Brandon Cronenberg's first feature film, Antiviral, is a creepy enough tale of our society's celebrity obsession taken to a whole new level. In the nearish future, people are no longer satisfied with paparazzi upskirt shots or leaked sex tapes, but are driven to infect themselves with viruses culled from the very bodies of the rich and famous. They even eat meat grown from cells harvested from their favorite celebrity.
Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class, Friday Night Lights) puts in an effective performance as Syd March, an employee of the Lucas Clinic, which is one of many companies that harvests and sells precious diseases from celebrities. The clinic's most famous resource is gorgeous Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), a superstar whose genesis isn't clear and doesn't matter. All that matters is that people will pay top dollar to get close to her, even if that means a shot of Herpes simplex in the lip to mimic a kiss from her.
Syd has a side business smuggling diseases out of the clinic the most surreptitious way possible — using his own body. Whatever disease Geist had last killed her, so he's got to find the cure before succumbing to the mystery illness, all while avoiding the various parties that are interested in the precious cargo he's carrying in his bloodstream. When Syd's healthy, he's precise and detached, with a touch of languid sensuality; once he starts getting sick, he's red-faced and sweaty, and he flops around a lot. That's pretty much it for Landry, and even so, his performance is really the only one worth noting. Gadon, who appeared in Brandon's father David Cronenberg's films A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis, is gorgeous, and that's all that's asked of her.
It's difficult to complain about underdeveloped characters in a movie about a shallow society, but varying the film's visual style would made up a little for the thin plot and characters. Most of the sets are slick and white with splashes of red, and Landry Jones is either front and center or otherwise dominating every scene. There are plenty of long tracking shots where we're left to focus on Landry Jones' red ponytail, which grows increasingly disheveled as he gets sicker and sicker. There are tantalizing shifts in tone when Syd travels outside of the Lucas Clinic or his own sterile apartment, but things never get quite as down and dirty as one would hope. There are hints at something really nasty, something worse or more disturbing than eating a delicious Geist steak, but it doesn't surface.
Cronenberg shows promise in Antiviral, while leaning a bit too heavily on the plot's central premise. Making society's obsession with consumerism and celebrity grossly literal is interesting at first, but Cronenberg doesn't go far enough in developing these ideas of celebrities as "group hallucinations" or the infections as "biological communion," as one character describes it. The customers come across as pathetic uber-fans, but that judgment seems to come from the filmmaker and not necessarily the other characters; after all, it's a booming business with its own seedy underground of collectors, traders, and smugglers. There's just not the same frisson of dread and arousal found in the best body horror.
The movie tosses around many ideas about consumption and celebrity, but it's not very meaty (if you'll excuse the term). For all the close-ups of needles puncturing skin, slimy meat, and gobs of dark red blood, Antiviralis a little too clinical. Cronenberg even tosses in some half-baked gender theory at the end, about penetration and self-penetration and mutation, but it doesn't gel. Still, it's a promising stab at feature film for the young filmmaker, who is definitely one to watch.
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When X-Men: First Class hits theaters on June 3rd, you may notice that the blockbuster series has changed a bit. The costumes and setting are different, as are the actors playing lead characters Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr/Magneto. But the most noticeable departure for the franchise is its super-powered roster. The A-team of Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey and Wolverine are gone, along with heroes-in-training like Ice Man, Rogue and Kitty Pride. And though you’ll hear a few familiar names like Mystique and Beast, you won’t recognize their faces. Filling in for these future fighters are a new batch of mutants who join Xavier in actually founding the X-Men, and a young and talented cast of newcomers who you’ll be seeing a lot of in the coming years. Let’s take a look at the new mutants (well, not THOSE New Mutants…).
Emma Frost/The White Queen
Played by: January Jones
First Comic Book Appearance: X-Men #129 (1979)
Mutant Abilities: Various telepathic powers, including mind reading, mind control, mental sedation and psionic force bolts. In addition, she can transform her skin and hair into a diamond-like substance, rendering her nearly invulnerable.
Emma was born into a wealthy Boston family, but shunned its success and instead wished to make it in the world on her own. Guided by her ambition, intelligence and charm (not to mention her telepathic powers), she climbed the corporate ladder of big business and became the majority stockholder of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate principally involved in electronics and transportation. Her success caught the attention of the Hellfire Club, an elite secret society bent on global domination led by Sebastian Shaw, which is at the center of the conflict in X-Men: First Class. From there, she became one of the Club’s most respected members, and eventually its White Queen.
Played by: Kevin Bacon
First Comic Book Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #129 (1979)
Mutant Abilities: Can absorb kinetic energy and re-channel it into superhuman strength, speed and durability. He also has minor telepathic capabilities.
It’s no wonder that Frost and Shaw hit it off so well; they come from different sides of the same coin. Born to a poor family in Pittsburgh, Shaw turned his fortunes around by his mid-twenties with Shaw Industries, a company he built from the ground-up. He was quickly invited to join the Hellfire Club, and rose it ranks to become the Black King with relative ease. At this point, he planned to use its political and economic resources to further his own goals of global domination, but the X-Men surely had something to say about that…
Played by: Jason Flemyng
First Comic Book Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #428 (2003)
Mutant Abilities: Like the video game Portal? If so, this is the mutant for you. He can teleport by opening portals from one dimension to another. He can also concentrate this portal energy to conjure devastating blasts. Additionally, he shares a mental link with all of his offspring.
