Going to movies: X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class (2011) poster
X-Men: First Class (2011) poster

I saw X-Men: First Class (2011) on Sunday and all I can think of is how much I loved it and how deeply touching it was. I can think of no other movie where the threat of nuclear war is insignificant background noise compared to the sheer volume of feelings going on between the two main characters, in this case Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto. And this wasn’t a movie about action, it was a love story and a drama between those two and a story about hopes, ideals, and how they are crushed, and about abandonment.

This review is going to be full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read any further. The plot of the movie differs quite a lot from the canonised storyline so reading further will spoil the movie for you. So just trust me on this one and go see the movie. It’s awesome.

Why’s Mystique walking in your..?

Xavier (Laurence Belcher) and Mystique (Morgan Lily) meet for the first time in X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (Laurence Belcher) and Mystique (Morgan Lily) meet for the first time in X-Men: First Class (2011)

As I said, this movie differs a great deal from the canonised storyline so there is really no point in even pointing them out. I must confess that I hadn’t read any reviews about the movie and had no idea how different this movie was going to be. I thought that maybe it would tell the story of the first team of X-Men (Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast, and Marvel Girl) with a younger Charles hence showing the first X-Men as teenagers they were in the beginning or something similar. But nothing like that. The story begins from a Nazi concentration camp – of course – and then gives a glimpse into Charles’s and Raven/Mystique’s youth, who grow up together.

Emma Frost (January Jones) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Emma Frost (January Jones) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

The first mutants are alone, thinking they are the only ones with special powers and thus Charles and Mystique cling into each other seeking acceptance and support from each other. When the CIA agent Moira McTaggert finds out about the existence of mutants with super powers, accidentally discovering the truth about Emma Frost, she seeks assistance from the expert of genetic mutations, now Professor Xavier. While helping the CIA Xavier meets Erik, the future Magneto, who has dedicated his life to seeking revenge on the Nazis who killed his family. The main perpetrator being the leader of the Hellfire club, Sebastian Shaw – something that took me a while to put together since he looked very different from his time working for the Nazi. Charles and Erik join their forces to stop the evil mutants hoping to start a nuclear war to wipe out us normal humans.

Seeking justice, asking for equality, wanting to live free without persecution and discrimination

Xavier (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

The X-Men have always been about equal rights for all humans to be and live as we are without fear of persecution and discrimination. It’s a noble ideal, something I hope we all can agree on, but which seldomly manifests in reality. It doesn’t matter what your “flaw” is, all of us have been put down because of something arbitrary, be it the clothes you wear, how much money your family has, what colour is your skin, your gender, or your sexual orientation. We all know how it feels to be made to feel different and that’s Mystique of this story. Her powers make her look very different from all of us and all she hopes is to feel like she belongs. She keeps on appearances, she tries to accommodate to be accepted and when she finally meets Erik/Magneto, who tells her she is just fine being herself, the blue skinned woman with beautiful yellow eyes and fiery red hair (she is beatiful), she for the first time feels naked, vulnerable, defiant, and ultimately powerful.

Charles, having the ability to read people’s minds, devoting his life to helping others find peace within themselves, healing them and trying to support them, fails the one person most dependant on him – Raven. He can go into Erik’s mind, find the light from within himself, share the most personal aspects of him, and sets him free. And at the same time, having promised to stay out of Raven’s mind, he doesn’t notice how much she needs him and his acceptance and how much his words hurt her. And the great tragedy is that without his abilities he’s blind, unable to see things happening around him, when he’s so used to just reading people and seeing immediately what’s bothering them and fixing that problem. And with Raven, he lets her down flat.

Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) playing chess in X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) playing chess in X-Men: First Class (2011)

Erik has seen the lengths to which people are willing to go to take out those they see as different, the horrors that ensue from “just following orders”, and not thinking for yourself. He has learned to accept himself as who he is, a man driven by rage and revenge – but also caged by those feelings and finally finding his true potential when Charles frees him. But having lived his life in hatred, he can’t let go of his desire for revenge, and blocks out Charles. And in doing so he turns his back at him, abandons his dreams, his hopes, his ideals – and ultimately him.

