Friday, June 24, 2011

“X-Men: First Class” – A title that isn’t blowing smoke up your ass.

(Warning: Spoilers are coming, though I’ll try to keep them vague and to a minimum.)

The one fear I had going into the latest X-Men installment was that they were going to produce another less-than-stellar film like they did with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. After all, First Class is another origins movie, even though they left that part out of the title. Lucky for us all, First Class was produced by a completely different set of people and the special effects were actually finished. So let’s get right to it, shall we?

The film begins with what is arguably the smartest scene in the entire film and also ripped directly from the first X-Men movie – a young Erik Lensherr (Magneto) being separated from his parents at a German concentration camp. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this scene was lifted directly from the first film. With some clever editing, the scene merges seamlessly into a new scene with Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) watching the scene from a window. Immediately, the audience is engaged because they’ve already seen this scene and now they get to see what happens next.

Shaw is posing as a scientist trying to unlock Erik’s powers and goes so far as to kill Erik’s mother to bring them out. Bacon is delightfully creepy and delivers this piece of his role flawlessly. After Erik destroys Shaw’s lab in a fit of rage, the scene exists with Shaw expressing sheer joy at the display of power. At the same time, a young Charles Xavier is catching a young Raven, a.k.a. Mystique, stealing food from their kitchen. This is easily the most interesting part of the story, as we get a new relationship that we never expected since we’ve always known the two of them as enemies. Fast forward to 1962 and the rest of the film is an alternate version of how the Cuban Missile Crisis happened and how Xavier and Lensherr came to be good friends and enemies.

I won’t bore you with the anymore discussion of the plot, but it’s important to know that these are the main characters. The rest of the characters are a mix of bad mutants and good mutants, mutants you’ve heard of, and mutants they simply made up. Besides a very interesting story and intriguing character relationships, the characters themselves are a big reason why people love the X-Men. In addition to Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Shaw, and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), we get Banshee, Havok, Darwin, Angel, Beast, Riptide, Azazel, and Emma Frost. Maybe some of those mean something to you and maybe not, but all of them enrich the story, or are at least very cool. Well, almost all of them. From an acting standpoint, McAvoy, Fassbender, and Shaw are simply amazing. They turn in spectacular performances and play extremely well off of each other. Their supporting cast members do their jobs and portray their characters as exactly that – support. The one that does not is January Jones as Emma Frost. After seeing her in Unknown, I wondered if she had any other talent besides looking like a perfect physical female specimen, since her performance resembled that of a water thermos. This suspicion was confirmed with her portrayal of Frost, as she turned in a very accurate performance of a floor mat. Maybe she was confused by the character’s name and thought she was supposed to act very frosty. Regardless, her future roles should only involve still photography.

The only annoying thing about the movie has nothing to do with the movie itself, but rather the comic book geeks out there that will freak out at the film’s divergence from the comic books. This same thing happened with the latest Star Trek film and all I have to say is “let it go already.” If the movie had been a piece of crap, then I wouldn’t have an issue with the geeks raising hell. However, the film was exceptionally good and they didn’t diverge that much. They kept the spirit of the characters intact and just had a little fun with getting them from the very familiar point A (Charles and Erik are friends) to the equally familiar point B (Charles and Erik are not friends). They throw in some discovery, from Charles losing the ability to walk to the creation of Cerebro. They give small roles to nearly every bit actor you’ve ever seen (even Michael Ironside). They even throw in a couple of great cameos by Rebecca Romijn and Hugh Jackman (whose short scene contains, easily, the best use of two words in the history of film). I won’t name names, but a certain individual to whom I’m related starting telling me things that were “wrong” the moment the end credits began to roll. My response was either a swift chop to the throat or the words “shut up” (you choose) followed by her still trying to tell me what was wrong. The Marvel Universe is one of those places that doesn’t even stay consistent with itself, so there’s really no harm in adding a new storyline to what is already the equivalent of Pick-Up-Sticks. What’s ironic is she has no problem whatsoever with the liberties taken with the Cuban Missile Crisis, an actual historical event that actually happened. Heaven forbid they make Xavier and Mystique friends or do something really crazy like change Magneto’s helmet. How would we ever go on?

Rating: Worth every penny and then some. Just make sure to muzzle your fan-boy relatives.

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