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Marvel Movies Project: X-Men: First Class

Movie poster for X-Men: First Class (2011).

We’re coming to the end of this project now: 22 movies down, five to go! The fifth last film in our series is X-Men: First Class (2011), which goes back in time to the 1960s to tell the story of how Professor X and Magneto met and became friends, then enemies. It also exposes for the first time the Professor’s childhood friendship with .. Mystique?

There are things I really like about this movie, most notably Michael Fassbender’s excellent performance as Magneto. 2011 was the Year of Fassbender and based on the presence he shows here it’s not hard to see why. His menacing, powerful Magneto dominates the movie. The other standout is Nicholas Hoult, who beautifully plays Hank McCoy as a shy, vulnerable nerd. X-Men: First Class also has some good action setpieces along with standout scenes like the fun training sequence at Xavier’s mansion, Wolverine’s cameo, and basically any scene where Magneto is the main focus.

The film makes interesting use of Mystique, or more specifically the way the male characters react to her — Charles is uncomfortable with her true form and wants her to hide, Hank flat out tells her she’s ugly, and Erik finds her beautiful. This of course reflects their attitudes to mutation — Charles wants to fit in with society at large, Hank doesn’t like feeling like a freak, and Erik thinks mutants are superior. I have become a real Mystique fan through this rewatch, and I think the shocking nature of her appearance is in large part what makes her so fascinating. Rebecca Romijn played her in the first three X-Men movies with a very confrontational attitude: you can see in Romijn’s performance that Mystique’s “nudity” is one of her weapons. She loves it when people stare, especially if they seem disgusted by what they see. Jennifer Lawrence is playing a version of Mystique who’s much less sure of herself and still trying to work out how she feels about her body. I think Lawrence plays this well, but her version of Mystique is by nature less dynamic than Romijn’s.

A few things I’m not crazy about with this movie: well, January Jones is pretty terrible as Emma Frost. She’s very lucky to have been cast as Betty on Mad Men; it’s a role that apparently falls right into her sweet spot as an actress. It seems clear she doesn’t have much range. However, this random fact from the IMDb trivia page almost makes up for her performance:

This is the second time that January Jones has been cast in 1962 opposite an actor with a pork based name. The first was in Mad Men opposite Jon Hamm and then this alongside Kevin Bacon.

Almost.

Talking about Emma Frost leads me to the next thing I’m not crazy about, which is the fact that this movie is really sexist. It especially stands out as such when you watch it right after Thor, as I did this week. All four major female characters appear undressed at least once. Emma Frost’s bra might as well be credited as a supporting character (pun intended). Angel is a stripper, plus she’s the first good mutant to turn evil.

I will also take this opportunity to mention the film’s treatment of non-white characters: they’re all evil except Darwin, who’s dead. And speaking of Darwin, how about that moment where Shaw offers the mutants a choice: they can either be enslaved [SHOT OF BLACK GUY TO EMPHASIZE REFERENCE TO SLAVERY] or rise up to rule. Really?

Director Matthew Vaughn has said the sexism is intentional (he doesn’t mention the racism): they were trying to re-create the feel of a 1960s Bond movie, which they do successfully through the movie’s visual style, and yes, the depiction of women is accurate for that type of movie. However, the X-Men franchise is supposed to be progressive. This is supposed to be a story about diversity, equality, and acceptance. The heroes are the outcasts: the ones oppressed by society and treated as inhuman for being different. Surely the film has some kind of responsibility to reflect those ideals in its portrayals of real life oppressed groups.

First Class was the second lowest grossing X-Men movie so far, ahead only of X-Men, but it was still quite successful for Fox and they’ve planned a sequel for 2014. I’ve already mentioned this briefly in my post about X-Men: The Last Stand, but it bears repeating that Bryan Singer will be back in the director’s chair for this one and he intends to use the opportunity to correct some of the mistakes from The Last Stand.

The really intriguing thing about Days of Future Past is the cast, which will combine actors from the original X-Men trilogy with those from First Class. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are in it, but so are Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Hugh Jackman will be back for what will be his world record seventh go round as Wolverine (The Wolverine is out July 26th). Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Ellen Page, and Daniel Cudmore (Colossus) will also be back, as will Jennifer Lawrence (fresh off her Oscar win) and Nicholas Hoult. It’ll be very interesting to see how that all plays out.