Believe it or not, mutants have been around since biblical times (Jesus? Maybe?). Azazel is one of the oldest, and he’s a pretty bad dude. As ruler of the Neyaphem (demon-like mutants from the old days), he believes that Earth and everything in it belongs to him, which kind of puts him at odds with the X-Men. It’s quite strange, then, that one of his children would turn out to be one of them! That’s right: Nightcrawler, the blue teleporter from X2, is the son of this evildoer, though I wouldn’t expect him to bring that up in First Class.
Played by: Zoe Kravitz
First Comic Book Appearance: New X-Men #118 (2001)
Mutant Abilities: They’re quite icky, actually. Angel possesses a few abilities akin to that of a common housefly. Aside from having a pair of wings that allow her to both fly and create a deafening ultrasonic sound by vibrating them, she has an insect like reproductive system that lets her lay eggs that can hatch after just five days. If that’s not weird enough for you, she can spit up an acidic bile-like substance that’s probably not too good for your skin.
Not to be confused with Ben Foster’s winged character from The Last Stand, Angel comes from a very different background than Warren Worthington III. Her abusive stepfather drove her out of her home, forcing her to sleep in the woods where her mutant abilities kicked in a formed a cocoon around her. When she woke up, she had her wings and ran into Wolverine, who took her to Xavier’s mansion. On an interesting side note, actress Zoe Kravitz, who plays Salvadore in First Class, briefly dated the fore mentioned Foster, bringing the cinematic mutant universe back full circle in a sense.
Played by: Lucas Till
First Comic Book Appearance: X-Men #54 (1969)
Mutant Abilities: Havok can absorb cosmic energy into the cells of his body, transform it in an unknown manner and release it as waves of energy that heat the air in their path enough to turn it into plasma, which is a super-heated state of matter consisting of charged subatomic particles.
This is where things get tricky for the chronology of the mutant universe. You see, Alex is the younger brother of Scott Summers a.k.a Cyclops. When we catch up with him in First Class circa 1963, he’s well into his teens already. How, then, can Scott the elder brother be in his early thirties in 2000s X-Men while Alex, the younger is 16 in the sixties? I really hope that director Matthew Vaughn and his army of writers address this fallacy, because it actually has kept me up at night.
Anyway, after a tumultuous upbringing in an orphanage followed by foster care, Havok joined the X-Men and fell in love with Lorna Dane, a.k.a Polaris (who is noticeably missing from the roster). After time spent abroad together doing research, he later would rejoin the X-Men and eventually lead the second iteration of the government sponsored mutant fighting force known as X-Factor.
Played by: Edi Gathegi
First Comic Book Appearance: X-Men Deadly Genesis #2 (2006)
Mutant Abilities: As his moniker would suggest, Darwin’s game is adaptivity. If he’s trapped in a burning building, his skin becomes fireproof. If he’s deep underwater, he grows gills to let him breathe. Get it? Unfortunately, he has no control over his powers; they are purely the result of an instinctual response. However, they have increased his intellect to near genius level.
Darwin is a relatively new addition to Marvel’s mutant universe, but no less important. His story begins in a 2006 run of comics in which he’s born to a father who rejects him and a mother who resents him. However, his intelligence got him a full scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, where he was bullied because of his wraithlike appearance. At 15, his latent abilities kicked in and he used them to fight back. It was then that he was sent to Dr. Moira MacTaggert, a renowned geneticist and friend of Charles Xavier. Eventually, all of MacTaggert’s students joined Xavier’s growing band of freedom-fighting peacekeepers known as the X-Men.
Played by: Caleb Landry Jones
First Comic Book Appearance: X-Men #28 (1967)
Mutant Abilities: Sean’s got a powerful set of pipes; thanks to his superhuman lungs, he can produce a sonic scream for various effects. First off, he can stun, disorient or knock someone out with his deafening shriek. He could generate sonic blasts that strike with tremendous concussive force, liquefying or outright disintegrating targets at his highest levels of power. He can even concentrate the sound waves to enable himself to fly.
Cassidy belongs to a noble line of Irishmen that dates back before recorded history. Born into a happy home where as a youngster he dreamed of heroic acts, he discovered his mutant abilities as a teen but concealed them at first, fearing for his own safety. He frequently clashed with his mutant cousin Black Tom, and the two had a longtime feud over a local girl who Sean ended up marrying. After a career in law enforcement with Interpol, Sean teamed with the X-Men to take on the rising mutant subversive organization Factor Three and, following their defeat, joining the team full time. In First Class, Cassidy will be one of the younger team members, but in comic book lore he’s actually of the same age as Charles Xavier and became a close confidante of the leader.
Played by: Alex Gonzalez
First Comic Book Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #210 (1986)
Mutant Abilities: Riptide can spin his body at incredible speeds, creating a vacuous suction that draws in nearby objects and allows him to throw objects at equally powerful velocities; chief amongst them calcified “daggers” which he grows from his own body.
Another villain who has clashed with the X-Men on numerous occasions, in the comics Riptide is a member of the mutant collective the Marauders who serve Mr. Sinister. In the film, he’s one of Sebastian Shaw’s henchmen and in all likelihood a low-ranking member of the Hellfire Club.