Monday, June 6, 2011

X-men: First Class Review

Consider me pleasantly surprised.

Prior to the release of X-men: First Class , every preview image Fox studios released of this film filled me with nothing but dread. This film had a quick turnaround from production to release, and we as an audience had be burned once before when Fox had tried that same strategy with the much maligned third X-men movie, which proved to be nothing more than an exercise of whoring out the characters for a studio payday.

The saving grace for First Class  in my mind was the hiring of Mathew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) as the director; I was mystified, yet curious, because Vaughn was the first director who was attached to the third X-men movie before he dropped out the film after balking at Fox's demands to churn out that third movie in 9 months (and we all know how that turned out under the appalling direction of Brett Ratner). Even still, I went into the screening of First Class  with low expectations, especially after it became widely known that the film was not a reboot but a true prequel to the existing movie canon that had become muddled and embarrassingly derivative due to the poor quality of Wolverine  and X-men 3.

I present to you the definition of jumping the shark:

After seeing First Class , I can honestly say that I have seen the best X-men movie ever realized. I still find it hard to believe myself, as the ground this film covers and the background this film gives the X-men franchise actually makes the rest of the films better (don't worry X3, you are only fractionally better).

First and foremost, credit has to be given to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as young Charles Xavier (Prof. X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), respectively. Their interaction throughout the film grounds the characters, and adds some much needed emotional weight to their conflict. There is a reason a coin plays so vital a role in this film, as Xavier and Lehnsherr are two sides of that same coin; yet, remain in their hearts as brothers, always.

Fassbender plays Magneto as a Jewish avenging angel, a weapon whose powers are activated in his childhood by rage after his parents are taken and killed during the Holocaust, and he is left to experimentation by a Nazi scientist (Kevin Bacon). As an adult, Erik globetrots the world hunting and assassinating former Nazis like a badass James Bond with super-powers (albeit with little blood - thanks PG-13!).  There is a scene that is one of the best in the X-men franchise, and it hearkens back to Fassbender's work in Inglourious Basterds as a covert British agent who tries to pass off as a German soldier in a bar before all hells breaks loose. The arc Erik's character takes in this film is the most important to the series, as it sets up the antagonistic element for the X-men teams to come; simply, they nailed who Magneto is completely.

Das Magneto ich bin kill yo ass!

McAvoy's Xavier is a silver spoon, wise beyond his years erudite who is a catalyst for bringing out the best in every mutant he encounters. His powers allow him to instantly see the sum of a man or woman, and then guide them on a path of accepting themselves and achieving their full potential. Some of his best moments are when he is playing the professor we all know he becomes, as he tries to train each of the young mutants on his team to focus their powers.

The story is extremely tight, as the events of the Cold War as the backdrop rapidly unfold; it seems like every two minutes the film zips back and forth between Russia and the U.S.. Some of the problems I had foreseen about some characters existing anachronistically in the timeline (especially if they are keeping the current canon) are deftly answered, and almost every major question about the X-men's origin is wrapped up; by the end of the film, the characters are in a place where they can really be unleashed if there are to be any sequels,  with the final action scene that pits mutant vs. mutant as a damn good preview of what we can expect.

Some of my biggest qualms about the film (which are relatively minor in relation to what it's able to achieve) deal with the handling of some supporting-cast mutants. Beast was cool, but you never get to seem him truly acrobatically nuts. The antagonistic Hell Fire crew is also bland (with the exception of Nightcrawler's progenitor, Azazel, and Emma Frost's boobies), with "Riptide" coming off as a complete joke. Basically, not many of the mutants save Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique are fleshed out, which is not a bad thing for the context of this film, but could be for sequels. Hopefully future films will add more depth to the rest of the characters while keeping to the small-team structure rather than diluting them with a bunch of faceless newbs. Hell, if there are to be new mutants, please don't have an eye-rollingly cheesy scene devoted to how each character gets a "code-name" like they had in this film.

Ritpide is one soul patch away from Apollo Ono...

The best that can be said is that this film has me excited about seeing X-men on screen again. I hated what the films had become, but Mathew Vaughn really got the franchise back on track; X-men: First Class  is a surprisingly great film which also happens to be one of the best super hero films ever. It's the humanity of these mutants the lifts it above it's predecessors.


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