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Review: X-Men: First Class, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

By June 28, 2011No Comments

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.

X-Men: Furst Class posterAfter 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.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides posterA 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.