I know – it feels pretty cheap to combine two popcorn flicks into one blog post when I spend 1000 words talking about Romanian cinema. Too bad. These are both entertaining films in their own right, but Tuesday, After Christmas, they are not.
Let’s start at the top. X-Men: First Class. I grew up on X-Men, so Gavin Hood’s Origins film was not only a laughable debacle, but a literal disappointment (more on Hood’s equally disappointing, though critically acclaimed, Tsotsi, over the next few days). I didn’t love Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, but it was entertaining and the guy clearly has more chops than Hood.
You probably know the plot: we see the origins of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James McAvoy) as they progress from rebel and intellectual young mutants respectively to ultimately divergent mutant leaders.
There are some nice turns in here, particularly from Fassbender, who’s been on a roll, and also by Kevin Bacon, playing a mutant-in-disguise, kind of like the early Lex Luther arch-villain. There is also some fun, if fairly light historicity involving Naziism (think of that groups’ genetic claims versus those of the mutants – it’s not entirely linked, and a smarter screenwriter would have made this link more apparent and deeper, but it’s there nonetheless).
The biggest problems with X-Men: First Class are its weak supporting characters (the motley crew led by Bacon and McAvoy respectively are too goofy, comic-book 1980s to fit the sleek exterior that Vaughn promotes throughout), and its over-montaged middle section. That being said, the film is fun. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but Vaughn nicely pits Fassbender and McAvoy against one-another, and anyone familiar with the ultimate/current histories between the two will likely get a kick out of the final 10 minutes. The cameos by Rebecca Romijn and Hugh Jackman are kind of hilarious fanboy-type stuff, but they keep the light edge to the Marvel universe – an edge that I always admired.
Henry Jackman’s score complements the action well without being overwrought – a difficult task for a constantly moving film. One major problem, oddly enough, that I frequently have with multi-superhero films is the emphasis on their powers. That’s another flaw here. Sure, it sounds strange to complain about powers in a superhero film – that’s like complaining about guns in True Lies – but Vaughn spends too much time showing us over and over what these people can do, why it’s cool, and how ultimately it will be useful. So a sequence where Banshee eventually learns to fly is fun in its “adolescent growing up” undertones, and also in seeing something evolve, but when it comes time for Banshee to put his powers into action it’s all too calculated and predictable: “good thing Professor X taught him how to do that while they were training, otherwise XYZ would have happened.”
Here’s the main reason I like Horrible Bosses: it’s Jennifer Aniston (who I am not a fan of) playing against type. How often does she play the attractive second-fiddle, who’s sweet, maybe a little clumsy, and ultimately gets the guy? It’s annoying, and she’s not particularly good in this. Her turn here, as a the ridiculously sexual boss of Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) is actually out-and-out funny and nearly unrecognizable.
Also, someone needs to give Colin Farrel some credit, at the very least, for picking roles that are unusual. His coked up, thinning-hair, karate-practicing Bobby Pellitt is equally funny.
These two performances carried the film in what starts as a situational comedy, becomes Strangers on a Train, and devolves into dumb criminals. One of my biggest pet peeves is stupid criminals in fiction, who are only stupid for the sake of falsely advancing the narrative or cheap laughs. There are far too many examples of just that in Horrible Bosses to make the film flow evenly. Jason Sudeikis missing an incredibly important opportunity late in the film because of his sex drive? Don’t believe it. Kevin Spacey walking particularly to a car after a critical moment and not happening to see someone in the driver’s seat crouched down? Nope.
But luckily there are some funny moments in here and, though the suspense is far from spellbinding, the plot more or less makes sense in the end. Writer and director try to work in a few subplots about racial stereotypes largely involving Jamie Foxx’s mostly funny character Dean “MF” Jones, and an on-board car computer with an Indian man at the other end, but these ends mostly fall flat, making racism the actual joke instead of the other way around. At the end of Horrible Bosses it’s still funny to be the white guys in an all black bar and assume danger everywhere, and it’s also still funny to call the Indian guy buy his Americanized named because you’re too lazy to attempt to pronounce his born name.