Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: X-Men: First Class

Out of all the Charge Shot!!! writers on our wonderful staff, I wonder if I was the right choice for this review. I don't really know all that much about the X-Men comics (but you can ask me anything about weird second tier Marvel heroes like Sleepwalker or Darkhawk). I grew up, like a lot of us, on the animated series alone. And I have a history of liking any and every type of movie. Be this all as it may, I have seen all four of the other modern X-Men films and this one blows the rest out of the water. No contest, this is the best of the franchise. And you don't have to be a comic fan or purist to like what this movie has to offer. I'm not going to mince words here: this is a cool flick.

I gave an honest go of trying to figure out the actual origins of X-Men. It's the type of thing you have to spend a good week reading and cross-referencing. Some comic fans are bemoaning  the line-up they've put together in this film for the "original" X-Men. But I suppose everyone has a right to complain about everything.

The original line-up in X-Men #1 featured Professor X in charge of Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast (hairless), Cyclops and Angel. The line-up for the new origin film features Professor X leading a young (and good) Mystique, Magneto, Havoc, Banshee, (female) Angel, and Darwin. I'm a fan of a classic story, but this movie has a pretty good line-up of heroes.

The Rogues Gallery of villains also boasts some cool mutants. Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost lead a group of (mostly) cool evil mutants, including Azazel. Most of the mutants involved have one good talent, and we really get to see group dynamics at work here on both sides of the coin.

I'm not going to spoil much of the plot, except to say that it involves Kevin Bacon and the Cuban Missle Crisis and takes place in the swinging sixties! It's nice to see a movie take its origins seriously. This isn't just a silly mutant battle: the writer's of the film have retconned U.S. history. We get to see the formation of the X-Men, and we see them really test the limits of their power.

The acting in this movie is some of the best in recent superhero movies. The casting of James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto was perfect for the tone of the film. Many of the other actors seemed right for their roles. Relative newcomer Jennifer Lawrence played Mystique probably the way the actress herself felt: lacking in confidence and feeling wrong in her own (blue) skin. Her acting wasn't the best in the film, but it was perfect for a young Mystique. And if anyone's seen a single episode of Mad Men, then it's clear that the casting of January Jones as the chilly/sexy Emma Frost was dead-on.

There were a few bumps on this mutated road. It felt like some of the characters didn't fit in with the time period of the film. There was nothing "sixties" about Angel; a street-smart stripper with wings and fire spit. She played her role like it was present day. And though he didn't have many lines, Riptide looked ridiculous throughout the whole film. You can't take a dude with long hair, give him a suit and a hat and expect him to look the era: he'll just end up looking like Tabu from Black Eyed Peas (hit both of those links and tell me which guy looks more like a supervillain).

So here's my summation as a fan of comics who, it seems, never read the right ones. In X-Men: First Class Xavier was cool and well acted, Magneto was really cool and really well acted, and everyone else played their parts pretty well. The action was intense, the plot was intricate and the visual effects were just stunning. If you're a hardcore purist, go into it with an open mind and try to appreciate the story. If you're a newbie to comics but you like to watch people pull submarines out of water with their magnet powers, run out and see First Class. Director Matthew Vaughn envisions this to be the first in a new trilogy. Calling this his Batman Begins and hoping the next installment will be his Dark Knight. Yes please!