Friday, May 27, 2011

X-Men: First Class – spoiler free review (or essay, in this case)

X-Men: First Class hurts.


Not in that physical, 'bouncer removing you from the cinema for smuggling in a mobile phone' way. But in the 'wow, this is what X-Men 3 could have been' way if director Matthew Vaughn hadn’t walked away from it.

In short, X-Men: First Class is bloody good.

In long? Well, that's what all those words below are about to go into…

My thoughts on the third movie of the X-Men saga are numerous and you can read them here (http://www.comixfan.net/forums/showthread.php?t=39073), but for the sake of clarity and relevance:

X1: Good, if flawed and dated
X2: Brilliant
X3: Enjoyable nonsense, but easily worst of the bunch

So I came to X-Men: First Class hoping for something which could match my expectations of X2, or at least avoid the relative mess of X3. My faith in the creative team of Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman had yet been shattered after the largely excellent fantasy romp of Stardust and the surprisingly fun Kick Ass. And here, again, they do a fantastic job where in all reality they should have fallen flat on their faces given the stupidly difficult task at hand.

"X-Men! Welcome… to die!"

Vaughn had to create a film mired in canon and coming off the back of a critical mauling, with a shifting production team, a swiftly re-written script and less than 18 months to film the entire thing (apparently principle photography started in August 2010). And yet, First Class remains one of the most tightly structured, coherent and well rounded superhero movies ever made.

X-Men: First Class brings together the story of how Erik 'Magneto' Lehnsherr and Charles 'Professor X' Xavier first met, formed the X-Men and eventually became bitter enemies. Using the 1960s Cuban Missile Crisis as its frame, the tale whips along at a breathless pace, taking us through the Holocaust, Cold War paranoia, the Civil Rights Movement in America, mutant powers, developing friendships and the consequences of violence both explicit and implicit. But it never feels bloated, nor does it lose you for its 2 hours running time. This is lean storytelling that manages to be coherent, exciting and deep, while battering through its narrative with punk rock efficiency. Nothing is wasted.

Given the large number of characters, it's only natural some get a little left by the wayside in the wake of the story's main focus – the relationship between Erik and Charles, played by a wonderfully good Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, respectively. Measured and convincing, they perfectly capture the mannerisms of their counterparts from the previous films (Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart) while adding some ticks of their own, making them incredibly fun to watch. Jennifer Lawrence also turns in a great performance as Raven 'Mystique' Darkhölme, acting as the foil between the two and ultimately, their conscience.

"Peace? Peace was never an option."

When combined with the film's main villain, Sebastian Shaw (ably played by the talented Kevin Bacon, who thankfully makes a rare appearance without his usual co-star – his naked butt), X-Men: First Class' strengths really come out. It's easily the most thematically solid movie of the four, playing with concepts of what it means to seek and exact justice and the scar inducing issues of prejudice and paranoia – with several key elements recurring through the film, such as man vs monster (when one blurs into the other and how a monster is created by the actions of others), racial pride vs fear and war vs peace (as the mutants themselves become metaphors for weapons of mass destruction more dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis itself).

The most prominent symbol in the movie is also the most devastating – a single Nazi gold coin. Used at several junctures in the story, it manages to become a massive collection of metaphors in itself, showing us greed, intolerance, fear, corruption and violence, both symbolically and literally. It's a permanent and powerful motif in First Class, acting as a reminder that Charles and Erik (as well as Erik and Shaw) are two sides of the same coin, while also representing the circular nature of violence. And, as comic book writer/columnist Rich Johnston correctly pointed out, it also acts as visual opposition in a grand game of noughts and crosses, Erik's round nought/coin vs Charles' X/cross – War Games, indeed.

If there are any problems with X-Men: First Class, they're fairly minor. For a start, Shaw's big evil plan is a bit poorly thought out. It reminded me of Deacon Frost's supposed master plan in the first Blade movie – not very clear, a fair bit short sighted and the reality of it not quite matching the moustache twiddling machinations of the maniac plotting them. Which may well be the point, but at the same time it took me out of the film a tad. As did the occasionally trite nature of trying to pack so many "ah, so that's why...!" moments into the movie for fear of never having the chance to create a follow-up (they will). Some of the inclusions come the film's end are unnecessary and come off too neat for the sake of completeness. It's a similar criticism I have of the wonderful theatre production, Wicked, where I thought it went out of its way to answer every single motivation and character genesis for The Wizard of Oz. Same with First Class, which almost bends over backwards to offer explanations to every facet of Charles' and Erik's relationship, something which will only become more complex as more movies are created. 

First Class also lacks scenes with the visual flash and flare offered by X2, such as when Nightcrawler storms the Oval Office or the jaw dropping madness of Wolverine and Deathstrike stabbing the merry hell out of each other in a brutal ballet. While the set pieces in First Class are fantastic, it would have been interesting to see what Vaughn would have done with the anti-gravity fight scene he dropped after seeing Inception.

But these are easily forgivable missives because First Class arguably manages to be the more accomplished movie of the quartet through its strong themes and very relatable human tale, dressed in gaudy superhuman clothing. Is it as good as The Dark Knight? No. But it's on par with X2 as the best X-Men movie made, and easily among the better superhero flicks created. And the cameos (both stealth and overt) that fans will notice are inspired, with one in particular firing off the most hilarious use of "go f*ck yourself" since Anchorman.

