Thursday, June 16, 2011

X-men: First Class

I don't know why i took so long to write this but dunno i wanted to watch it at least three times before i could get my head straightened out for the review. Yup I saw it long time back. And X-men: First Class was unexpectedly AMAZING.

Here is the deal with superhero flicks. Do we ask that they be faithful? Do we demand they be grittier so we can argue that they’re more mature and therefore better? Or do we ask that they be fun, disposable entertainment? That answer probably depends on the property, although the tone and plot of the most famous superhero comics have varied so widely over the years that there’s no single answer. Keeping this in mind, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class forges its own path, not just in terms of the X-Men franchise, but in the superhero genre. The film is stylish and exhilarating, but it’s also darker, more intense, and all the better for it.

X-Men: First Class has been a controversial film ever since it was first announced. Comic book purists said that the filmmakers were straying too far from the source material with their interpretation. Film purists said that the production was being rushed and the movie would suffer – while fans of summer blockbusters remained unaware (or unmoved) by all the missteps in the movie’s flawed marketing campaign. Well, whether you’re a fan of the comics, the movies, or just summer blockbusters, X-Men: First Class has something to offer you. After two poor entries (X-Men: The Last Stand andWolverine) this franchise is getting a much-needed injection of life from director Matthew Vaughn and all the talent surrounding him.

By going right back to basics, First Class not only finds interesting things to say at the very beginnings of the X-Men story, but it might just make you believe in origin stories all over again. And while it doesn't quite sustain itself across its entire running time in the manner that Nolan's Batman reboot managed, director Matthew Vaughn come far closer than you might expect. Make no mistake, it's a triumph.
First Class is a prequel that takes us back to the origins of not only the X-Men, but between its founders Charles Xavier aka “Professor X” (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr aka “Magneto” (Michael Fassbender). We witness how both men are mutants by nature (Xavier a telepath and Lehnsherr a master of magnetism), but their attitudes towards man are based in their nurture. Xavier grows up pampered in a mansion in Westchester, New York and develops an early friendship with a young Raven Darkholme aka “Mystique” (Jennifer Lawrence). In Europe, Erik is placed in a Nazi concentration camp where he’s forced to develop his powers under the auspices of a cruel officer (Kevin Bacon).

Flash-forward to 1963 (an homage to the year the first X-Men comic book was released) and Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) are two young men on very different paths. Charles is now a prominent academic, while Erik is a haunted man, touring the world on a quest for revenge against Nazi war criminals and the mysterious Shaw. Meanwhile, the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union is intensifying, threatening to annihilate humanity in a nuclear holocaust – which is exactly what Sebastian Shaw and his cabal of evil mutants want. While a weaker script may have rushed the meeting between Charles and Erik, the film keeps them apart for the majority of the first act. It’s a smart move because it gives us a chance to better know the individual characters and how deeply they believe their own views regarding mutant-human relations. The two are eventually thrown together serendipitously as Charles is recruited to hunt down Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) who has his own band of mutants—telepath Emma Frost (January Jones), teleporter Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and tornado-conjurer Riptide (Álex González)—and at first glance is working as a communist spy. When CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) catches wind of Shaw’s plan, the CIA tasks Xavier to gather a team of mutants to battle Shaw and his henchmen, setting in motion a chain of events that will inevitably create the X-Men, as well as the lifelong rivalry between Charles and Erik.

Why does Shaw want to nuke the world? Because he believes mutants will survive and they will then rule the planet with Shaw as their leader. It’s a dumb plan but it’s convincing that Shaw would do it since he’s arrogant enough to believe that every mutant would agree with him and those who didn’t would cower in fear. He also works as a villain because his power is almost unstoppable (he absorbs energy and then dishes it out) and because Bacon comes off as absolutely terrifying. He’s played villains before, but this is him at his malevolent best.
Matthew Vaughn moves this multifaceted story at a brisk, controlled pace. With a runtime of more than two hours there’s a lot that happens, but thankfully the time passes quickly. Most of the attention is focused on developing the characters of Charles and Erik, their friendship and eventual falling out, and this is the glue that holds the film together. McAvoy and Fassbender are excellent in their respective roles and have awesome chemistry together; the most moving and interesting scenes in the film belong to them alone (so much so that tumblr is overloading with a #McFassy strong-hold - take a good look at my tumblr here). Despite complaints from comic book purists about the liberties this film takes with the source material, it manages to present both Xavier and Magneto as fresh and rich characters who are both worth exploring. 

