May 29, 2011

Review — X-Men: First Class

Fassbender doing a nice loom as the young Magneto.

What a superb difference an origin story makes to this series. When we had grown tired of Halle Berry's eyes clouding over and James Marsden requiring protective eyewear 24/7, X-Men: First Class takes you back down memory lane to the swinging 60s and the beginnings of Professor X (at the time, simply Charles Xavier, and played by James McAvoy), Magneto (at the time, Erik Lehnsherr, played by the in-demand Michael Fassbender) and Co., before the factions split and shit got real. 

The beginnings of the life of one Erik Lehnsherr provide a powerful opening to a film that isn't as Hollywood as you might suspect. A troubled child in World War II Germany, ripped apart from his family as they're sent off to a death camp, the young Magneto discovers a power within himself to will objects (but particularly metal) to do his bidding. His abominable treatment as a post-War lab rat and the cold-blooded murder he's left in the shadow of create an unwavering lust for revenge, his thoughts impenetrable until he meets Charles many years later.

One of the most pleasing elements of this film, which presents us with an alternate history that ties in with the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, is the willingness to deal with the emotional truths that lead each of the characters to their forms in X-Men (2000), or not (some don't appear in X-Men at all).

Most surprising to those who haven't read the comics may be the friendship between Charles and Raven/Mystique (played in a very naturalistic way by Winter's Bone star Jennifer Lawrence), who first meet as children; however, her DNA and ability to change her appearance mean she continues to look far younger than her best friend. We meet the duo again in Oxford, Charles is teaching and she, masquerading as his sister. His cheesy pick-up lines allowed us a guffaw or two and it's apparent that the writers and cast are both here for a rollicking good time.

However, the film does have a few minor flaws. The pacing, whip-fast for the most part, seems to overuse titles to orient the story and tell the audience where the hell they are, even though most of the settings are fairly obvious (who doesn't know what some of the famous momuments in Washington, DC look like?). Sebastian Shaw's multilingual ability (there were at least four) tiptoe towards the edge of unlikely scenarios, although Kevin Bacon is most evil as Sebastian Shaw; Emma Frost (January Jones) appears to have forgotten her clothing in most every scene. Crikey, if that's what people meant about this having similarities to a Bond film, then sure. 

All jokes aside, Fassbender and McAvoy have a strong screen chemistry, which works best when Xavier's kind, gentle nature prevails to bring out the best in his friend. The big action set pieces are well executed (if not heart in your throat spectacular) and Vaughn and Co. have overall delivered an entertaining, well constructed film packed with solid performances from a mixed lolly bag of seasoned actors and newcomers. Tasty.

X-Men: First Class is a definite return to form for the series and can sit comfortably on Director Matthew Vaughn's shelf of otherwise worthy accomplishments in the geek genre: Stardust and Kick-Ass—the same applies for his co-writer on all three of the most recent projects, Jane Goldman. We think we'll use Professor X and Magneto to demonstrate how we felt about the film on the whole.

"Pip pip, old chap." "Yes, bloody well done."


Anonymous said...

'Sebastian Shaw's multilingual ability (there were at least four) tiptoe towards the edge of unlikely scenarios,'

Is this a serious complaint?

Katia Nizic said...

I don't know if I would say 'complaint' but it was kind of unbelievable - unless one of his superpowers involves learning to speak multiple languages fluently in an hour or something, I don't see why we should just swallow that.

Chris said...

Crikey, Love your reviews, Kart.

Katia Nizic said...

If that was a crack at my use of the word crikey: well then okay. Merci, Mr. Sharp.

Anonymous said...

Stan Lee has for the most part ensured the film adaptations are true to the original story, no exceptions here (I know, I'm wearing my nerd self again - with pride).
X-men franchise, however has delivered great film, seems to me this one also meets my boyish expectations.