The magnificent cast

Cast from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Cast from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (James McAvoy) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (James McAvoy) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

This movie’s greatness lies solely on the shoulders of its cast. Without the heartbreaking performances of the main cast this movie would have been just another superhero movie and nothing spectacular. But really, with the emotions flying high and ideals crashing, the threat of a nuclear war was like a mosquitoe’s piss in the ocean.

I would have never thought that James McAvoy would find himself from the shoes of Xavier. He’s an excellent actor, but I assiciate him to much more serious roles from movies like Atonement and Last King of Scotland. But he can portray the range of feelings this role required and his presence makes him a believable mentor to the others.

Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

At the very beginning I had trouble accepting Michael Fassbender as Erik and I did think he was just a man with one face, but luckily I was proven wrong. Also I think the earlier three X-Men movies were also haunting me, because Ian McKellen‘s Magneto was so different than in the comics and somehow my idea of Magneto has been transformed to remind him rather than the stern faced, muscular, dominant Magneto of the comics. Fassbender’s Magneto was a return to the original. And I must admit that he was also perfect for the role. Very stern in his beliefs, ruthless and yet easy to accept there was goodnes in his heart and that he really was a friend to Charles and that Charles was able to find that friend and that goodnes from within him.

Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

Another great performance came from Jennifer Lawrence who was cast in the role of Mystique. Despite her young age she’s already a celebrated actress with many nominations and awards and I can see why. She played the role of Raven to perfection with all her insecurities, how she finds her self-confidence and how deep within her she’s just a normal teenager who just wants to be normal. And I bet if you have the blue skin and everyone else looks normal that feels even more important to you.

There were also other great performances, but it would take ages to list them all. All in all this is a wonderful cast. Need I say more? Well, actually I do! I must also point out the movie had a wide range of good old actors playing very minor roles. Like Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, Oliver Platt as the Man in Black, Ray Wise as Secretary of State, and Michael Ironside as the US captain. Also a small role for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine telling Xavier and Magneto to *beeb* off. :”D

Emma Frost (January Jones) and Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Emma Frost (January Jones) and Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

Well surely there must have been something bad?

Well, of course. The main plot concerning the threat of a nuclear war was a quite minor part of the movie, but who cares.

The first X-Men: Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Moira Mc Taggert (Rose Byrne), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Xavier (James McAvoy),and Havok (Lucas Till) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
The first X-Men: Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Moira Mc Taggert (Rose Byrne), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Xavier (James McAvoy), and Havok (Lucas Till) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

Also the main bad guys were quite boring, but who cares. This was a movie about Charles and Erik, not about battle between good and evil. But still, the “bad” mutants Riptide (Álex González), Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) were very one dimensional and needless characters. Well, Azazel was at least good at giving the young mutants a good scare at the CIA headquarters (or maybe the Pentagon?). And Angel was needed because she needed to change teams. Riptide’s existence in the movie was just pointless, but I suppose they needed someone to accompany Azazel who, by the way,  seemed to be doing a very good job on his own.

Also that survivor mutant’s (Edi Gathegi) role in the movie was quite needless. I suppose in the earlier script his role and death must have been bigger motivators, but I suppose in post-production they must have shifted the focus more on Charles’s and Erik’s relationship. But then again, there are always those characters in the comics who appear only to die a few panels later.

“It’s better than bad, it’s good!”

