X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men FirReleased: June 3, 2011. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Runtime: 132 min.

X-Men: First Class opens with what opened the original X-Men, but Matthew Vaughn adds his own stylish direction to it and extends the story. It introduces what motivates Erik Leshnerr (a.k.a. Magneto) and the main villain – Sebastian Shaw, portrayed by Kevin Bacon – from the get go. How Erik delves into her powers is through pain and anger, it’s shown through a heartbreaking sequence, mostly for Erik. I like it when a film gets right into the narrative. I think it compels from the opening scene – and it’s nice to see how Charles Xavier was good friends with Raven Darkholme (Mystique). 

The film then skips to 1962 after staying in 1944 for the opening fifteen minutes. The plot concerns Shaw, who is attempting to start World War 3 in 1962. Charles Xavier, and Leshnerr, team up with the CIA to stop the villains, and they recruit a few cool heroes in the process. I had only heard of Beast of the ones they recruit, but their powers are cool. I especially like Banshee’s (Caleb Landry Jones) sense of humour. Havoc (Lucas Till) is a bit of a total dick at times. The sequence where Xavier shows them how to control their powers is engaging and fun. Matthew Vaughn’s style and the excellent camerawork gives the film an extra fun layer, and engages one’s attention even more. 

I think setting this origins story in a very cool age is a smart choice, and Vaughn depicts the style of the age really well. It’s a sort-of Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis film, and it seems to set up an imaginative way of how the Cuban Missile Crisis was started in this universe.The film’s also visually compelling. Prior to Days of Future Past, this is the franchise’s most engaging narrative thus far. It’s great to experience the chemistry shared between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Leshnerr. Some of their clashes in opinions are heartbreaking, but necessary.

The two share a great scene together where Charles shows Erik to find out how to use his power – finding a balance between rage and serenity. What he does to show him how to do it is mesmerizing and emotionally charged. I seriously think it’s some of the strongest acting of the franchise shown in that simple scene. James McAvoy brings charm to his role, and a calm attitude; while Fassbender gives a sometimes chilling performance as Magneto. My favourite characterization for the film is for Mystique/Raven. She’s still coping with fitting in, as she has to use half of her concentration to stay beautiful all the time. It seems like a real struggle; because other mutants can hide and blend in easier than her and Hank McCoy, who has feet that are like an extra pair of hands. Nicholas Hoult (as McCoy) and Lawrence share strong scenes together. What Magneto says at one point about Mystique is thought-provoking: “How can society accept you, if you can’t accept yourself?” 

The only boring characterizations are for the CIA characters, largely Oliver Platt’s Man in Black Suit. Rose Byrne’s Moira gets decent characterization, but apparently humans are boring. I think Kevin Bacon is good as the big baddie Sebastian Shaw. He’s critical to Erik’s development. I like his power, but it’s also very lame when he can just flick someone and send them flying, because he absorbs so much energy. (He receives weird visuals at times, but weird in a good way.) At times, he is brilliant and super cool – and the introduction to his power is one of my favourite scenes. My favourite baddie in this film is Azazel – he is so cool. There’s a baddie called Riptide who is boring because I just saw him as a male Storm, and he doesn’t get an ounce of characterization. He’s dressed in a suit and he looks cool, but I don’t remember him having any dialogue other than nodding in agreement. At one point, I thought he might be an angel and Azazel a devil, and they might act those little dudes who show up on someone’s shoulder in a moral dilemma. Geddit? January Jones is awesome as Emma Frost.

One thing is certain: Matthew Vaughn handles his characters as well as Bryan Singer, and lightyears better than Brett Ratner or Gavin Hood. With the film’s great sense of humour and engaging atmosphere, Vaughn directs the franchise back to greatness – and helps re-invent it with a compelling story, too. There’s an endless amount of great sequences, even ones that aren’t primarily action-packed. This is my favourite film of the franchise and it features a great pace and a strong finish. The dazzling film has a musical score that complements the feature well, and it also has some great visual effects. At one point, the visual effects are mesmerizing discovery. They’re sometimes out-of-this world. I am just left astounded by the atmosphere Vaughn is able to create. This is how you make an origins story. 

Score: 90/100

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

X-Men Origins WolverineReleased: May 1, 2009. Directed by: Gavin Hood. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston. Runtime: 107 min.

