Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class

Welcome to the third and final installment of Hey You With The Face's SUPER WEEK. So far, we have seen a truly abysmal Superhero movie (though I feel obliged to make an amendment to the statement at the end of the Green Lantern review - Daredevil was also a worse film), and we have seen a spiritual defilement of E.T. in the form of Super 8. So now it's time for the climax of Super Week, a review for the ages! Ladies and gentlemen - X-Men: First Class.

The latest series of X-Men movies have had an exceptionally unreliable track record. The first movie, simply titled "X-Men", was released back in 2000. The turn of the millennium marked the beginning of the last decade's trend of rebooting a whole ton of comic book movies, and X-Men was the flagship, the first of them all, coming in a few months before Spiderman. Packed with the incredible talents of actors such as Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, the movie was a hit. Combining a more mature look at the series while also staying essentially true to the source material, X-Men was an excellent way to appeal to both old fans of the series and newcomers to the franchise. Then, three years later, the director came back to bring us X2, a movie which many people had issues with, but I actually found to be a superior film to the original. X2 did well enough in theaters to entirely justify a third... and that's where things went horribly wrong.

I don't think I have to say much about X-Men: The Last Stand. While those unfamiliar with the comics didn't have much of an opinion on it, those of us who considered ourselves fans of the series were outraged. With a new director came a hideous new vision of the X-Men universe, and in doing so completely ruined one of the most powerful story arcs in X-Men history.

We won't even talk about X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Normally Deadpool would, but they appear to have removed his mouth.

With those two horrible films fresh in our memories, many comic book fans (including myself) were barely willing to give X-Men: First Class any notice - and both Marvel and 20th Century Fox knew it. To them, First Class was their last chance to redeem the X-Men movie series, hoping to rescue it from the fate of total collapse. With that weight on their shoulders, the makers of First Class had a lot of work to do in order to succeed...

And they did that spectacularly.

Not only is X-Men: First Class the best X-Men movie yet filmed, it ranks among the top superhero movies ever made. First Class delivers everything that worked well in the 2000 X-Men, and then cranks it all up to 11. Not only did the film take on the herculean task of saving the X-Men franchise from utter destruction, but the fresh new vision that director Matthew Vaughn brings to the series is sure to draw an entire new generation of moviegoers to the X-Men universe in general.

The story opens following the story of the origination of Professor Xavier's "school for gifted youths" by showing us the formative years of the men who would become the biggest names in future mutant society. Not only do we meet the young and naive Charles Xavier as he begins his quest for Mutant equality and acceptance, but we also meet haunted Holocaust survivor Eric Lensherr, who will eventually become Magneto - one of the greatest comic book supervillains of all time.

Like a boss.

However, this movie takes place just before Eric becomes Magneto and begins his quest to place Mutants as the rulers of society, though the film does an exceptional job of explaining why this viewpoint forms. In fact, Eric is even more of a protagonist and hero than Xavier, throwing himself into the thick of things and engaging in some truly thrilling heroics. Xavier, in contrast, takes much more of a side role, and is almost unlikable at times in comparison to the profoundly sympathetic Lensherr.

Set in the later years of the Cold War, the characters strive to find a way to bring all Mutants in the world together under the shadow of an impending nuclear showdown between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.. Driving the conflict on both sides is a nightmare from Eric's past, the power-mad Sebastian Shaw. Having worked with the Nazis during the Holocaust, where he personally trained Eric to control his powers, Shaw wants to use the nuclear war between the two global superpowers and use the resulting radiation to mutate the rest of the world. For those of us who remember what Magneto's plot was in the first X-Men film... yeah. That's pretty awesome.

"Give in to your anger, my young apprentice."

It should be noted that there is not a single actor or actress in this movie who delivers a performance that I can complain about. The side characters do good jobs with what they have, and the leads perform spectacularly. The chemistry between James McAvoy as Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Eric is truly a joy to watch, and both actors to great service to the franchise as a whole. They stay true to the portrayal of their characters in the other films while also adding plenty of new ideas of their own. Kevin Bacon excels in his deliciously evil role of Sebastian Shaw, delivering the sort of brilliant performance that many villains these days notably lack.

The writing and effects, in stark contrast to the other superhero movie I reviewed this week, are stellar. Everything flows so seamlessly together that the effects seem perfectly natural among the rest of the world. First Class plays out like a James Bond movie, just with superpowers and universally good acting. Sure, there are a few issues with true-to-the-comics portrayals of some of the supporting characters (most notably the almost complete rewrite of Mystique), but I thought that it was entirely forgivable in light of the rest of the film.

Bottom line? This movie is great. It's an absolute must-see summer blockbuster that has redeemed the rest of the X-Men franchise. If you possibly can, go and see this movie in theaters before it's too late - you're not going to want to have to wait until the DVD release.

Final Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8

Hello and welcome back to Hey You With The Face, where we meet for the second installment of SUPER WEEK, the first ever themed review week ever held by me, The Face Guy. In this week, I am going to be reviewing three movies that in some way are "super." The first review of the week was a review of Green Lantern, a superhero movie. With that idea in mind, I now review a film with the word "Super" right in the title: Super 8.