Emma Frost (January Jones) looking quite unhappy knowing where she'll be heading next. From X-Men: First Class (2011)
Emma Frost (January Jones) looking quite unhappy knowing where she'll be heading next. From X-Men: First Class (2011)

Yes, I just couldn’t think of more things to complain about, but came up with one more important bonus for the movie. I loved the fact that all the female characters were treated as whole persons and as strong actors in the movie. And even though there were some sexist remarks in the movie like when Sebastian Shaw asks Emma Frost to go and fetch him some ice to his drink, when Emma has to make the russian official believe she’s going to bed with her, it’s clear from Emma’s face what she thinks of these incidents. She loathes it. Good for you, Emma! Btw, she also wears more clothes than her comics counterpart. Yay for Emma! And if things go well, in the next movie she doesn’t have to put up with that kind of crap anymore since Shaw is replaced by Magneto, who for example in this movie doesn’t take advantage on Raven and handles the whole awkward situation with so much class and empowers Raven in this situation that could have turned very embarrassing for her. I’d marry him for that if I already weren’t.

Emma Frost wearing lot of clothes.
Emma Frost wearing the most clothes you can find in the comics.

I don’t know, maybe the movie was really just very good instead of something between excellent and amazing? I really don’t know, but as of now, two days after seeing it, I’m so happy, glad, empowered, and loving that movie, I really couldn’t care less. Good job, everyone. <3

Going to movies: Thor (2011)

Thor (2011) poster
Thor (2011) poster.

My husband and I went to the movies on Friday to see the new Thor movie. When it came to theaters in early May I was excited about it, but for some reason as time passed I had got it into my head that the movie would be bad. Lucky for me it wasn’t. In fact, I’m happy to report the movie was surprisingly fun, well made and entertaining.

Thor, the much improved version of exactly what?

…Not to mention the short moment of eye-candy for all of us who can appreciate a well formed torso. One friend of mine, who went to see the movie back in May, when asked how she liked the movie, the only thing she could say was something about the muscles. I can see why.

The actor portraying Thor, Chris Hemsworth, was perfect – and I’m not only referring to those muscles. I thought his performance was belivable and he looked perfect – and still I’m not referring to those muscles, but to his Marvel comics counterpart.

Thor shirtless
Shirtless Thor. Notice ochre torso and pink face. I swear I have only adjusted the levels and other small things in the original photo.

While looking for photos of shirtless Thor, I found this photo here. The original photo was quite dark so I did some Photoshop magic to it to give us a better look at his torso. Nothing big, just adjusted the levels and similar small things. What happened was, in the end Thor’s head was clearly of a different colour than the rest of his body. The color changes on his neck where the background changes from earth to sky. At first I thought my photoshopping had changed the image, but at closer look at the original I noticed it, too, had different coloured head and body. I can come up with three explanations for this. 1) The “wrong” coloured head is a result of post-production. Maybe they did something to the background and it affected also his head’s colour. 2) Make-up. They use heavy make-up (not heavy metal, just large amounts) to make the actors look good in hard light. Maybe that’s where his face make-up ends. And yes, you usually apply make-up also to the neck. 3) They used a body double in that scene. I suppose this is the most likely explanation, since to my understanding using body doubles is quite common in movies these days. That doesn’t mean Chris Hemswoth doesn’t have the muscles (just look at the following photo, that’s no body double) for Thor himself, they just might have thought his physique didn’t give that oomph to the scene. Well, whatever the explanation, nice muscles.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and some muscles
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and some muscles.

Rest of the cast

As for the rest of the cast I was quite happy. Anthony Hopkins was good choice for Odin. His charisma and stature made him a very convincing Odin (although this much used publicity photo of him is not very good).

