‘X-Men’ movie sucks life out of TV franchise; ‘Tree of Life’ film not Terrence Malick’s best

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

If the “Star Trek” franchise can be re-booted, with a younger cast, why not “X-Men?”

Well, several reasons, the first being Englishman Matthew Vaughn. Though he has some decent kick-ass credits (including the endearing oddity, “Kick-Ass”), he’s no J.J. Abrams who similarly kick-started (sorry) 2009’s ”Star Trek.”

The second reason is a bit murkier. As a fan of both “Star Trek” (the TV series and “Wrath of Khan” mostly) and “The X-Men” (the comic books in the ‘70s mostly), I think the former engenders more affection than the latter.

Further, it benefits from fewer personalities to sort through (added disadvantage: the X-Men are often identified as much by a special power as anything else). Finally, there’s a sort of residual corny-ness inherent in “Star Trek” that gives itself easier to a nostalgic mix of early roots and re-imagination.

“X-Men: First Class” takes us back to the early 1960s. JFK is President, Castro is in Cuba and Professor X and Magneto are just a coupla young pups named Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender).

However, their backgrounds are as dissimilar as their X-genomes. While Charles grew up coddled in a stately English country manse, Erik was trudging through the mud at a concentration camp.

Flash forward a few decades and after some blather with the CIA, they become best buddies and decide to scour the world for others who are “differently” abled, so to speak.

But who are these guys? Banshee? Havoc? And a stripper called Angel (I thought he was a buff blonde, well, “he”…). Granted, there are a few familiar mutants: Mystique (whose teen body just isn’t as bodacious as the grown-up version), Beast (who looks like he dropped out of a road tour of “Cats”), and a hilarious cameo by a certain anti-social someone.

Still, even with mostly B-List X-Men, the first half of the movie has its moments. Alas, not among them is Kevin Bacon’s bottom-of-the-barrel version of a Nazi Bad Guy who’s still around 20 years later (It is, perhaps, the first out-and-out poor performance I think I’ve ever seen from him).

The last half lapses into Cold War clichés. I mean, who wants to see Beast pilot a military plane? Or Mystique try to lose her virginity? Further, the movie is simply sloppy. Hairstyles and clothes don’t jibe with the time period and I’m not sure anyone, even the Beat Generation, was saying “groovy” back then.

And I know for a fact nobody called anybody “suits” — not even folks dressed up like Batman or Superman.

Ultimately, Hollywood has once again proven it has a power all its own: the ability to suck the life out of what was once a reasonably entertaining franchise.

MINI REVIEW: THE TREE OF LIFE

Just about everyone I know loves Terrence Malick, whether they learned about him first-hand, back in the ‘70s, as I did, or discovered 10 or more years after…during the two-decade sabbatical he took between “Days of Heaven” (1978) and “The Thin Red Line” (1998).

It took him seven years to cough up another film, “The New World” and it wasn’t — trust me — worth the wait.

But his first film, “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven” are among my top picks of all time. “The Thin red Line” was so-so, but it seemed to come from a completely different artist. Not that filmmakers aren’t allowed to grow and change, but in the wake of his ‘70s masterworks, it seemed like a regression.

I’m not sure “The Tree of Life” is as bad as “The New World,” which starred Colin Farrell as Captain John Smith and Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas. But it’s certainly more pretentious with its cosmic (the birth of the universe no less; frankly I prefer the “Fantasia” version) and microcosmic views of the Meaning of Life (actually, I prefer the Monty Python version).

Brad Pitt isn’t bad as a conflicted ‘50s dad, but the gorgeous Jessica Chastain (she’s all over the place this summer) comes off as a brain-dead cliché of the Average Housewife And Mother. I truly don’t think it’s her fault; she’ has about as many lines as the briefly-glimpsed dinosaurs…

Okay, so she does say something more than “Squa-font” (a tip of the hat to the old EC’s), but not much. I guess it’s hard to play the Epitome of all things Graceful, Good and Feminine in the world. It’s flawed 50s’ dad like Pitt’s who are Oscar-fodder.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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