Shaw’s plan is almost the exactly the same as Magneto’s plan in the first X-Men (but with nuclear annihilation instead of genetic obliteration). It’s a cool twist that Erik shares his mortal enemy’s beliefs and eventually takes his plan. And First Class is full of these cool twists. The film simply doesn’t say “Charles = Good, Erik = Evil”. The audience is forced to reconsider the beliefs of both these men. Charles’ faith doesn’t seem to be placed in humanity, but rather a celebration that mutants can be “the better men.” It’s part of not only his naivety but his astounding arrogance. It’s not a mistake that the last thing we see Charles do in the film is underhanded, patronizing, and ultimately ineffective. (One of the many reasons why i took so long in reviewing it)

By contrast, Fassbender consistently draws us into the badass charisma of Erik. We shouldn’t side with his methods and his hatred towards humans, but he’s just so damn cool. McAvoy does a terrific job as does the majority of the cast, but this movie truly belongs to Fassbender. This is where he becomes an A-list star and viewers will be rushing out to see his previous films (start with Hunger!). He plays every side of Magneto and plays it honestly. We completely believe in his anger, his pain, his aloofness, and most importantly, his inability to forgive humans. Because the plot owes so much to spy flicks and their 1960s style, it almost feels like Erik and Charles are two sides of James Bond. Erik gets to be the brutal ass-kicker who uses a license to kill to his full advantage while Charles gets to be the suave “shaken-not-stirred” man. (and if any of the two get the offer to play james bond i'll definitely pay more attention of the james bond movies just because of that)
However, while the Charles/Erik storyline is the main focus (and is worth the price of admission in and of itself), the title of this film would imply a story about a larger team coming together. This aspect of the film (the actual X-Men team) is not as developed or interesting, and some fans will have a major problem with that. We do meet a group of mutants in the film, but with the exception of the pivotal role of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the rest of the mutants (good and bad) are mostly just there to fill out the action scenes – or in the case of Emma Frost (January Jones), fill out some ridiculous outfits (which the film does manage to justify… sort of).

The hero of the piece, though, has to be director Matthew Vaughn. His directorial career is now four out of four from where I'm sitting (following Layer Cake,Stardust and Kick-Ass), and X-Men: First Class can't help but leave you wondering just what he'd have done with X-Men: The Last Stand, had he not walked away from that particular project. The Last Stand's loss, though, is ultimately First Class' gain. Vaughn juggles ensemble character development, a dose of comedy (the film's one F-bomb will bring the geeky house down) and some generally terrific actions sequences, rarely letting the momentum of the film drop. X-Men: First Class is, at it turns out, only five minutes shorter than Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, yet it feels half the length, so energetically does it move along.

Like most origin or prequel films, the nature of the story inevitably results in a truncated ending. The climax of First Class must fit all the players into their predetermined places, and the speed with which these transitions occurred felt rushed, even though Vaughn does capture some powerful moments in the dissolving of Charles and Erik’s relationship. The rest of the characters (literally) stand aside and then take sides, which again shortchanges them in terms of development or interest.

Ultimately, part of the reason that X-Men: First Class feels so fresh and enjoyable is perhaps because this is a franchise that's long since appeared to run out of steam. Part of it, also, is that it remembers to inject a sense of fun alongside the underpinning messages that it so skilfully gets across. But all considered, the main reason is that, at the sheer heart of it, X-Men: First Class is a compelling, interesting, entertaining and very, very good piece of big screen entertainment. Following hot on the heels of Thor, and against initial expectations, 2011 may just go down as a very strong year for the comic book movie. Whether that happens or not (and the gauntlet has been firmly thrown down for Green Lantern and Captain America), Matthew Vaughn has just managed to make X-Men, once more, one of the most compelling movie franchises on the planet.



  1. I agree! I LOVED this movie and despite it's flaws it had be thrilled through the whole thing. I will say that I think the Beast character is more than filler though, he it a really amazing little subplot.

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