Monday 6 June 2011

X-Men: First Class : In A Class By Itself

I had been dying to see this film since it had first been announced so I was filled with excitement and more than a hint of trepidation as the Nephew and I filed into the theater. I had been screwed over before when my expectations were so high. Not today, though.

From the opening shot, X-Men: First Class raised the bar and threw down the gauntlet to all other superhero films before and still to come. Matthew Vaughn and crew have delivered a high octane, deeply emotional and provocative movie. There is so much complexity to this film, that at times one almost forgets it’s a superhero flick. It has the feel of great, character-driven drama.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have a strong chemistry that mirrors that of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan and yet, they take it deeper. They are allowed by virtue of this being an origin story to be the friends that the previous trilogy only hinted at. Here we get why Charles goes one way and Erik the other. As Charles, McAvoy is fearless. He commands your attention the moment he enters the frame. He plays Professor X as loyal, driven and empathetic with a hint of arrogance. He is idealistic, determined to save everyone and in his passion, fails to see the problems with his methods.

Fassbender is equally compelling, playing Erik as the balance wheel of Charles. He is relentless, vengeful, filled with a darkness that will forever shadow the good that is in him. Magneto is one of the most sympathetic bad guys in film. He wants to protect himself and others like him. He’s wrong because he wants to do it at the expense of humans rather than with. Fassbender’s performance is sublime, giving us all the layers of Erik. In the beginning we are on Erik’s side and by the end we are helpless, like Charles, watching as Magneto slips away into the dark.

A real standout scene between these two comes when Charles teaches Erik to access his power without anger or pain. He brings up a happy memory of Erik and his mother that the other man had forgotten about. It’s such a profound, moving moment that this tough chica was crying in her popcorn. These two will spark endless debate, which is an awesome thing when it comes to a film and its characters.

Of the other mutants, Jennifer Lawrence is spectacular as Raven/Mystique. She is the epitome of a young girl desperate to be normal, to hide her appearance. All alone, she stumbles into Charles’ life and he helps her to realize she’s not alone. However, it’s Erik who teachers her to accept herself and not be afraid to be who she really is. The scenes between her and Fassbender rock. There is also a touching performance by Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast. He is quiet, nerdy and deals with his fear of rejection by pouring all his efforts into a scientific solution to his appearance. He wants more than anything to be human. The other mutants like Riptide and Angel Salvadore did not have much to say, but they were sure pretty to look at. Alex Gonzalez and Zoe Kravitz were B-E-A-Utiful to quote Bruce, my fave Jim Carrey character. Like my man Lenny could create ugly kids.

For all her top billing, January Jones is rather meh. Emma Frost has hardly any screen time and when she does appear, her dialogue is rather lackluster. It may be due to the fact that she shares the screen with Kevin Bacon, who owns every scene he is in. However, I suspect it also has to do with the fact that Emma spends most of her time scantily clad and doing the bidding of her master like a good little slave. She just can’t seem to leave Mad Men behind.

Kevin Bacon is the real surprise here. I was jaw-droppingly stunned by the electrifying performance he gives as Sebastian Shaw. Bacon portrays Shaw as deliciously vile, so arrogant and unwavering in his quest for total power. Everyone is a pawn to him. In a particularly chilling scene with young Erik, he is a reasonable monster, making a simple request of the boy to move the coin while threatening to kill the kid’s mother. It’s like watching your high school science teacher calmly threaten to poison you if you don’t pass the test. I haven’t seen Kevin give a performance like this in ever. I need to stop here and give high praise to Bill Milner, who plays young Erik. He really shines in the concentration camp scenes and holds his own with Kevin.

The f/x in this movie are stunning and I, for one, am so glad they did not stoop to 3-D. The CGI images were seamless and mind-blowing. Everything made sense, there were no wasted moments of extra explosions just to have something blow up. I loved the production design especially. It all fit perfectly into the early 60’s time period. From the costumes to the vehicles to the tech, everything was spot on and logical.

I am going to stop gushing over my keyboard here and let you make up your own minds, but trust me when I say this was one hell of an awesome film. I intend to see this again as soon as possible and I haven’t said that since Return of the King.


George Beremov [Nebular] said...

Awesome job, Mel! Your excitement about the movie shines through your words, and that's the 'key' for delivering a great review.

Sadly, I'll have to wait another week to se X-Men: FC, as it premieres on June 10 here in BG. I'm a huge, huge fan of the franchise, and if this installment is as good as X2 (or better), I'll be beyond pleased. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks! Yes, this is definitely on par or dare I say better than X 2. I think you will really enjoy this.

DEZMOND said...

Lovely review, Melsy.
I'm not intrigued into watching it, since I don't like retro things, but I think I WOULD enjoy McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult, Till...all lovely people I adore!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I really enjoyed this film! The character interactions and relationships really made it. Agree that Magneto was a sympatheic character. And sorry, I just didn't buy Lawrence as Mystique - felt she was miscast.

FilmMattic said...

Excellent review, Mel! I kind of hastily parsed through it because I have not yet watched it. But I am so very eager. I'm aiming to catch it midweek, in which case, I"ll author my own review around the same time.

Thanks for pumping up my adrenaline even more!

Jaccstev said...

You have served this wonderful movie an equally wonderful review, Mel! Great job!
This prequel is well paced, well shot, and gets the performances it needs from each actor and actress. It's great that they put so much focus on characters,and emotions, with effects and action being in second place.

But I'm disappointed that the first weekend box office wasn't as successful as last weekend's mediocre film The Hangover 2. What happens to the moviegoers these days?

Unknown said...

@Dez even though you don't like the retro, I think you would enjoy this. Just to see all these lovely people on screen together is an awesome experience.

@Alex The characters totally made this film. Sorry you didn't like Lawrence as Mystique. They maybe could have gone in another direction.

Unknown said...

@Matt You are most welcome. I can't wait to read your review and get your take on this film.

@Jaccstev Thanks! I absolutely agree that this came out so well because they focused on the characters instead of worrying about how many f/x they could put into it.

I don't know what's wrong with film goers either. :)

Craig Edwards said...

[hands over ears] LA LA LA LA LA LA!

Hope I see it soon so I can actually read this!

Unknown said...

@Craig LMAO!! See this soon I look forward to reading your take on this.

Movies on my Mind said...

Solid review. I guess I'm in superhero fatigue right now and there's like another 6 films yet to be released this summer.

Unknown said...

@Movies Thanks! I hear you. Fatigue is bound to set in with all the superhero flicks being released this summer.

George Beremov [Nebular] said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George Beremov [Nebular] said...

I just got back from the theater... and WOW, I LOVED IT!