiled machine that starts up the MCU's dynamic engine that's still running full power nearly a decade later.
Not clowning around
It is directed by Andy Muschietti and is based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The novel was previously adapted into a 1990 TV miniseries. This film is the first of a planned duology.
Earning the title "good Stephen King adaptation" has surprisingly not been an easy thing to do for the ever growing library of movies based on some material from the creative brain nerves of Mr. King. That library consists of such a wide spectrum, from master works in the likes of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, all the way to garbage heaps as seen in the likes of Cell and Maximum Overdrive. That being said, trying to predict if a new Stephen King movie will turn out good is a gamble that you probably don't want to bet on.
King's 1000 plus page novel It experienced its first taste of the visual medium with the 1990 two part miniseries that saw good ol' Tim Curry portray Pennywise the Clown. I have not read the novel nor seen the miniseries in its entirety. I have seen bits and pieces of the miniseries, and the general consensus I get from others is that the first part involving the kids is pretty good, but the second part with the adults is a borderline disaster, offering nothing to further enhance whatever you might have taken away from the first part. Given the positive responses that It has already garnered, I'd say the miniseries will be long forgotten by the time the It sequel comes out in 2019.
The film is meant to serve as the first half of the book, or as it's stated in the end credits, It: Chapter One. It opens in October 1988, when a young stuttering boy named Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gives a sailboat to his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to play with outside in the rain. Georgie accidentally lets the sailboat fall into a gutter, where it is picked up by a strange man dressed as a clown. The clown (Bill Skarsgard) introduces himself as "Pennywise the Dancing Clown" and offers a balloon to Georgie. When Georgie attempts to retrieve the boat, Pennywise bites off his arm and drags him into the sewer. Fast forward to June 1989 on the last day of school for the students of Derry Middle School. We meet Bill's friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), as well as the young girl Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a chubby boy named Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and a home schooled boy named Mike (Chosen Jacobs). Each of these kids is tormented by bullies at school, mainly the thug boy Henry (Nicholas Hamilton). But there's not just bullying going on with the kids in Derry, Maine. Random kids are going missing for some unknown reason. Bill tracks down some clues as to the possible whereabouts of Georgie, and Ben reads up on the history of Derry, learning about the town's mysterious tragedies and child disappearances. One by one, each kid in the later titled Losers' Club has a terrifying encounter with Pennywise, eventually coming all together to counter the clown threat that they know they can't defeat on their own.
The whole "bad things happening to children" story element isn't totally fresh nowadays, primarily because of the recent success of Netflix's Stranger Things, which is eerily similar in some ways to It. Hell, the film stars Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things, the leader of the group of boys who become involved with all of the series' science fiction happenings'. What does make It work is that it's a fresh overhaul of a novel by a popular author that wasn't done justice earlier, and it has a central villain that happens to be something that many people fear: clowns.
- The Losers' Club is well-casted, with the kids bouncing off one another in a way that feels natural and reminiscent of the way a group of naive kids would act when they get into some kind of trouble. The kids in It tackle incoming danger head on without consulting their parents or the local authorities, kind of how the kids set out on their own to find the dead body in Stand By Me. When they're not freaking out about Pennywise, the Losers are trading verbal jabs with one another, and it never ceases to get old. The Losers love to be vulgar, and the actors show no hesitation when they make penis jokes or shout F-bombs at one another. The majority of the film's humor stems from them, and, surprisingly, not Pennywise.
- The run time. Is there some kind of law out there now in Hollywood that says horror movies cannot be longer than 100 minutes? If that's true, Andy Muschietti said screw that and proceeded to make his film a meaty 135 minutes, a rarity for a genre that is starved for a consistency of success. Muschietti has given his film a slow build and the time necessary to tell its story effectively. Too many filmmakers nowadays seem to have forgotten build-up is important to effectively tell a horror story. Who in their right mind would come at you with torches and pitchforks if your horror movie happened to be longer than 100 minutes? You might find it interesting to note that some of the most highly regarded horror films like The Exorcist, The Shining, and Rosemary's Baby all have longer -than-100-minutes running times.