Odin (Anthony Hopkins) from Thor (2011)
Odin (Anthony Hopkins) from Thor (2011)

It’s been a long time since I last read Thor comics and throughout the movie I had a bit of trouble accepting his friends, the Warriors Three. Thinking of Norwegian gods I had a hard time accepting a French dude and an Asian samurai-wannabe to the group, but when searching for reference images from my comics collection, I noticed they all were as they should be. After a quick look at Wikipedia I found out that they are all Marvel created additions to Asgard. Fine. The Warriors Three are Fandral (Josh Dallas), Vollstag (Ray Stevenson), and Hogun (Tadanoby Asano). Fandral the Dashing is supposed to be a Errol Flynn type of a ladies man, but in the movie he seemed like one of the Three Musketeers. A bit odd. Hogun the Grimm is known in the comics to be short tempered and looking a bit like some Hollywood version of Genghis Khan, but in the movie he was more like a Japanese samurai. I liked the Vollstag of the movie, who was like an oversized dwarf (I’m thinking of Warhammer Drunken Dwarfs) with an insatiable appetite. In the comics he’s a hugely obese man, with a weird French (?) outfit and feathers (?) protruding from his helm. I didn’t remember he was like that in the comics. I liked him more in the movie. But all in all, except for Vollstag, the rest of them felt really out of place in the movie. Well, I could also forgive Fandrall. But Hogun looked like he didn’t really even like being in Asgard or belonging to the rest of the group.

Vollstag sitting on a poor man
Vollstag sitting on a poor man. I'll rather see the movie Vollstag than this antenna head.
Sif (Jaimie Alexander) from Thor (2011)
Sif (Jaimie Alexander) from Thor (2011)

I also sort of liked Sif, who was portrayed in the movie as sort of belonging with the Warriors Three to Thor’s group of sidekicks, but in the comics she is a strong female character, who supports her own. In the comics it seems she has hots for Thor. Well, all in all a notable warrior woman. Unfortunately the actor, Jaimie Alexander, suffered from a common flaw in Hollywood actresses – not convincing as a warrior. She looked like a Hollywood princess trying to act like a warrior. (I’m sorry, Jaimie.) I don’t know if it’s just the women who are drawn into acting, or if it’s the American culture (as to how they raise their children) in general, but almost all the women are like porcelain doll princesses afraid to use some force. Or maybe it’s the casting people who think the audience wants to see only pretty princesses. But to think of beautiful women who could take a role of a woman warrior with no difficulty: Lucy Lawless (Xena), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor from Terminator movies), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Eliza Dushku (Faith from Buffy and Echo from Dollhouse), Grace Jones (Zula from Conan the Destroyer, I knwo she wasn’t a very good actress, but she had the attitude), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley from Alien movies), Summer Glau (Cameron from Sarah Connor Chronicles, River Tam from Firefly), …And those were just the first ones to pop to my head. There are numerous beautiful women who have the physical strength to take on a role of a warrior, so why choose a Hollywood princess instead? I know she looks the part, but I’d be willing to take a “wrong” looking woman who makes a convincing warrior. Besides, since the Warriors Three didn’t look like the original heroes, why does the only female warrior have to be chosen based on her looks and not on her warrior acting skills? As another example of Hollywood getting it Totally Wrong, just think of Halle Berry as Storm in the X-Men movies.

Sif as portrayed in the comics
Sif as portrayed in the comics. She fights an army of demons side by side with Thor and volunteers to stay behind alone so the others get a chance to destroy the demons' nest.

But really, I have many friends who incidentally happen to be females, and for some weird reason the majority of them, if not all, would make some bloody convincing women warriors. So is it only Finland or the women around me, who just for some freak of nature happen to have the required attitude and physical power (and no, they are not all weightlifters, just normal women, some skinny, some overweight and some in-between) to make a believable warrior? Or could it be that Hollywood just has such a narrow view of women that you just have to be a beauty peagant to make it big, except for those few selected rare women who have the luxury of playing a major role in an action movie? Where are we, the normal, strong, physical women real-life-warriors?! If for nothing else, you need us for Marvel and other superhero movies!

Besides, I must oppose the decision to make Sif just one of Thor’s sidekicks. It’s almost like they had to diminish the only strong warrior female in the story to a sidekick status and replace her with a “normal” human female instead. At least the human was an active female and an intelligent one, but still her character was only of a love interest. I would have rather wanted to see Thor make out with Sif, who has balls enough to kick his ass if need be.

