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Movie Review: X-men: First Class

Prinz Lee image

Prinz Lee wrote this review 5 years ago

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Well, it’s official. I was breaking a serious sweat last night prior and post screening, and I’m currently sweating as I’m typing this review in this sweat lodge of an apartment of mine, so I think it’s safe to say summer flicks have arrived. Who better than to start off the annual “trend” than MARVEL with another one of their many comic-book films! Whether successful or not (they’ve had their share of flops), this studio—in cahoots with big distributors—manage to hold on to box office numbers no matter who they’re going up against. It’s not to say they’ll break over $100 million this coming weekend, but rest assured they’ll pull in a decent number with their “turning-back-the-clock” film X-MEN: First Class.

After shaky grounds with the last ‘X-Men’ film (Last Stand), lots of ideas and rumors were floating around, that if I start off on each and every single one, I’d wind up typing a manuscript. Therefore, as fans of this franchise, you know the history, you know who the studio was banking on, and you know exactly where its all wound up—a see-saw of shaky ideas which didn’t turn out well, and amidst many of Marvel’s hits, for some reason, ‘X-Men’ seemed to have suffered a bit, so why not rehash the series many fell in and out of love with!

Well, with great pleasure I can say I’ve had the privilege of watching X-Men: First Class, and as much as I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it either!

There's a specific feeling I experience only when watching a blockbuster film! A feeling almost like vertigo… so much it’s like being lifted up and out of my seat by the power of special effects and pounding score and explosions that are utilized really, really well. It’s not to say this is what makes a move, but there are a lot of moments in X-Men: First Class that are arousing and submerged in adventure that's technically created for a comic book movie. Influenced by everything from battleship war films to 60s-era James Bond, even with a crappy script that loses its grip on subplots and sells way beyond short more than a few characters, it's exactly what a comic book movie ought to be—full of energy and wit and actors who seem to know exactly how much fun it is to be a superhero.

This, in turn, is an issue, because one starts to wonder just how much time and/or respect was imposed when dusting off these Marvel issues, because, if there's any magic ingredient that makes X-Men: First Class, a notoriously rushed and sloppy production, it's the dynamite chemistry between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, playing telepathic Charles Xavier and magnet-powered Erik Lensherr in the early, ambitious days of their partnership. We meet both of them briefly as children, Charles growing up privileged in Westchester and taking in a fellow mutant girl (Raven a/k/a Mystique, played later by Jennifer Lawrence), and Erik suffering in a concentration camp. The two finally meet in the early 60s, after a spectacular and fiery action sequence, and discover that they are fighting a common villain: Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), another mutant who has gathered an underground group called the “Hellfire Club” and is bent on wreaking global nuclear havoc. Strait-laced Charles has united with the CIA to avert this disaster, while bitter and angry Erik hunts Shaw alone for far more personal reasons! However, despite their reservations, Erik and Charles agree to team up, recruiting other mutants they can find and building the only army capable of stopping Shaw. Dare I say one that would have made the real Pentagon orgasm based off reading bio after bio!

Scene after scene, set up after set up, act after act, it’s obvious McAvoy and Fassbender are the undeniable center of X-Men: First Class. The complex relationship between Charles's logic and Erik's paranoia boils down to a friendship between two men who know they need each other. It helps to have seen this relationship crumble into rivalry, as played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in Bryan Singer's X-Men films, but Fassbender and McAvoy so fully inhabit their characters that you don't really need it. Was it disappointing to a degree? Sure! However, you get what they see in each other, just as you get that this relationship can never hold. So the obvious is subliminally stated, but as a fan, you ALREDY know that. On the flip-side, the amicable relations that's such a highlight in the original X-Men films lives here too, largely among the younger mutants who build a quick bond at the encouragement of Raven, who soon dubs herself Mystique and helps come up with nicknames for all the other newbies! What was pretty strange is that Charles doesn't seem that interested in being known as Professor X, but Erik is clearly intrigued by the intimidating potential of Magneto.

Matthew Vaughn, adapting beautifully to the adventure style, directs in a way that reflects the contrast between Charles's optimism and Erik's darker impulses. The action is entirely bloodless and almost always spectacular, but scenes with Erik and especially Shaw and his cronies are shot with the kind of shiny, cynical pizzazz very familiar from Vaughn's last film Kick Ass. Shaw comes very close to becoming a campy villain, holding up under an iceberg in his submarine with his fashion plate sidekick Emma Frost (an appropriately frozen January Jones), but both Vaughn and Bacon nail his undercurrent of real menace, and between him and Erik you understand how problematic and maybe impossible Charles's idealistic dream of a perfect mutant-human future may ever be.

What remained in my brain while watching this film was also a bit of continuity issues when laying Professor X as a young man during the Cuban Missile Crisis (Early 1960s), versus Professor X in X-Men Origins: Wolverine during that last scene which was evident was post Three Mile Island’s disaster (1979). The timing there couldn’t have been more off, because if anything, give or take, my boy and I discussed 17 years wouldn’t have aged him THAT much! It was quite uncomfortable trying to swallow such a force-fed act of negligence and allow Vaughn any kind of kudos. I wouldn’t say just Vaughn; much of that blame can be pointed at the film’s Script Supervisor (Laura Miles). I mean, it may not be something most who will watch this film actually think about, but there’s always someone like me who’s paying attention to all sorts of details. And yes, maybe not ALL will stand out, but I will catch some. I happen have served as Script Supervisor in a few shorts I’ve helped develop, and if there’s something one always needs to focus on is damn near everything! Timing, Language, Wardrobe, Hair Style etc!

Another thing that stood out were tons of hints sprinkled throughout the future for these mutants that we've already seen, from jokes about Xavier's hair to some very well-placed cameos, but X-Men: First Class never suffers the kind of crippled sense of existence the Wolverine movie did. Vaughn and his fellow screenwriters knit these characters pretty well into the real world that you don't need to know Beast from Banshee to understand their motivations. That's a rare, rare thing in comic book movies, particularly when elsewhere in the Marvel movie universe every film seems to be geared not toward its own characters, but toward a larger mythology that requires hours of research to understand. Though it is certainly the kickoff of a new franchise is on the rise, it felt good to see a lot of these mutants back after hiatus which left many questioning.

Overall, it’s not the best ever, but it serves its purpose and cannot say it’ll leave you dry. I once again state I didn’t love, I didn’t hate…it was just there, and I didn’t ride the train home last night wanting my two hours back like other films I’ve screened in the past.



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