This movie needs a little bit of backstory, and it all starts way back with a little movie called E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Made back in 1982, E.T. was directed and produced by the popular director Steven Spielberg, dealing with themes such as acceptance, the importance of love and faith, the importance of having a place to call home, and all around how awesome it is to have peace at heart. The movie was a smash hit, and remains a classic movie for everyone, not just science-fiction buffs. It has been called the greatest science-fiction movie of all time, and stands proud in the fact that it was a perfect movie on it's own and didn't need anything more. For this reason, no director or writer has ever attempted to make any sort of sequel or remake of E.T. in any way.

Until now.

Screw nostalgia, I have money.

When trailers and leaks for Super 8 first started coming to the public, Steven Spielberg was quoted saying that the movie was designed to be a "spiritual successor" to E.T., essentially saying that he wanted to make a remake without actually making a remake. Especially looking at the quote now, after seeing the movie itself, this could not have been a more obvious money-making ploy if it were painted with giant green dollar signs. Both Spielberg and Abrams, who co-produced Super 8, were poignantly aware that this movie was something specifically designed for targeting people's sense of nostalgia, the memories from their youth of wonder at the unknown. The same themes that made E.T. the masterpiece it was would be the same things that both directors knew would make Super 8 popular, and as such those were the aspects that were most strongly highlighted in the advertising campaign.

Unfortunately for them, it was far too obvious that they were doing it all for the money.

Now don't get me wrong - Super 8 is by no means a horrible movie. It would be so much simpler to define and review if it were just another disaster. The problem with Super 8 isn't that it's really bad, it's that it's nothing close to what we were promised in the year or so leading up to it.

Not really surprising, since we were basically promised the movie equivalent of this.

Super 8 follows the story of a young boy named Joe, who we meet right after his mother is killed in a steel-mill accident. We cut to a few months later where we find that he's struggling to find his place in the world, since is his father's police work has left him more or less to his own devices. We meet his loyal group of nerdy friends who have put their heads together to make an amateur zombie movie, each child representing one of the classic traits of childhood. The stage set for a feel-good coming of age movie, we start the main core of the plot with... a five minute long sequence of nonstop explosions, shouting, and children being intimidated by a crazy man with a gun.

Of course, it wouldn't be a modern Steven Spielberg movie without an overabundance of explosions. And also: aliens! You just can't have a "spiritual successor" to E.T. without an alien, right? Of course, in E.T. the alien was innocent, peaceful, and represented how mankind's inability to accept that which is different leads us to antagonize even the gentlest of creatures. Apparently, however, Spielberg forgot that this was one of the most stirring aspects of his 1980's masterpiece, because this alien does not mess around with any of that peace and love BS. This alien appears to have no compunction over butchering everything that it comes across.

"E.T. phone police to leave cryptic hint about next grisly murder!

And this, in case you didn't get the hint, is where Super 8 really falls apart. It seems as though there was a major disagreement between the writers and the producers. The writers wanted a coming of age movie, kind of in the Stand By Me vein, where a group of kids begin their trek down the road to maturity. The producers, however, wanted some hideous crossbreed of Men in Black and Cloverfield, with as many explosions as humanly possible mixed in for good measure.

Also lens flare. You can't forget the lens flare.
... No, seriously. It never goes away. It's like a lamprey mixed with Herpes.

Now, don't get me wrong - I consider every movie that I just listed to be good films in their own right. The problem comes around when Abrams and Spielberg tried to fuse them all together into some horrific cinematic Frankenstein's Monster. The result is a movie that feels incredibly off-balance and disjointed, with no cohesive theme or plot. In the end this "spiritual successor" to one of the most heartwarming and powerful movies of all time comes down to "being mean is bad", resulting in one of the biggest let-downs of the decade.

Super 8 is not a horrible movie. The acting is overall good and the writing is certainly above the quality of many other films in the genre. The problem is that Super 8 tries to bite off WAY more than it can reasonably chew for a single film. While in theory the idea of combining great action with powerful relationship building and a story of overcoming the premature death of a parent in just under two hours sounds like a great idea, so did the Roman Empire's idea of uniting the world under their banner. In the end, both Rome and Super 8 collapsed under their own weight and hubris, reduced to a steaming heap of wasted potential. It's not so much dreadful as it is depressing, since we can see just how amazing this film could have been if they had simply avoided the urge to rely on cheap explosions and car chases. While Green Lantern may have been a disaster, Super 8 - while the decidedly superior film - is a tragedy.

Final Grade: C

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Movie Review: Green Lantern

So apparently there's a thing that people who review things on the internet are supposed to do that I have yet to do. That's right everyone: for the first time, Hey You With The Face is having a themed week, where everything that I do fits with a certain theme. So fitting that description, it's Super-Week here at the house of The Face Guy! In celebration, this week I am going to be posting three - yes, THREE - movie reviews that in one way or another fit in with the theme of Super. And what better way to kick off the week than with a review of the latest big box-office Super Hero movie: Green Lantern.

