X-Men: First Class

By 2011, the X-Men franchise was running out of steam after two disappointing entries and what looked to be a third on the way. The marketing for First Class did a great job of making the film look awful. As it turns out, marketing can sometimes suck balls.

X-Men: First Class is a prequel/reboot set in the mid ’60s. Ex-Nazi, mutant Kevin Bacon (thank god that’s a thing) is setting in motion a plan to exterminate the human race to pave the way for mutants to rise up to rule. Once mutants are exposed, the CIA reaches out to Prof. Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (a past victim of Bacon’s) to gather more wayward mutants to stand against the upcoming coup. But our two protagonists have very different ideals concerning right and wrong and the relations between man and mutant, and events are already in motion that will move them closer to their destinies as Prof. X and Magneto.

This is still my favorite movie from last year. I was completely expecting to be underwhelmed but me my expectations were blown away. Everything positive about it stems from its cool period piece, CHARACTER DRIVEN script. The dynamic between Xavier and Magneto is perfect, down to Jane Goldman’s script, Matthew Vaughn’s superb directing throughout, and James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s stellar performances. Add in some almost as good back-stories for other characters like Mystique and Beast, some surprisingly excellent action set pieces, a strong villain and you’ve got yourself a layer cake of awesomeness.

My complaints are few and far in between. Only nitpick material, such as the casting of January Jones, some less than perfect special effects, and a few lines of dialogue that could have been clipped here and there. All of these were symptoms of a rushed production schedule. With more time on their hands, I dare say this movie would have been perfect.

Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns caught up at the wrong time. People starting tuning out after being disappointed by The Last Stand and Wolverine, so First Class ended up bringing in $55 million opening weekend, with around $130 mill total. Not a bad number, but not quite up to par for an X-Men movie, much less a really good one.

A sequel to First Class is set to hit in July 2014. Here’s hoping next year’s The Wolverine doesn’t fuck things up again.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Panic in the street erupted when Chris Columbus chose not to return for a third Harry Potter movie and the series switched from a twelve month cycle to eighteen. Not to worry; by the time summer 2004 rolled around, we found out everything would fall nicely into place.
Is there anyone out there that doesn’t know or have a general idea of what each of the Harry Potter movies are about at this point? For those cave dwellers, Prisoner of Azkaban focuses on the escape of Sirius Black from the titular wizard prison. Unfortunately for Harry, Black is a convicted murderer who betrayed Harry’s parents, leading to their deaths, and is gunning for him now.

When people are asked what their favorite entry in the Potter franchise is, Azkaban is frequently listed. The story this time around is of a refreshingly different structure than Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets (which are exactly the same, structure-wise) and provides the first real growth and advancement of the franchise, not to mention depth.

This is the movie where the three main actors finally begin to feel comfortable in their roles. A little time to age and some more complex material sure does wonders. And as always the cast continued to grow with some of Britain’s finest. Michael Gambon is an equally charming Dumbledore and fucking Gary Oldman is in this movie. Nothing more needs to be said.

Alfonso Cuaron’s direction is the biggest bonus the movie could have gotten. Instead of just being a straight adaption of the book like the first two were, Cuaron delivers a dark, quirky, engrossing version of the story, told through his personal vision. He understood that not every snippet of the book needed to appear in the movie because a great book doesn’t automatically make a great movie. Having the technical (pardon the pun) wizardry required, clear vision of the story he wanted to tell, and ability to get more heartfelt performances out of his young actors (as well as your old ones) makes a great movie.

I’m kind of bummed Cuaron didn’t get the offer to direct Catching Fire like it was rumored. The Hunger Games suffered in some places from the dull, objective adaption syndrome that plagued the first two Potters and who better to fix that than the doctor who basically pioneered the cure?

Preceding X-Men’s example of how unfair the world is, Azkaban is the lowest grossing Potter out of all eight; but  $249 mill domestically and $795 mill worldwide isn’t exactly pocket change either.

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