Sif gives Thor her kiss goodbye
1) "Well... Er... Lady Sif?" 2) "I see." 3) "Even though I don't breathe as sweetly, my lord Thor, please accept this kiss goodbye..." 4) "A kiss from a warrior, not from some soft toy!"
Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from (Thor 2011)
Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from (Thor 2011)

One other major character in the movie was Loki, the trickster of Norwegian mythology. Tom Hiddleston looked spot on for the role, but his intepretation left me thinking if he had ever even read Marvel comics. His Loki was like an angst-ridden teenager looking spineless and constantly on the verge of tears. In the comics, Loki is a badass sniveling snake. He stands straight, sure of himself and full of power. Just because he’s evil and conniving doesn’t mean he somehow lacks in physique. I hope in the Avengers movie, if he’ll be there like it seems from the short clip at the end of the movie, he’ll have grown a backspine.

Loki shows some attitude
Loki as portrayed in the comics. Here shoving Madeline Pryor head first to snow.
Marvel 1/1993 Cover
Marvel 1/1993 Cover with Nick Fury at his best.

The last weird casting is that of Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Btw, the Finnish translator of the movie had left S.H.I.E.L.D. as it is and not translated it to YPKVV – “Ylimmän Päämajan Kansainvälisen Vakoilun Vastustamisjaosto”, what a silly name –  like it’s in the comics.) Nick Fury is a badass, older man, white, chewing a cigarette, black hair with some grey in it and in tip top shape. In the movie he only appeared at the last clip after the credits. In the epilogue Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), one of the humans, walks into a corridor and meets a black man. Holy shit, it’s Samuel L. Jackson! It took me quite a while to realize he was playing Nick Fury! 8-@ My first thoughts were “blasphemy!” Shiiiiit, he looks nothing like Nick Fury! After the movie my husband and I were talking and he said he thought Jackson will make a perfect Nick Fury. Fury is a really unpredictable, ruthless character. My husband thinks only Jackson can play a character who can make horrible things, kill innocent people and scare you shitless while still keeping his character believable. I must agree. The only other person that comes to my mind is Clint Eastwood, but he might be too old and “respectable” an actor to play with actors wearing spandex. Well, maybe after seeing the Avengers movie I’ll accept him as Fury.

Heimdall from the comics
Heimdall as he's portrayed in the comics.

And Fury was not the only character to change into a dark skinned man. Heimdall, the gatekeeper, and brother of Sif, was played by Idris Elba. Being a real Norwegian god originally he really should have been blonde, northern viking-y type of a man. But after a short while, I accepted him fully. With his outfit, which mostly covers him, with his fiery yeallow eyes and everything I didn’t even notice there was something “wrong” with him. Very well done. And this is exactly my point, if you can turn Heimdall into a black man (and nobody cares about it because he’s so good at it), why can’t you keep Sif a warrior.

Heimdall (Idris Elba) from Thor (2011)
Heimdall (Idris Elba) from Thor (2011)

Of course, there were some mandatory humans in the movie, too. The main human role in the movie, Jane Foster, was played by Natalie Portman – being the love interest of Thor. Let’s just say, I sort of see why she found Thor so appealing after that shirtless scene, but I can’t say the same about Thor. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely woman and everything, but I would have loved to see them spend some time together and get to know each other. Well, this is the Marvel Universe after all. You just fall in love when you see her/him and that’s final. No need for courtship – except if you are Peter Parker. But regardless of that I’m very happy with Natalie Portman. Great to see a woman so fond of popular culture despite her more serious movie roles like in the Black Swan. And the other humans were great, too. Especially Jane’s friend Darcy (Kat Dennings) in the movie made a funny character. Quite lovable. I could say she quite nearly stole all the scenes – except, you know, when that shirt not there…

Storyline

Frost giants back in the days
Frost giants back in the days. From Marvel Saga #4.

