Sunday, June 12, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Year: 2011
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Kevin Bacon

Plot: An origin story that focuses on the pasts of Professor X and Magneto, a time when they were just Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. They join forces to stop Sebastian Shaw, another mutant who plans on starting World War III and then dominate the planet after the fallout.

Review: Let me get a few things out of the way first. I've been a fan of the X-Men for a very long time. I've read the comicbooks for more than half my life, so you can imagine my excitement the first time I saw the first trailer to X-Men back in 2000. It gave me goosebumps just seeing Magneto lift the police cars off the ground and Wolverine going 'SNIKT!' at the end of it.

Needless to say, the film was awesome, and its sequel X2, to this day, remains my ultimate pick for best comicbook adaptation ever. No amount of Dark Knight, Iron Man or Spider-Man films can change that. And then, Brett Ratner went and ruined X3. Wolverine was okay, but critics still hated it.

So they needed X-Men: First Class to work. They needed it to save the franchise. Initial buzz about the film was mixed, it was the good choice of director vs bad marketing strategies and poor character choices. But in the end, I'm happy to report that First Class is indeed a first class film.

Matthew Vaughn, who directed Kick Ass, succeeds in bringing back what audiences loved about the X films: humour, drama, action and perfect acting to go with it. Bryan Singer, who co-wrote and produced this film, also deserves some credit in making First Class an exciting and interesting watch from beginning to end. Vaughn, Singer and company set Charles and Erik's friendship during the 60s, specifically during the Cuban missile crisis, which is truly a smart move. The friendship between the two men was well written and fleshed out, and the two actors playing them did a marvelous job in complimenting each other in their scenes.

Initially I had my doubts about James McAvoy becoming Charles Xavier, but he put those doubts to rest. McAvoy plays Charles as a ladies man who uses his telepathy as an instrument to pick up women, then later as a way to communicate with others who doubt him and also in dangerous situations. By the end, you can believe he has become the man that Patrick Stewart embodies in the previous films. Michael Fassbender is a gem of his own too, as he convincingly presents Erik Lensherr's torn emotions, between doing what's right and doing what his heart wants. Fassbender's Erik is fearless, firm and intelligent, and not the bad man that everyone fears he will become someday. But of course, this is a far more innocent time, before Ian McKellen made Magneto an unflinching villain, and Fassbender has us rooting for him, at least until the moment he and Charles no longer see eye to eye. Fassbender is the man to watch for the future.

Kevin Bacon is deliciously evil as Sebastian Shaw, and an impressive choice as the antagonist here, I must say. January Jones is suitably icy as Shaw's associate Emma Frost, though Jones doesn't get a lot to do here other than look sexy. Jennifer Lawrence holds her own as the young Mystique and Nicholas Hoult has the interesting role as Hank McCoy aka Beast. These two characters explore the challenges of a mutant wanting to look normal, and the end result is convincing enough. Watch out for a couple of cameos that are quite hilarious too (you'll know what I mean when you see it).

If First Class has any flaws, its the continuity. There are a few things here that do not follow the storyline from the original trilogy, and that bugs me a bit. Some characters are added here just because of the filmmakers' wish to present new powers that hadn't been done before, which is kinda like how X3 and Wolverine were made, thereby ignoring comicbook history. But still, First Class is a lot of fun. It's still not as good as X2, but I sure wouldn't mind seeing First Class a few more times.

There's word that X4 may be over the horizon. With quality instalments like X-Men: First Class in the bag, I hope it turns out just as good. (4/5)

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