We’re at that time of year when the big studios role out blockbuster after blockbuster so that Americans looking to escape the stifling heat will choose to find comfort in cinema air-conditioning and we in New Zealand hope that the cinemas are warmer than our lounge rooms.
Apart from the Spielberg/Abrams collaboration Super 8 (next week, folks) all of the biggies this season are either sequels or comic book adaptations, demonstrating that despite all indications the bottom of the barrel hasn’t quite been scraped yet.
After three X‑Men films and a horrendous Wolverine spin-off Marvel/Fox have gone back to the beginning in the now traditional franchise re-boot strategy perfected by Batman and stuffed up completely by Bryan Singer with Superman Returns.
It’s 1962 and the Cold War is heating up. In Oxford a smarmy super-intelligent booze-hound (James McAvoy) is scoring with girls thanks to his ability to read minds. The CIA asks him for some help unravelling the mystery of some unexplained phenomena in Las Vegas and is perturbed to discover they get his freaky mind control powers as well as his analysis — and his “sister” Raven (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone) who has the ability to change shape at will.
McAvoy is Professor Xavier and he knows that mankind’s time on this earth is numbered and the mutants (assisted by our own feeble nuclear experiments) will one day become the dominant species. Xavier wants to hold our hands through this but other mutants are not so accommodating. Kevin Bacon’s former Nazi death camp doctor wants to accelerate the impending nuclear holocaust and rule over the ashes while lone wolf Michael Fassbender (Hunger) uses his metal-controlling ability to seek out the same Kevin Bacon and take revenge for the death of his mother.
It will come as no surprise to finds that X‑Men: First Class is noisy and full of “amazing” visual effects — the kind that are ceasing to have any actual “effect” on this audience member. It also hints at a deeper purpose — the search for acceptance in a world that denies difference — but fails to play that theme out and only hints at what it might have been if — I don’t know — it was allowed to actually tell a complete story rather than leave us hanging for a sequel.
If you add to that the fact that it can’t even stay true to it’s own shonky internal logic, X‑Men is a disappointment: crammed with too much … stuff.
A quick final word on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides before I go. Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character was an amusing foil and comic support in the first three films but the character can’t sustain an entire narrative of his own — that schtick just gets too old too quickly.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 8 June, 2011.