Monday, June 13, 2011

X-Men: First Class Review

With all of the comic book related films coming out or on the horizon, it's easy to sweep X-Men: First Class under the rug. They aren't the draw that DC's big two are and their story isn't going to tie into the upcoming Avengers film. They don't even have the familiar fan favorites like Wolverine, Storm and Cyclops this go around. I didn't know whether I was that interested in this film either. I've been burned by the X-Men so badly lately with embarrassments like Last Stand and Wolverine. However, First Class is just the shot in the arm the series needed. Working as something of a reboot, First Class returns the franchise to the glory of the first two Singer films and even, in some ways, improves upon them.

Speaking of the Singer films, First Class begins on the right foot by using a scene identical to the one that began the first X-Men film. This is only logical considering the film's heavy focus on Erik Lehnsherr AKA Magneto. As a child I was really struck by the emotionally intense opening, which featured young Erik being ripped away from his mother at the gates of a concentration camp, which incites his mutant powers. It's use in First Class is no less intense, but this time Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw character is inserted into the story.

I had some concerns about how Erik as a young man would be portrayed in the film, despite my being a fan of Michael Fassbender, but those were quickly put to rest. I expected a less enraged, more conflicted character than the one we've seen Ian McKellen play, but Fassbender's Magneto has perhaps an even harder edge. From the get-go, he's hunting down and viciously handling ex-Nazis, all the while using his unique power in startling violent ways - which I suppose isn't surprising considering the director. Even when he teams up with the more friendly mutants, he maintains his edge up until the fantastic and tense conclusion. Fassbender really knocks this out of the park, with every scene being better for having him in it.

The other main strong-point is in the film's other lead, James McAvoy as a young Charles Xavier. He brings a lot of humor, intelligence and an appropriate 60's sensibility that you'd hope from the man who will become Patrick Stewart. Despite their opposing viewpoints, Xavier and Lehnsherr make for a dynamic and believable pair, with the former helping the latter control his power and mollify his pain through use of his own unique gift. One of the highlights of their pairing is a scene in which they use a newly constructed Cerebro to hunt down and recruit various mutants, which features a highly-satisfying cameo. Their well-developed pairing comes to an emotional ending, which anyone who knows anything about X-Men could guess about. Frankly, I think I would have enjoyed the film more if it were simply the Fassbender-McAvoy show.

The film's weakpoints come from its supplementary characters. The ones that are given more attention like Beast and Mystique are fine, but the other recruits fall a little flat or feel a bit lame, especially in their little party scenes. The character Angel is particularly unpleasant and poorly acted, receiving way more attention than was necessary. I thought that the film held true to its period setting and 60's style for the most part, but it falls by the wayside on occasion, specifically with this Angel character who does not uphold the aesthetic or attitude in any way.

Some of the other rogues in this film were a bit unnecessary as well, however the primary antagonists in Bacon and Jones were quite good.

X-Men: First Class definitely sets itself apart from it's predecessors with many new characters, a whole new cast and its unique temporal setting, but it still connects itself to the other films when it counts. All in all though, and no disrespect to Singer, it might just be the best X-Men film of all (with X2 close behind). Vaughn is at his very best here, finding an outlet for his talents with this stylish and hyper-violent film. The conclusion definitely leaves the franchise open for a sequel in the same vein. Vaughn should forget his Kick-Ass follow-up as it would be a waste of time. I'm not sure anyone anticipated or wanted this prequel/reboot, but it's what we have and we're damn lucky.

Despite my reservations about some of the lamer characters, I have to give the film an 'A' based on Fassbender and McAvoy alone.


Anonymous said...

CYCLOPS is a fan favorite!!??!

The Schmoo said...

I did hesitate before writing that, but I stand by it in that Cyclops is more widely known and appreciated than many of the X-Men you'll find in First Class. People may not be wild for Cyclops, but they're comfortable with him.