Friday, June 3, 2011
New Mutants, New Era, New Take: A review of X-Men: First Class
Coming to theaters everywhere today, with it's fifth film in the comic-adapted franchise, is X-Men: First Class. After the last two installments, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, being met with jeers from fanboys and critics alike, director Matthew Vaughn and producer Bryan Signer look to right this sinking ship with a tale of the X-Men's not so humble beginings.
Going back to the early 1960s, we are introduced to the idealist and womanizing Charles Xavier (played by James McAvoy) and the revenge-driven Erik Lehnsherr (the man who would become Magneto; played by Michael Fassbender); both looking to leave different marks on a world that is oblivious to their existence. This soon changes, however, as the United States government discovers the plans of Sebastian Shaw and his mutant group, The Hellfire Club, who are attempting to ignite the Cold War for personal gain. Looking to fight fire with fire, Charles and Erik are recruited by the U.S. government, along a group of younger of mutants, to prevent such a disaster.
Melding the mutants, fantastical powers, and themes of the X-Men comic books with the aesthetics and plots of an early James Bond film breathes new life into this dying franchise and possibly comic book films in general. Walking a tight line between globe-trotting, special effects thriller and campy, outcast-empowering feature, the film represents the general tone of the X-Men pretty well. Yes, their troubled kids that are ostracized by "normal" people, but at the same time they also get to experience awesome powers and events that those same "normal" people would love to get in on. Most fans will get hung up on this character looking different or that character's nationality not being "right" (as I often find myself doing), but one has to remember these films are more about capturing the mood of an X-Men comic, not the details. It is in this aspect that this film succeeds where most of the others really have not, but that isn't to say this is the only thing the film does right.
Besides the aforementioned look and feel the film gets right, it has a number of other positives going for it. The dynamic relationship between McAvoy and Fassbender is at the forefront of these, as it supremely enriches the film. Not only do both deliver very good performances, but those performances come together and play off each other in the impending clash of ideology brilliantly. Also turning in a wonderful performance is Kevin Bacon, as Sebastian Shaw, presenting himself in a much more controlled manner than I'm used to seeing. Lastly, a good majority of the make-up and special effects also help the film succeed, as seeing Banshee fly or Mystique transform looks better than ever. Fully examining the film though, it does also have it's fair share of flaws.
The most prominent of these flaws is the special effects used for Emma Frost, January Jones' character. One could say that I just don't like how it is done, which is true, but the real problem is that this single effect keeps the audience from being fully captivated. Also holding the film back, are the some of the dry, female performances. As was expected, January Jones is the most guilty in this area but surprisingly, Jennifer Lawrence is not to far behind her. Since I've seen the kind of performance Lawrence can give, check out Winter's Bone if you haven't already, I'm betting the script and direction play a large part in this problem. Speaking of the script, it is also the last major problem of the film. While a motto like "Mutant and Proud" may draw a nice parallel to real-world equality issues, in the film it feels like a bad catchphrase the scriptwriters' would not let go.
All in all though, I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class and give it 4 out of 5 stars. While it may not have all the details or continuity one is looking for in the X-Men franchise, it does offer a great adaptation of it from comic to film. So if the last two films scared you off, consider coming back and giving this one a chance. It's a fun, summer blockbuster that captures the heart of the X-Men universe even though it chooses to fudge some of the "numbers."