- It bombards you with an endless barrage of jump scares, so if you are of the type that easily jumps and shrieks at loud noises and sudden shocks, then I would highly advise you to stay far away from It. For everyone else though, the problem is that the jump scares keep coming at you with diminishing returns, as it becomes increasingly obvious that the Losers can't walk around a dark or enclosed area without getting a surprise from Pennywise. The best jump scares are the most unexpected ones, but after they happen enough times in a row, they tend to get old. The art of the jump scare is a worthy topic. That's for another day, however.
I'm hesitant to call It a great film, even though it has the story and emotional weight to be appropriately categorized as a great film. I can't even call it the best horror film of the year, because it doesn't have the originality and brilliance of Get Out (still in my book the best film of the year so far). The overuse of jump scares wears out after long enough, though the film is still able to remain funny and interesting, thanks in large part to the performances of the young cast members. Bill Skarsgard gives a solid performance too as Pennywise, turning him into the sadistic, cackling monster that fits the bloody, hardcore tone. It centers on a group of kids, but in ironic fashion, the movie is definitely not for the kiddies. If you can forgive the annoying surplus of jump scares, It is a freaky time at the theater that will surely be a scary success in a month that is almost as bad of a cinematic dumping ground as January.
A Few Good X-Men
X-Men is the first installment of the X-Men film series, and it is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, and Anna Paquin.
It is worth noting before I discuss anything major that I have never been a comic book reader, meaning that I have little to no prior knowledge whatsoever of the X-Men comics and how they might exactly pertain to the film franchise.
If there's anything that we can take away from the 21st century thus far, it's that superhero movies and anything to tag alongside said superhero movies, such as toys, video games, and so on, are popping up like weeds. With special effects and CGI and all that stuff now having reached a certain point of evolution, it's no wonder that someone decided, "Hey! Look at all this cool stuff we can do with computers now! I bet we can make superheroes a thing again!" Kicking off the 2000's superhero resurgence was Bryan Singer's X-Men.
The film is more so an origin story. The X-Men are a species of abnormal humans known simply as mutants. Mutants possess a genetic trait known as an X-gene which gives them superhuman powers and abilities. As you could imagine, normal humans don't take too kindly to mutants, believing them to be dangerous. Leading the effort against the mutants is U.S. Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison), who is attempting to pass the Mutant Registration Act. This Act would force mutants to reveal their identities and abilities to the public. One mutant who won't stand for this is the metal-manipulating Magneto (McKellan). It is shown in the opening scene that Magneto, also known by the name Erik Lehnsherr, was a survivor at an Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland while still just a young boy. Magneto desires to have mutants prevail over humanity, but this is met with opposition from the telepathic mutant Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart). Xavier runs a school for young mutants in Westchester County, New York, and he believes that mutants and humanity can live together in peace.
X-Men is a franchise that seemingly focuses on a multitude of characters. Thing is, the films usually turn into a top-heavy affair in which the most important mutants are the ones doing all the fighting. Other mutants that are of the most importance to this first installment outside of Charles Xavier and Magneto is the clawed Logan A.K.A The Wolverine (Jackman), the weather-controlling Storm (Berry), the telekinetic Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), the lasers-for-eyes Cyclops (James Marsden), and the blue-skinned shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Already this seems like a lot of different characters to keep up with, and there are quite a few more to look out for which I won't bother to discuss here. Each of these different mutants attempts to be relevant to the plot outside of physical and moral support, and, for the most part, they succeed. X-Men moves along at a steady pace and does whatever it takes to make sure each of its main mutant characters gets at least a small moment of meaningful screen time.
- X-Men is usually good at delivering when it comes to the mutant action, and that's no exception here. The fighting is fluent and never overblown without any Michael Bay-ish explosion sequences or frustrating shaky cam.
- Editing is problematic for this first X-Men installment. Some scenes of characters being in some form of danger quickly cut away to something else to not allow room for dramatic or emotional effect. An extra 5-10 minutes to the 104 minute run time would have probably been helpful.
Anyway, there's not much to say. X-Men doesn't try to be anything groundbreaking in its own right. It can be credited with launching the still-going-strong X-Men film franchise as well as being one of the first of many successful superhero films of the 2000's. For what it is, it's a straightforward and fun superhero adventure that will easily please comic book fans. Compared to other superhero films, it's nothing fantastic, but certainly not anything horrendous either.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: