Roll up! Get some of the action in a BATTLE OF THE 2011 SUPERHEROES here!

Having done a preview earlier in the year of the movies taking part in The summer of 2011 blockbusters contest I thought I’d put together a triple whammy of a review covering the films I enjoyed over the summer, which actually turned out to be a BATTLE OF THE 2011 SUPERHEROES.

So…in the red corner, we have the hammer wielding Norse god THOR; in the green corner (appropriately) the ace flyer known as the GREEN LANTERN and finally in the blue corner, we have the new gang of conflicted mutants who are X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Thor

Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Chris Hemsworth as Thor

First into the ring is THOR. Kenneth Branagh has directed this tale of a headstrong prince, who is brought down to earth (literally), learning a valuable lesson in humility and loyalty in the process. Asgard, the world that Thor and his brother Loki (one of the film’s best performances by Tom Hiddleston) looks as majestic and epic as one would wish for and it contrasts well with the raw beauty of Earth in the form of New Mexico, where Thor meets his beauty with brains (and wit) in the winning form of Natalie Portman. The scenes on Earth worked the best for me, where the fish out of water theme of Thor finding out where he is and what it means to be mortal was really well played.

In the middle of all this, I also liked the appearance of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye (it made me gasp), giving a precursor to next year’s The Avengers. What Kenneth Branagh brought so skilfully to this film was the weight behind the text, the unspoken history for the characters and in doing so, he made the dialogue (however fantastic) seem rooted, realistic and more than a few times, extremely humorous. Populating the movie with the usual top drawer cast, Chris Hemsworth shone out as Thor, showing all the promise his brilliant 10 minute cameo at the opening of Star Trek proved, that he is a hero in the making. You can certainly stay in the ring, THOR.

Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan in Green Lantern

Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan

Next up against the ropes is the surprise addition to this contest, GREEN LANTERN. What I’ll say starting out is that it’s the usual classy piece that we’ve come to expect from ace director Martin Campbell. He has so effectively shown from tv (the landmark Edge of Darkness standing out) to film (that includes a brace of Bond reboots in GoldenEye and Casino Royale) that he’s the go-to man for a killer mix of gritty, realistic drama combined with breathtaking action sequences, which was one of the reasons I watched this. GREEN LANTERN is a little more fantastical than those mentioned but what he does again (like Branagh) is root the characters and story so that they come across as something you can identify with and relate to.

It seems to me that for this genre, if you get a cracking director with some heavyweight dramatic experience, you stand a good chance of creating a fantasy film with little bit more substance. Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan – latterly the Green Lantern himself – supplies his usual winning formula of quick-fire wit, coupled with a serious side when needed. Although slightly more seen in comedy, anyone who’s witnessed his bravura performance in the gripping and original one-man movie Buried, knows his got the dramatic chops. Surrounding him are the high calibre supporting cast that you come to expect from a Martin Campbell movie and here we have the brilliant Peter Sarsgaard, the always fantastic Mark Strong, the up and coming Blake Lively and the welcome return to our screen for Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett, not seen in large scale movies for some time.

The action sequences were well staged, the increasingly tormented, twisted Hector Hammond character, played so perfectly by Sarsgaard, created a nice counterpoint to the golden boy but sort of screw up Hal and I just really liked the whole heroic mantra thang – “beware the power, Green Lantern’s light!” Right up there alongside “with great power comes great responsibility” from Spider-Man. But somehow the critical and audience response wasn’t as positive as me, so I’m not sure we’ll see you for another round, GREEN LANTERN. Shame, just as Senestro is getting started.

The cast headed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class

The cast headed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender

And so before the bell, step up X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Of the three films, this was actually the one that came with the biggest expectation and one I feel I need to watch again, in case I’ve just not clicked with it. With the team that brought the wonderfully irreverent Kick-Ass, I felt the pairing again of director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman could do wonders with the idea of an X-Men prequel.

Added to that, a blinding cast of the always awesome Kevin Bacon, the discovery from 2010’s Winter’s Bone Jennifer Lawrence, all grown up About a Boy’s Nicholas Hoult, Mad Men’s January Jones, adding to the exquisite pairing of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, surely this was going to kick some ass? Well, there are some great moments, mostly in watching the choices of Charles and Eric in becoming, or realising the power of becoming, Professor X and Magneto – both for good, or for a good that you can also believe in and strive for, revenge. The relationship between the two main characters is so interesting and I can see why, in an interview James McAvoy gave, how much of a unit he and Michael Fassbender were and how he’d felt they needed to be during filming, taking on such a huge project as this prequel.

What really resonated with me in the very original X-Men film was the generational connections that it made – between Marie and Logan and then upwards to Professor X and Magneto. In this film, the focus really fell on the two leads with not so much time taken to explore who the new young mutants really are – apart from Lawrence’s Mystique character. Perhaps they’ll look more at this going forward as it’s got some good reviews, audiences liked it, so it seems we’ll see a sequel to X-MEN: FIRST CLASS but for me, you’re maybe back in the locker room for a spell until I catch you again.

And so the winner was… THOR! But I wonder what the superhero movie I’m the most excited about this summer – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER – has in store? I’ll tell you shortly…