Also interesting: apparently, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past will share continuity not only with the original X-Men movies, but also with Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot. Fox is creating its own Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Mark Millar presiding over the whole thing. I feel a bit like they’re stepping on Marvel Studios’ toes here. On the other hand, this might be really cool. I guess we’ll see.

Marvel Movies Project: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Movie poster for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007).

Well, this is something of a milestone in the Marvel Movies Project: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) is the first one of these movies I had never seen before. I’m not sure why I didn’t go see it at the time, but it’s possible my disappointment with Spider-Man 3, released just a month earlier, had something to do with it.

We rejoin the FF an unspecified amount of time after the first film. The people all seem much the same, but relationships have progressed: Reed and Sue are trying (repeatedly) to get married, Ben and Alicia have become a serious couple, and Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny have settled into the routine of being the Fantastic Four and saving the world on a regular basis. They are truly a team now; even Johnny, once the rebel of the bunch, is committed to the group identity.

When Johnny overhears Reed and Sue talking about giving up the superhero life after their wedding to try to raise a family, he takes it hard. There isn’t much by way of character development in this movie, but Johnny has the closest thing to a character arc as we see some cracks in his bravado and get indications that the Torch may actually be growing up. Although this is somewhat interesting, the downside is that it makes him a bit less funny. His humour was Fantastic Four‘s main asset and Rise of the Silver Surfer suffers from a lack of it.

The film’s plot sees the Fantastic Four recruited by the government to help deal with the threat posed by the mysterious Silver Surfer, who is flying around the planet creating bizarre weather and giant craters and also making Johnny’s molecules unstable, causing him to swap powers hilariously with other team members when he touches them. The team eventually discovers that, despite all the chaos he causes, the Surfer is not himself the threat: he is merely the herald of Galactus, the devourer of worlds, who is on his way to consume planet Earth.

In the movie, Galactus is portrayed as a sort of giant cloud-like thing. Comic book readers may be familiar with him in a rather different form. Apparently, the filmmakers made him this way to preserve the impact of revealing Galactus’ true appearance for a future Silver Surfer spinoff movie, which of course never happened — at least, not yet. J. Michael Straczynski had written a script at one point, but it was abandoned, and as far as I can tell there’s nothing concrete in the works in terms of a Silver Surfer movie right now. However, we know from reading the Marvel Movies Project post about Daredevil that Fox declined to trade the rights to the Surfer and Galactus back to Marvel in exchange for keeping the rights to Daredevil, so it seems a future Silver Surfer movie shouldn’t be ruled out.

Anyway, the Surfer, who never tried to stop Galactus before but wants to this time because Sue reminds him of his one true love, turns out to be an ally against Galactus. Unfortunately, Victor von Doom does not: after shocking the FF by being still alive, Doom completes the evil comeback by stealing the surfboard which is the source of much of the Surfer’s power. The only way the Fantastic Four can defeat Doom is by taking advantage of Johnny’s unstable molecules and giving him all their combined powers. With that boost, Johnny takes Victor down, thus paradoxically demonstrating the power of teamwork through solo action. The Surfer gets his board back and defeats Galactus, and Sue and Reed finally have their wedding.

I didn’t dislike this movie, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as I did the first one. The humour is not as strong and the team doesn’t have quite the same dysfunctional energy that made them so fun to watch the first time around.

It seems this was the last big screen go-round for this particular Fantastic Four team; Chris Evans has obviously moved on to bigger and way better Marvel pursuits, and Fox’s so far castless upcoming Fantastic Four franchise reboot is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2015. That one’s been in the news lately: last week it was reported that Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, has completed a “polish” of the film’s script. Mark Millar, who is working on the reboot as a consultant, has been hyping the project:

“What I wasn’t expecting actually was just how funny and likeable he could make this as well as getting the more awesome moments on screen — I use awesome in the traditional British sense and not the California sense awesome, you know? The Ridley Scott moments, and the Fantastic Four really are jaw-dropping in the same way you feel when you saw Alien for the first time. There’s some moments in this — not to be specific — that are actually gonna be phenomenal on screen and stuff you haven’t seen in a superhero movie before.”

He probably doesn’t mean the Fantastic Four reboot is going to be a terrifying space horror movie featuring a pointy-toothed alien monster and creatures bursting from the FF’s chests, but that’s all I can imagine now.