The story itself was quite entertaining. The movie told the background story of both Thor and Loki, who both will apparently appear in the forthcoming Avengers movie. The background story differed from the story shown in Marvel comics (in Finland published in Marvel Saga #5 for Thor and #6 for Loki). In the movie the frost giants were blue, nude (?) giants, but in the comics they looked like giant lumberjacks. Go figure. Maybe this new look is more believable to  modern audiences. Btw, no female frost giants spotted, so maybe they haven’t completely abandoned their lumberjack background. *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

King Laufey of frost giants
King Laufey of frost giants. Concept art for the movie Thor (2011) by Michael Kutsche. (See source below.)

There were other differences, too, to the original story. For example in the movie Loki is just left behind by the frost giants and adopted by the goodhearted Odin. In the original story Loki is hidden in the caves by the frost giants because he’s so tiny. Odin adopts him after he has killed his father Laufey, the king of the frost giants.  But all those differences are minor and acceptable in order to make the story more interesting to the audience.

The only thing about the movie was that the story itself is well known by every Marvel enthusiast and therefore I would have hoped they had added some extra to the story. Maybe less of a birth story and more of a life on Earth or something.

Great costumes and sets

I must also mention the sets and costumes of the movie, which both looked great. I’m curious to know what is that material they use to build those detailed armour pieces. It makes the costumes look just as in the comics and still they look light enough to make them easy to wear. Also the rainbow bridge was a pleasant surprise. Thank god it didn’t look like in the comics. All in all, great work from the costume designer(s) and makers.

Thor, Odin, and some amazing costumes and sets
Thor, Odin, and some amazing costumes and sets.

3D < 2D

Odin, concept art for Thor (2011) by Michael Kutsche
Odin in another costume used in the movie. Concept art for Thor (2011) by Michael Kutsche. (See source below.)

Last thing I must mention is the fact that we had to go to see the movie in 3D. For some reason the local movie theaters didn’t have it in 2D at all so we had no choice. It was horrible. The glasses were uncomfortable, I had to adjust them all the time since they kept sliding down my nose. I also got my neck stiff, since I couldn’t lie my head back on the seat because the 3D effect was so sensitive to the angle you watched it in. Also it seemed the movie was shot in 2D format and the 3D format was added to it later (thay can do that). Many times the perspective got skewed so bad it spoiled the experience. Also most of the battles had such short cuts it made following the action impossible. Everything just got a blurried flurry when your eyes couldn’t conform to the new images fast enough. And in general the 3D image just looked wrong somehow. It wasn’t blurry, but it was a bit grainy. And in the end my eyes got really tired of looking at the movie in 3D, and it was impossible to just relax and enjoy the experience when you had to take care of keeping yourself in good position. Also at the sides of my field of vision, the effect didn’t work and I could see ghost images.

All in all I’d say the 3D is just ridiculous. I don’t see any reason why people would want to see their movies in 3D – unless, of course, they were originally made to be watched in 3D – or pay extra for the experience. In Finland 3D movie tickets costs 4€ more than 2D. All in all, I would have rather watched the movie in 2D. Except maybe for those muscles.

Was it worth it?

Yes it was. I was happily surprised by the movie. I doubt I’ll ever buy it, since the story was nothing extraordinary. The plot was quite predictable from the beginning if you’ve ever read Marvel’s Thor comics. It would have been nice if they could have given the story some clever twist, but it was very simple and straightforward. You-know-who lets the giants in, because he is you-know-what to you-know-who… Some surprising change to the too often seen story would have kept us old Marvel fans up on our toes in the end. But taken that this was more of a background story for the upcoming Avengers movie I’ll say it was a fair job.

Go see it and take your girlfriend along. She’ll thank you later – approximately quite soon after the shirtless scene. ;)

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Michael Kutsche’s concept art for Thor (2011) found from: http://michaelkutsche.blogspot.com/