X-Men: First Class (2011)

June 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

The cast of 'X-Men: First Class'

Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, based on a story by Bryan Singer and Sheldon Turner

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence and January Jones

While this may not be the romanticized X-Men origin film geeks might have hoped for, it was still a damn entertaining summer spectacle flick and a powerful commentary on real history through the eyes of science-fiction. A top notch popcorn flick if I’ve ever seen one- and I have.

As a stand alone film and an unofficial re-boot of a franchise, First Class is an entertaining, creative and thrilling spectacle. As X-Men canon its a joke, as it re-writes history in such frustratingly unnecessary ways that I can’t fathom what the film makers’ reasons were for changing the original comic book stories so drastically. The other flaw is some early dialogue and scenes that feel awkward and I felt were tailored for younger audiences when the overall story the film tells has so much more to offer on an intellectual level.

The writers do a commendable job of interweaving the story of mutants with that of actual human history- in this case the Cuban missile crises and Cold War politics- and the casting in the film is impeccable, including some really fun cameos by the likes of Michael Ironside, James Remar, James Rebhorn and many other typical character actor types where you probably won’t know their name but will undoubtedly recognize the face- oh yeah and two canonical cameos that will be fun for franchise fans.

I digress- The film gives us Professor X’s calmly intelligent and caring essence while we witness the development of a typical young, care free man into a responsible, burdened adult. James McAvoy is terrific as Xavier. He shows hints of the future incarnation of Professor X as the inimitable Patrick Stewart portrayed him, while never falling back on imitation

As for his counterpart, Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr, Michael Fassbender does way more with the character that the script should allow him to. The film makers pour on the foreshadowing way too heavily with Fassbender’s dialogue and his characters overall demeanor- We’re supposed to believe that for most of the film he and Xavier are on the same side and yet Fassbender never seems quite convinced of Professor X’s ideals. He’s almost an exact replica of the original portrayal for Wolverine from Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film ten years ago. Likewise, the screenwriters make his transition from friendly to threatening mutant somewhat abrupt and incomplete, like they ran out of budget and/or run time and just squeezed in a long progression into a couple of 5 minute scenes.

As the lead villain, Kevin Bacon is alright. It’s nice to see him in a big budget movie and he’s very fun to watch, but I agree that he felt like a typical diabolical villain with machinations of world domination, even if it was through the lens of mutant rights and superiority- and for the immense power his character was shown to have, he did surprisingly little with it- with his last stand being a pretty vague gesture.
The other characters are drawn well, even if they’re nearly 1-dimensional. The story gives a lot of the minor mutants plenty to do, with Mystique getting the most development from Professor X’s adopted sibling to Magneto’s right hand cohort.

The lesser known mutants each get a Big Scene or two where they show off their powers, including Hank “Beast” McCoy and a bunch who I can’t honestly remember because they weren’t given enough time to become indelible. The one who leaves the strongest impression is actually on screen the shortest amount of time, as the character fully incapsulates Stan Lee’s original objective in creating the X-Men during the 60’s. His characters brief moments are so powerful they transcend the science-fiction of the X-Men universe and touched me on a human level through the eyes of history and the basic tenets of the X-Men universed as ascribed to polar opposite frenemies Professor X and Magneto.

As far as the said sci-fi went, the film makers were judicious and effective in their use of SFX. There wasn’t a mind numbing barrage, ala’ Transformers, but sequences of great emotional potency where powers helped defines the characters as individual people rather than as spectacle.

In that regard the film was a triumph. A fun, cool science-fiction film if I ever saw one and far more intelligent than the previous couple of X-Men-verse film entries ‘Last Stand’ and ‘Wolverine’, First Class is a respectable franchise re-boot and as thrilling a summer tent pole as any.

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