Because I can’t think of anything to say other than “oooooh” and “shiny” about the new trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man, here are a handful of stills that really grabbed me…
40. Salami Sandwich
“Where’s that blasted salami?” gripes Wolverine as he roots around the fridge in X-Men: The Animated Series. Once he’s found the hunk of meat, he slices it up with his claws. Who says this guy doesn’t know how to have a good time?
The Film: Moody, mind-bendy sci-fi from Ridley Scott following burnt-out future cop (or ‘Blade Runner’) Deckard as he chases down superhuman beings (or ‘Replicants’).
The Comic-Book Continuation: What we want – more Blade Runners, more shifty Replicants and more neo-noir intrigue. What we don’t want – stuff set in space.
The Shocking: Over 10,000 Batman readers voted in the debate on whether or not to kill off Jason Todd aka Robin. It was a close-run thing, which is insane enough in itself considering how hated Todd was.
Eventually, Robin bit the dust – and in a bloody way that perhaps made fans that voted for his death feel a little bit ashamed of themselves.
The Villain: Ridiculously strong and ridiculously evil. Doubt it? Lobo wiped out his entire race on home planet Czarnia (for kicks) before heading to Earth to fight Green Lantern. Also, his name is Khundian for “he who devours your entrails and thoroughly enjoys it”. Lovely.
Coolest Quality: Accelerated healing means Lobo’s near impossible to destroy – his body can repair itself from any kind of assault.
Likelihood Of Appearing: Lobo’s a popular villain in the DCverse – so much so that Guy Ritchie was attached to direct a solo movie outing for him in 2009. That project looks to be all but dead now, though, so an appearance in Lantern 2 is highly likely.
Perfect Casting: Ron Perlman
Origin stories are tough nuts to crack. Just ask George Lucas. Or X-Men Origins: Wolverine director Gavin Hood, whose 2009 fling with the X-verse endeavoured to fill in knuckle-clawed Wolvie’s back story, but met with more howls than hurrahs.
Could X-Men: First Class be a case of second time lucky, as Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn takes a root through the X-Men’s, uh, roots? Or is history doomed to repeat itself? Well, hardly. Vaughn’s X genesis is easily the classiest, most entertaining X film since X2. Impeccably cast, incisive in its splicing of history with an alt mutant narrative, and neatly balancing its spectacle with its story beats, it’s a stunning achievement – especially considering Vaughn had only a year in which to deliver.
It starts with the script. Kick-Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman all but throws out the kid-friendly First Class comic, retaining the title alone and penning a daring historical mutation that pitches the Cold War at a sci-fi tilt. The year is 1963. Bit of rough Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is hunting former Nazi Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who killed Erik’s mother when he was a child. Meanwhile, cheeky boffin Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has just gotten his doctorate. When the paths of these two figures cross, you better hold onto your hat – especially after they encounter CIA Agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), who’s tracking the mysterious Hellfire Club, which involves Shaw and his mysterious sidekick Emma Frost (January Jones).
Foregoing the barbed, post-modern bite of Kick-Ass, Vaughn and Goldman have forged a sophisticated period superhero film that fits right in with the aesthetic of Bryan Singer’s two X outings, despite its historical setting. That’s mostly because the ‘60s influence is never exploited as a miserable, Austin Powers-style gimmick, Vaughn instead hand-picking period aesthetics to weave together something richly tangible.
That most stylish of eras permeates every detail; the set design is extravagant (the deliciously sleazy Hellfire Club) and the costumes to die for (Emma Frost’s bustilicious white fantasy get-up). There’s even playful split-screen edits, hilarious throwback dialogue (“groovy,” burrs McAvoy), not to mention a twangy, achingly cool score that recalls the best of old school Bond.
Speaking of, Bond is an obvious touchstone. Vaughn once wanted to reboot the spy franchise but never got the chance, and here he seizes the opportunity to position Magneto as a roguish smooth operator (“I basically moulded a young Magneto on a young Sean Connery,” he’s said in interviews). Easily 007’s equal in the charisma stakes, Fassbender rises to the tricky task of speaking in his native German and Russian (though at times fudging an English accent), and positions Magneto as a powerful, volatile force to be reckoned with.
His relationship with Charles/Professor X was always going to provide the, uh, meat of the story, and the boys don’t let us down. McAvoy in particular excels in this incarnation of the well-known Professor (most memorably played with stoic poise by Patrick Stewart), both endearingly emotional and surprisingly flirty – as unstuffy as he is warm and funny.
What of the young mutants promised by that ‘First Class’ subtitle? All are spirited additions, with Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique getting the most screentime, though she’s often sadly lumbered with self-hate issues that err on the side of repetitiveness. That said, Nicolas Hoult’s Beast is enjoyably nerdy, while Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee gets all the laughs. And the FC’s obligatory training montage is also one of its standout moments – a fun, flashy segment that zings with energy.
The involvement of the younglings, though, means that the typical X-movie niggle of short-changing secondary characters is still present and correct. Falling prey to the ‘ensemble movie’ curse are villain sidekicks Riptide and Azazel, who barely utter two words between them, while Emma Frost is a fantastic evil Bond girl who’s given no backstory whatsoever. Still, it’s a miracle that Vaughn has managed to create something as coherent as this without sacrificing more of his players. Everybody gets their moment – including the one-dimensional Azazel in a fight-scene reminiscent of X2’s zippy opening.