X-Men: First Class is top draw. A remarkable achievement against heavy odds that could have been a agonizing experience for all concerned. Instead, it's merely the birthing pains of what will hopefully be a new era for the franchise...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Post Bristol - the weekend of win

First up, a quick apology – my last entry ("I have a dream…") wasn’t actually what I wrote when I last left Blogger. What was published was actually a draft of my original post, which I re-wrote and saved after, yet somehow Blogger took my old version anyway, which is why some of it probably was a little messy. In any case, sorry for any confusion.

And now, the news.

Despite the injured ankle, knee and toe, despite one printing company screwing me over at the last minute, despite my copies of Magic of Myths nearly not arriving on time… the comic convention in Bristol was incredible. A truly amazing experience. Met so many brilliant, new people, had a great time with my lovely girlfriend and friends and even in the face of my nervousness in selling Magic of Myths, everything went really well.

Jen, my friend and artist partner for Butterflies and Moths, shared a table with me (thanks to the very kind Simon Gurr who offered to share in the first place) and has created a great illustrated write up of the experience here: http://jenspiration-now.blogspot.com/2011/05/bristol-expo-2011-weekend-of-awesome.html



Magic of Myths sold a nice few handfuls of copies, which was relieving (given at the start I was uncertain if anyone was going to buy it and I'd go back home with all the copies I arrived with) and everyone was really friendly and supportive – which was great, as I'm not afraid to say I was bricking it, especially during the first couple hours! A bit of context - this has been a dream of mine for many years. Magic of Myths was a story which had been knocking around my skull since about 2003, and represents the fulfilment of a desire I've had since I was about 5/6 years old – to have written a 'full' comic book to sell. And all of a sudden, here I was, sitting on a table, trying to sell one. Fear and paranoia are pretty much standard coating for thoughts like: "what if I don’t verbally bring the story across?" "what if they spend the money and hate it?" and so on.

And yet, it all came together. And I'm really grateful for everyone who helped make that such an amazing experience.

What made it all the better was that all my friends with selling stands did really well, the general atmosphere was fantastic and lots of plans were made for the future. Thank you so much if bought a book, had a chat at the table or just came over to say hi. If you're still looking to buy a copy, please head over to the Magic of Myths site which will tell you where you can buy it from. Any problems or questions, just drop me a line.

Along with Magic of Myths, three other projects I'm working on had a little boost, too. Firstly, Jen and my Bayou Arcana story, Irons in the Fire, got some positive feedback, especially on Jen's artwork. The whole anthology is looking superb so far, and the man behind it all, James Pearson, has some very clever ideas to make it really sing. Definitely something to look out for.

The second project is Butterflies and Moths. Yes, I know I've been banging this drum for a while now, but after a productive chat with Jen things may progress a little quicker than we originally realised. Can't say more than that right now, but when we finalise something you'll hear about it.

The third one I can say even less about, but Faceless (think Robert Ludlum meeting Joss Whedon and Guy Ritchie in a dark alley and making a beautiful fiction baby together) got a jolt in the arm as well. Needless to say, I'm very excited if things will develop as it’s very early days and anything can change, but…

Right, this post is long enough! Expect some more bits and pieces soon…

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I have a dream...

...well, I have many dreams. And some of them I could never repeat in public. But in the spirit of keeping this post relevant, I'm happy to announce that one dream has been fulfilled: mine and Sergio's miniseries graphic novel, Magic of Myths: season one is now on release for you to buy!


Weighing in at 62 pages, the £7.99 fantasy adventure story comes complete with sketchbook art designs, pin-ups and the full script and commentary to one of the six chapters. Not bad for the first season of a miniseries, we'd say.

Where can I buy Magic of Myths: season one?
Well, you have several options:
  • Want to go into a physical shop? Nostalgia and Comics, one of Britain's longest running comic book shops, will be selling the book in a few weeks. You'll also be able to reserve a copy there if you ask a member of staff. If you subscribe to this site (simply put your email into the subscribe link on the right hand side) we'll let you know when stock arrives, so all you need to do is pop in and pick up your copy. You can find them here:
14-16 Smallbrook Queensway, B5 4EN
Phone: 0121 643 0143

They have a Facebook page as well:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=79701585171&ref=ts#!/group.php?gid=79701585171&v=wall
  • Fancy a digital copy? Well, we've a few things in the works, so expect info about digital versions coming very soon.
This isn't the end of Magic of Myths - there's plenty more news to come soon. If you get a copy of season one, let me know what you think - and thanks as always for your support.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Meanwhile, down in the Bayou...

Just a little break from Magic of Myths...

Jennie Gyllblad (my artist partner on graphic novel Butterflies and Moths) has done a little more artwork for our forthcoming short story for anthology Bayou Arcana. Our tale, Irons in the Fire, is nearly done, barring a few more pages of script and half the artwork to be done, so here's a sneak peek of the first couple pages... they're rather nice, I'm sure you'll agree:










Expect more on Irons in the Fire and Bayou Arcana in the coming months.