This right here? This is a picture of sheer potential.

Based on one of the most popular and successful comic book series' of all time, Green Lantern is the latest in a long line of revamped superhero movies that have received either reboots or full on revivals over the past few years. However, Green Lantern marks only the seventh out of all the big ticket superhero movies to have come out in the past ten years that comes from DC as opposed to Marvel Comics. Unfortunately for DC, only two of those six films before Green Lantern have done particularly well at the box office - those being Batman Begins and The Dark Knight - while the other four were either shockingly mediocre or just plain bad. Worse still, the previous decade fared even worse for DC comic-to-movie adaptations, with notably horrible films such as Batman & Robin and Steel.

Green Lantern is DC's only film this year, and the company has a lot riding on the film's success. With several strong films coming out of Marvel Comics' corner this summer (Thor; X-Men: First Class; Captain America: The First Avenger), Green Lantern represents DC's sole bid for the superhero moviegoers of 2011. It was a big gamble to take, with the potential to reap serious rewards as a big budget special effects movie. This film also marks the very first attempt at making a "live action" Green Lantern film - all the previous attempts have been animated. However, after seeing the film I have to use that phrase loosely, because there is very little to be found in Green Lantern that can be counted as either live or action.

Green Lantern is one of those movies that is truly, irrevocably awful. There is simply so much that goes wrong over the course of the film that it's almost impossible to refer to it as anything other than an absolute disaster. The writers and filmmakers very clearly did everything that they could possibly think of to make Green Lantern a great movie, but in the end everything they did came together in a ruthlessly conflicting fashion that resulted in a hideously disorganized mess.

The Green Lantern Experience, everyone. Let's give it a big hand.

Green Lantern follows the story of Hal Jordan, a test pilot with now seemingly obligatory daddy issues. He's shown to be a maverick with very little regard for his own safety or well being, and basically lives from day to day wandering through women and cheap thrills...

Please, stop me if you've heard this one...

One day he ends up getting abducted by this green light, and it is revealed that he has been chosen as the successor to a member of the Green Lantern Corps, a group of intergalactic policemen who utilize the power of Willpower to preserve order and justice throughout the universe. Through this, Hal meets some of the more prominent members of the Green Lantern Corps, including the totally-never-going-to-be-a-villain-with-a-name-like-this Sinestro. Sinestro does not believe that Hal, being human, is worthy of being a member of the Green Lantern Corps. However, in the face of doubt and adversity, Hal displays the tenacity of the human spirit and... quits. After less than a day as a member of the Corps, Hal packs up and goes home.

One of the biggest problems that I have with this film is the characterization of the protagonist himself. While it is clear that actor Ryan Reynolds is trying very hard to make the character and the film work, the writers and many other actors work so stalwartly against him that it's almost impossible for him to overcome them. The writing keeps bouncing between serious and comedic, while also jumping between Jordan being either a cocky flyboy or a passive coward. It's almost as though the character is played by two different actors who each had their own radically different view on Jordan's personality.

The issue of uncertain motives and seemingly random character decisions seems to be a recurring theme in this movie. Hal Jordan's love interest, played by the ironically named Blake Lively, appears to have no particular motive to like him in any way throughout the movie, though her performance is so boring and dead anyway that we don't really care. The character of Sinestro, traditionally the Green Lantern's arch-nemesis, is given such a weak reason for turning evil that it comes entirely out of left field (and also only after the credits have rolled.)

And don't you dare complain that I didn't give a spoiler alert before revealing that.
I mean, seriously, his name is Sinestro for god's sake!

The special effects, ESPECIALLY for a special effects movie, are absolutely abysmal. I've seen video games from for older generation consoles that had superior graphics to this film. For the amount of money that Warner Bros. spent on this pile of computer generated verbal diarrhea, I expected something more sophisticated than the opening cutscene of a video game from 2005.

As a side note: people who love the Green Lantern comics should avoid this movie like the bubonic plague. It drifts away from the comic's cannon so much that the film might as well be a giant green "screw you!" to the source material. As a comic book nerd, I found the movie incredibly insulting just by that alone - the rest of its many, many flaws simply provide supporting material for my nerd fury.

This movie is dreadful. Looking back, the only things that I can think of that were good about it were a handful of bit characters who were onscreen for mere minutes - one of them voiced by Geoffrey Rush. Yeah, that's right. Geoffrey Rush is in this movie, playing the voice of a character who is onscreen for less than ten minutes. He also has a narration monologue at the beginning of the movie.

Oh. Whoopee.

Those redeeming moments, however, are so fleeting that it does little to distract us from the rest of the horrendous pile of excrement that is Green Lantern. The acting is bad, the writing is horrible, the CGI is embarrassing, and the source material is bent over the table and ruthlessly violated. The only reason that Green Lantern is NOT the worst superhero movie I have ever seen is because I once had to sit through X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Final Grade: D- (Because I cannot bring myself to give any movie with Geoffrey Rush an F)