I am a nerd in a lot of ways. I'm socially awkward. I'd rather be inside with a book than outside enjoying the sunshine. I get obsessive about tv series, movies and podcasts. But one aspect of nerd-dom that has completely passed me by is comic books.
Maybe it's because when I was growing up, comics were still geared toward young boys. Maybe I'm more word-oriented than picture-oriented. Or maybe I just always thought it was a bit of a rip-off to pay the price of a book for something that amounted to one colorful chapter. Whatever the reason, I know little about the Marvel or DC universes or the new crop of darker 'graphic novels' that have come out in recent years. And yet, when summer rolls around, I'm just as excited as the next pimply skateboarder to see the latest comic book adaptation.
In truth, I'm probably easier to please than most fan-boys because I don't particularly care how close the movie sticks to the look or mythology of the original. I just want to be transported into another world with a good story and cool visuals. But for every "Spiderman" and "X-men", which I thoroughly enjoyed, there's a "Spiderman 3" or a "Wolverine" - overblown and undercooked sequels/prequels pushed into the theaters to tap into the goodwill of their built-in audiences that end up disappointing everyone (note to studio executives: nerds HATE to be insulted!)
Usually there follows some discussion about whether the comic book trend is over, or if it's time for a reboot and when summer rolls around again, a new crop of comic book movies are ready to head into theaters. So last week I celebrated June by going to see two movies that I'd been hearing good things about: "Thor" and "X-men:First Class".
First up: "Thor". This is a movie that got fairly good reviews, at least among critics I trust (including my Mom) and I was excited to see a film character entirely new to me. Plus, it's directed by Kenneth Branagh and co-stars Natalie Portman, so I figured it must be a somewhat 'classy' adaptation. I also admired the decision to go with a relative newcomer, Chris Hemsworth, who certainly looks the part, and actually manages to be somewhat believable as an alien/superhero who's power is basically that he can hammer really, really hard.
Actually, I have to give props to all the actors, especially Tom Hiddleston as Thor's "mischievous" brother Loki, who fully commit to movie's wacky sci-fi mythology and try to make you actually care about what's going on. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of there there. The plot, such as it is, involves Thor getting sent to Earth as punishment for having a super-sized ego, where he must prove himself worthy of his hammer (I kid you not) & foil a plot by other aliens to invade his homeworld.
This is a movie entirely built around massive CGI-enhanced sets, over-the-top special effects with little to no character development of either the aliens or the humans. Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings are pretty wasted in "the girl" and "the sidekick" roles and worse still, Idris Elba is criminally underused as some kind of mystical toll bridge operator who is not only completely clothed the whole time, but wears a helmet that covers most of his face!...At least there's that shirtless Thor scene where Hemsworth shows off his arms, the only truly spectacular moment in the movie.
So on to"X-Men:First Class." As mentioned earlier, I was a fan of the first X-men and was happy to find the same look and ambience as that film. In fact, the opening sequence of the new one looks almost like a shot-for-shot remake of the opening of the earlier film, although it is then expanded to provide more backstory for the character who will become the villainous Magneto.
With the exceptions of January Jones and Kevin Bacon, who I found less than compelling villains, I thought the casting of X-M:FC was impressive. The ever-charming James McAvoy and - yes I'll say it - the magnetic Michael Fassbender both shine as fully-developed individuals who are also convincing as younger versions of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan from the original "X-men". The film also does a good job of weaving its three main narrative threads - the formation of the X-men team, the escalating Russian-American nuclear threat, and Magneto's search for revenge on the Nazi who killed his mother - into one well-balanced and suspenseful plot.
This is a film that knows how to use its special effects in the service of the storyline, not as a replacement for one, and doesn't forget that human emotion is just as important as blowing shit up. (It also contains the germ of what would be an amazing prequel to the prequel: Michael Fassbender: Nazi Hunter. Who wouldn't pay to see that?)
Watching this movie actually made me want to delve into the X-men comic book series to learn more about its universe, which I suppose is the most any adaptation could hope for. So overall, despite my disappointment in "Thor," I will still be in line to see next summer's "Avengers" movie to see if it lives up to the hype. What are your favorite comic book movies? Are there any comics/graphic novels series you would recommend? And why can't James McAvoy be my boyfriend?