While a seasoned fan of the X-Men franchise will surely be disappointed by this film, I’m think a casual fan could be entertained. This is a popcorn flick more concerned with just giving its audience a mildly entertaining 107 minutes. Obviously, this is a prequel that follows the origins story of Wolverine, and while future Wolverine won’t know the answers to his past, at least we as audience members get answers. That’s one of the reasons that this film is partly a delight. Though, his transformation scene to be inserted with an adamantium exoskeleton feels nowhere near as raw as it did previewed in X2

By the way, Logan had a much less cool set of bone claws before he got his awesome ones. I’m not being picky because if I had a set of any sort-of claws, I’d be pleased. There’s a cool scene where we learn why Wolverine is called that. His relationship with Kayla Silverfox (portrayed by a great newcomer Lynn Collins) is nice, as they share a great chemistry. We learn that Wolverine was born roughly around 1838 in the Northwest Territories of Canada. That’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? We also see him go through a bunch of wars in a decently directed sequence by Gavin Hood. 

Logan’s brother is a guy named Victor Creed (played leeringly by Liev Schreiber), who’s Sabretooth. He has the fingernails of a bag lady. But, since Creed is obviously Sabretooth, it really doesn’t explain why he didn’t recognize Wolverine in the original X-Men. Hey, what can I say, I’m a fan of logic. Victor obviously has rage issues and is trigger happy, and is uninspiredly cruel. It gets explained later in the film, but his rampage of violence against his old team is just a bit strange at first to base a story around. Victor’s readiness for violence makes this feel all a little clichéd. 

The timeline of the film isn’t that enjoyable because you can never really tell where it’s set without doing research, since Logan doesn’t age. I assume the film is set in the late 1970s or early 1980s because I learn that the last war in the montage was the Vietnam war. But does that really make sense when Stryker looks like 25 in another movie in the franchise? My point: The film is awful at establishing a strong time period. 

I like the mutants that are on the team that Logan was on. One cool one is Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), who is a telekinetic. He has a really cool scene at a carnival. Will.i.am is also good as a teleporter. Stryker gets a cool characterization, and we can see that he’s always been a dick. Though, Cox is an infinitely better Stryker than Danny Huston. There are some awesome action sequences (notably Logan fighting a helicopter), but there are also a lot of silly comedic attempts, and just silly occurrences in general. Take for instance: An idiotic fight that’s started by a trucker who wouldn’t get off the road to let Logan pass. Logan confronts him about it, and in a very short dialogue exchange, the guy takes a swing at him even though Logan asks nicely. It’s ridiculous. There are some strong attempts at comedy, though, which hit. This is only sporadic. 

The characters are boring. Especially Victor, who’s just a boring psychopath. You have to question why he uninspiredly hates his brother so much, just for walking out on the mercenary group. When Logan and him meet again, they fight – and you know it’s a brawl in Canada when there are a whole bunch of logs nearby. Logan has an idiotic tension with Agent Zero, shown when Zero shoots Logan’s cigar in a hideous and artificial visual. I learn that there was an early copy of the film leaked online, and I’m almost convinced I watched that copy – because the visuals are absolutely hideous at times. They look partly unfinished and unconvincing. Since I am not sure if I watched the good visuals of the film, I won’t take marks off for that. Well, as many marks. Because, crap, the film looks so ugly at times. The poor visuals make this look like a crappy video game. The lackluster storytelling doesn’t help, either. Nor does the god-awful editing, the quick edits just suck. At times, this isn’t fun to watch because of it. Kevin Durand’s character is hideous when he’s a CGI-assisted fatty.

It’s not that great when Agent Zero’s powers are never explained, because he just seems like an assassin who’s good with a gun and has impossibly cool acrobatic ability. I mean, how could one gain so much momentum to do a twenty foot backflip just catching guns? The film’s worst misfortune is featuring Gambit, an awesome mutant who deserves so much better than this. What’s unrealistic in the direction is how many times people are stabbed, and how there’s hardly any blood throughout. The occasional poignant occurrence rings true, but they’re just that – occasional. This is popcorn-munching, illogical fun. Take it or leave it, really. The finale is a bit fun, but if characterization is your favourite part about the franchise, you won’t get any of it this time around.

Score: 55/100