It would take a brain far more telepathically powerful than that of Professor X to untangle what went wrong with "X-Men: First Class," but misplaced and misplayed ambition, to say nothing of a massive misspent budget, comes to my nonmutant mind. The latest edition of the sprawling action-comic-fantasy epic takes us back to the future with moments of greatness. But those flashes of amazing are fleeting, ultimately undone by a frustrating mire of multiple plots, overreaching special effects, leaden ancillary players and world-ending military standoffs that have all the tension of a water balloon fight.The film stars James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, two "First Class" standouts, as Professor X and Magneto in the '60s, when they were just a couple of mutants working through their power issues. But there is more, so much more … a back story about the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis; a subplot tied to an evil Nazi mutant (Kevin Bacon doing vile particularly well); a running teen coming-of-age bit featuring some X-Men mutant favorites; a CIA-in-conflict story; a U.S. colonel compromised by lingerie models; and a few more threads I'm probably forgetting. The stories unfold in — deep breath — Auschwitz, New York,England, Argentina, Las Vegas, Miami, Moscow, somewhere outside of Moscow, Virginia, under the ocean, in the sky, on the ground, underground, under polar icecaps and in several undisclosed locations. At times it feels like someone was playing spin and point with an old globe of the world. British director Matthew Vaughn somehow lets everything get away from him, which is unlike most of his well-calibrated early work, from his 2005 debut, "Layer Cake," to 2009's "Harry Brown," which he produced. The script is from a team whose players included Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz, and Jane Goldman and Vaughn (they collaborated on "Kick-Ass" among others). The film begins with such promise, a near perfect re-creation of the powerful Auschwitz scene that opened the original "X-Men" in 2000. It's when Magneto was a boy heartbreakingly separated from his parents at the prison gates, his metal-twisting powers unleashed, but too late to save them. We get the next terrible chapter in that book now, which introduces us to Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) as a Nazi big shot with an operating room next to his office and a persuasive gun who presses Erik into service. It plants the seeds of revenge and mistrust that will drive Erik the rest of his days. CONTINUE READING...
Pierre Boulle's apes have made numerous appearances on the big screen over the years, starting when Charlton Heston crash-landed on what seemed to be a distant planet and continuing with Tim Burton taking Mark Wahlberg to a faraway planet in the year 3002.
But the property has rarely forsaken the interstellar future in favor of the Earthly present ("Escape from the Planet of the Apes" did do some of it via time travel). Rupert Wyatt's origin story "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," whose theatrical trailer hit the Web today ahead of its Aug. 5 release, offers its take on how the apes came to emulate and surpass humans, and right here on Earth.
The trailer for the James Franco film starts out like a standard-issue medical thriller -- scientist tinkers with monkeys, leading to disastrous consequences ("You're trying to control things that aren't meant to be controlled!") -- before turning into a man vs. beast story with with echoes of "Avatar," "Battle: Los Angeles" and other tales of the apocalypse. "Evolution becomes revolution," the tag summarizes.
One of big questions that's captivated the blogosphere since the film went into production is how the simulated apes -- for the first time depicted using special effects, not actors in makeup -- will appear in the film. They seem convincing enough here. But maybe more interesting is whether the prequel can avoid the sameness of a thousand other disaster movies and instead distinguish itself with the racial and social subtexts that have permeated the best moments of the franchise. To answer that, though, you kind of need the full movie.