Wednesday, June 8, 2011

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Overall Rating: 8.00/10

We all like to think we are the better men. That when you take away all our perceived notions of grandeur, and strip us down to our most bare boned nature, we exceed all others. That our species is dominant, and this world is ours to do with as we like. Now, you stand face to face with the knowledge that this is a fallacy. That your species is changing, and you will be left behind. Do you rise to embrace this change? Or do you sink in fear of it? Remember, your answer to this question, does not ensure your longevity, in either way. And also remember, those of this new evolution must make their decision with respect to you as well.

Such decisions lay at the heart of X-Men: First Class, as the dawn of a new mutation in the evolution of man comes into knowledge. Through juxtapositions and timeline identifiers, X-Men: First Class establishes the initial rift between Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (James McAvoy) that would forever shape the formation and social involvement of mutants throughout history.

Providing a global awareness demonstrably lacking in previous X-Men installments enables X-Men: First Class to deal with a wide spectrum of social issues at the backdrop of its core story. We are whisked away through a wide assortment of moral conflicts, both directly and indirectly tackled by our core characters.

It is a rewarding experience, especially for those fans of the series who have found recent installments lacking. Vaughn's direction is as on the mark as ever. Not too presumptuous, or trapped in self-aware moments, Vaughn offers a film that can be appreciated by both series newcomers and seasoned veterans. Fans of the series may be quick to point out that X-Men: First Class does not strictly align its timeline and plot-points with the fellow outings, but I believe it's actually for the best.

By declaring itself as both a part and separate from the entire X-Men series, X-Men: First Class is able to create its own narrative without worry about dates/times/character locations, which it does with solid precision. While at the same time, the film benefits from the predefined characters and attributes film goers are already familiar with. Though I am happy to report that use of it is limited, and that use is awesome.

But perhaps X-Men: First Class' greatest attribute lies in its use of character. So often these superhero films get bogged down by stereotyping, they forget to offer the viewer something to walk away with. A bit of the character to take home and reflect and embrace. X-Men: First Class most certainly does not. The film dives right into the mindset of each character, with the transformation of Magneto being the most gripping of all.

Michael Fassbender has been on the outskirts of public outcry for far too long, and this film is his first proper introduction to the world. Capable of maintaining and calling upon a wide range of emotions, he wonderfully navigates the complex internal struggle facing Erik Lehnsherr. Taking Erik from the blood ridden assassin to the philosophical leader, the viewer is given one of the more intriguing character studies of the last few years - well, definitely as far as blockbusters go.

James McAvoy continues his string of solid roles, proving he has what it takes to be both a leading man and supporting player in one go - and in all likelihood lining himself up to earn an Oscar in his 50s as a distressed middle aged father. Jennifer Lawrence and Rose Byrne provide the necessary confident female perspective, helping separate X-Men from its male driven counterparts in the Marvel universe. Kevin Bacon - despite having the wrong nose for his Magneto helmet - is an all around solid villain, earning laughs and boos in equal measure. While the rest of the cast handles their roles with the craft and consistency one would expect to find more often in big budget pictures. Still, who do I have to kill to get Jason Flemyng a viable acting part? Don't even get me started on Michael Ironside...

Of course, I would be remiss if I were to claim all that X-Men: First Class offers is without flaw. Now I'm willing to pass on the moldy cheese stench reeking from two of its core opening scenes. I'm also more than happy to let it slide that it's musical score is basically a greatest hits of Hans Zimmer scores for the last few years. But I must say, at the end of the day, I really wasn't all that impressed with how the film handled all of its transitions. And when you consider just how many there are, that's a rather big hurdle to overcome. The opening third is very jerky, not always well defined, and despite a collection of solid moments, felt like a cliff-notes writer lost control of his pen and went on a writing rampage before being tamed via electrocution rods and jammed back into his cage. Once the characters start coming together, the film begins to even out, but I couldn't help shake this underwhelming feeling of forced narrative usurping character moments. Some may call this nitpicking, but I contend that in a film of this scope, even the slightest nudge against the viewer's grip can take them off course throughout. Especially when you factor in the two-plus hour run time.

Then again, if you factor in the rushed production, studio's off the wall expectations, and a spree of casting that seemed as if they wouldn't stop even after the film was made, X-Men: First Class holds up incredibly well. The acting never feels like a let down - though Bacon's pug nose did meet its match in the Magneto helmet - Vaughn's directing is steadfast, and full of life (so much so I'm sure Ang Lee rolled his eyes more than once at the mid-film montage). Even writing team Miller and Stentz (who in my opinion were the weakest part of this year's Thor) found a solid middle ground to navigate with writer-director Vaughn and his longtime writing partner Jane Goldman.

All in all, X-Men: First Class is simply a top class superhero outing. If Thor was the jumper cables needed to get the engine going, X-Men: First Class is the sportscar that it started off and left the rest in the dust.

Film Credits:
Directed By - Matthew Vaughn
Written By - Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn
Story By - Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer

9 better thoughts:

Joel Burman said...

Nice review eventhough I disagree on the film. I actually think Vaughn is way to self aware in many of his scenes going for easy iconographic images instead of grounding the film in its characters.

The bromance between Professor X and Magneto is 100 times better in X-men 1-3.

The only character I found believable was Mystique played brilliantly by Jennifer Lawrence.

Dan O. said...

It may not be subtle, but it is a return to what made the series so good in the first place [and is] the first X-Men movie to contain some truly spectacular action/special-effects set pieces. Also, McAvoy and Fassbender are great as Professor X and Magneto. Good Review! Check out mine when you can!

Marc said...

I'm really surprised that this wasn't a complete nosedive. The dynamic of Erik/Xavier really drove this and the story itself was surprisingly well crafted.

Despite the rushed schedule I think it turned out rather well, brilliant in fact, but while I may praise it too highly just because it wasn't a train wreck I still found tons to love and very little that didn't work. Sometimes changing the source material can be a good thing...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It did focus well on character development! I liked the interaction of the two leads. Enjoyed the film!

Simon/Ripley said...

I liked the sitcom line reading that went with the Russian general. 'SHTOOOOOOO!?'

Univarn said...

@Joel No room for dissidence on this blog! Now bow down before the Uni and pay your penance!

In all honesty, that's fine. I enjoyed it and as you might imagine disagree with you on most accounts. Though I will say, the two things that most annoyed me, but I excluded for spoiler reasons were


1) Killing the only black guy first? Really? Why did they feel his death would have any more emotional impact than the others? Lame.

2) Why is it that the only female who really does any fighting is a villain? Frost struts around sexy. Mystique and Rose Byrne's characters are left on the plane in the final fight. Heck, Rose's only contribution ends up being a quick lead in to another event. No real badassery on her part.

*End Spoilers*

@DanO Will do, next chance I get! Thanks for the comment.

@Marc I like that it did that even though it seems to have become a real sticking point for fanboys, it doesn't phase me one bit. I think if they hadn't, the writing would be twice as bad as they spent the entire time trying to manipulate the events to match throw-away lines and moments in the other films.

@AlexJ McAvoy and Fassbender did have solid chemistry and I think showed potential to have the statesmanship which has given Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen such great respect all these years.

@Simon One can never go wrong with Rade Serbedzija, can they?

Castor said...

Looking forward to see this next week. Can't really comment on this until then ;)

Alan said...

I thought this was pretty decent myself, but if I'd had to listen to McAvoy say groovy one more time or use telepathy in order to up his chances at getting laid, I'd have gone home.

Fitz said...

Captain America and Green Lantern have a lot to live up to. I don't think either one will be as fun or critically acclaimed as this though.

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