Vaughn summed it up best himself when he called First Class “X-Men meets Bond”. With Kevin Bacon something of a revelation as a preening, mad baddie, and McAvoy and Fassbender sharing near nuclear levels of chemistry, it’s a busy, gratifying return to form for the X films that ends in a gut-punchingly effective climax. As the credits swirl in a giddy ‘60s motif to the reverberating drawl of those Bondian guitars, you’ll be begging for a sequel. Yes, this X prequel really is (groan) first class. 4/5
There’s a future blog post about geek chic in here somewhere, and one day I’ll get the time to sit down and thrash out an exploration of cinematic nerds throughout the history of the world. For now, here’s a brand new one to lavish attention over.
Yes, it’s Andrew Garfield in full-on geek mode as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. So far we’ve only had a few specs-less shots of Garfield on the set of The Amazing Spider-Man, as well as some rather gorgeous looks at him in the texture-y new Spidey suit. But finally here he is rocking some seriously cool frames. Being a geek never looked so good.
Pic via Just Jared
Briefly: there’s a new poster out for Green Lantern. And much like all the other promotional material for the film, it’s not exactly set my world aflame with nail-chomping anticipation. With news arriving this week that the film’s received a budget boost of $9m to fix its special effects (that’ll teach them for robbing Ryan Reynolds of a real super-suit), it looks like the debate over just how bad Lantern could be is going to rage on right up to its 17 June release date.
Admittedly, I have the same concerns for Lantern as I did for Thor (which, actually, I ended up really liking). Namely that all the crazy CGI and space-y stuff will feel too hokey when set down next to a modern-day Earth setting. That said, it does have some pluses going for it – Blake Lively impressed with The Town (tonally a million miles away from Lantern, true), Ryan Reynolds can be charismatic if he checks the goofy gurning at the door (see Buried), and director Martin Campbell is definitely no hack (he gave us Casino Royale and GoldenEye, but he also gave us the woeful Edge Of Darkness).
In short: jury’s still out concerning whether or not Warner Bros can turn Lantern into a massive money-maker while delivering something of franchise-birthing quality. But based on promo work like this, which is just too Photoshop-heavy for my taste, we’re still in for a very rough ride.
Watch out DC, Marvel just upped their game. After teething problems with the likes of Fantastic Four, Hulk and The Punisher, Marvel Studios have a definite game plan, and they’ve set it well and truly in motion with Thor.
Whereas DC’s Green Lantern adap has been mucking around with silly CGI suits gone wrong and truly apathetic responses to early footage, Thor knuckles down and gets on with it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have ambition – it does, in spades – but the brains behind Thor know what’s important; story, character and, yes, visual spectacle.
Marvel’s real genius here was hiring Kenneth Branagh as director. Though he’s new to the big budget CGI scene (save for that ‘90s Frankenstein adap he directed), it’s clear that Branagh’s strength resides in his ability to craft compelling family drama – something he’s honed through the course of his numerous Shakespearean adaps.
So where lesser superhero movies might paint their domestic drama in the laziest of broad brush strokes, Branagh tackles it with the courage of a true Bardian, infusing family fractures with the kind of Earth-quivering gravity that the story of warring gods deserves. When characters argue, they BELLOW. When they’re angry, they SEETHE. When they’re downtrodden, they’re BROKEN.
Barrelling out of the starting gate, Thor plummets us headfirst into the godly world of Asgard, where the Norse rulers of legend all live. In a breathless 30 minute segment entirely set amongst the stars, we’re introduced to their world, their leaders (Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, his two sons Thor and Loki), their enemies (the Frost Giants), their protectors (Idris Elba’s brilliant Gatekeeper) and everything in between.
It’s a boggling, pulse-raising opening that, though action-packed and overloaded with theatrics, makes sense in the greater context of the film. Once Thor’s been banished to Earth, stripped of his godly powers, the film settles into a more talky mid-section that’s handled with Iron Man-like wit.
Tone was always a concern. How do you reconcile the high camp setting of Asgard with the gritty real-life Earth segments without tipping the scale too far either way? To Branagh’s credit, he manages it with few niggles. Though Asgard is at times more ‘CGI epic’ than truly breathtaking, there’s no faulting the stunning production design. A glimmering green and gold paradise, there’s no doubt this is a place built for heavenly beings. Meanwhile, Branagh cleverly infuses even the Earth scenes with a comic-book kilter, keeping his lense half-crooked even in the most serious of moments.
Crucially, Thor has time for its characters. Though it’s busy, stirring in everything from references to The Sword In The Stone, a cameo from Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and even a Terminator 2 nod, we rarely feel short-changed. The trio of scientists comprised of a spirited Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård are a delight, championing keen chemistry and a fun sense of dry humour.
As for Hemsworth, he is Thor; built like a Viking, massive in every sense of the word. His Thor is a sort of amalgamation of other superheroes, bundled into a He-Man, Superman, God-like mass of flesh and charm. His fish out of water moments are truly hilarious, and when he gets his “fuck yeah!” moment, you’re punching the air alongside him.
Most enticingly, we know we’ve only got to wait another year to see Thor back in action. With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers currently shooting, Thor acts as a compelling prologue to that epic adventure. Unlike Iron Man 2, though, Thor also stands completely as its own entity. A thunderous, magnetic, often warmly tongue-in-cheek thrillride, it has the power to awaken the fanboy in us all. 4/5
When you’re drawing up a list of potential directors for a big, nay, massive sci-fi action adventure film, Kenneth Branagh – better known for his period romps – is probably not the first person on your list. He’s probably not even in the top 50.
But then, that’s what makes Marvel Studios so unique. Having taken the producing reins on the movie adaptations of their prized stable of comic book heroes, they’ve consistently paired odd-choice directors with their properties to thrilling effect.
Jon Favreau and Iron Man. Louis Leterrier and The Incredible Hulk. Both courageous couplings reaped surprising, entertaining results. And now Marvel wanted to do the same with one of their most high profile characters – Norse god Thor. So who did they call? Well, Kenneth Branagh, of course…