Friday, June 3, 2011

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS review: She said

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Ashely Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kevin Bacon
Synopsis: During the Cuban Missile Crisis, fellow mutants, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, join together with the US military to help stop evil mutant, Sabastian Shaw.

The problem with origin stories nowadays is the audience already knows the ending.  Yes, it is interesting to find out how and why beloved characters came to be whether it's in a galaxy far, far away or in our own backyard during the Cuban Missile Crisis; however, it's very difficult to keep our interests peaked because at a certain point, most of the action is just filler because we know the climax.  However, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS blows that stereotype out of the water.

To preface, I don't know much about the X-MEN world except for what I've seen from all four (yes, even the atrocious WOLVERINE) movies, and silly questions I would ask the more comic-savvy aficionados.  So, I was the perfect candidate for the ole can-you-make-a-movie-work-with-such-rich-history-and-still-make-it-relevant-and-make-sense-to-the-semi-ignorant-masses trick.  And yes you can.

We're greeted with the juxtaposed histories of Magneto, aka Erik (played by Fassbender) and Professor X, aka Charles (played by James McAvoy).  We learn that Erik was a holocaust survivor, who lost his mother at the hands of the malicious Sabastian Shaw, played with such douchery by Kevin Bacon.  Shaw wants to exploit Erik's metal bending powers, and he realizes the only way Erik knows how to use his is when he's angry.  Erik grows up and resents this exploitation, rightfully so, and embarks on a journey to kill Shaw.  On the other hand, Charles grows up with unlimited wealth and opportunities.  He encounters a fellow mutant one night, Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) when she breaks into his house looking for food, and they become best friends.  

All their paths cross during the 60s when the US is on the brink of WWIII with the USSR.  You see Shaw has a chip, or something to that effect, on his shoulder, and he is playing a Risk game with both countries, so they will both blow each other to pieces, most humans would die, and mutants would become the dominant race and control the world.  Also, he has a kickass power; he can consume energy, which keeps him young, and is able to release said energy at will.  So our guys have their work cut out for them.  While the main conflict plays out, the script lets the characters dive and explore universal themes of acceptance of not only a new "race" but of oneself, and the theme of fear, such as fear of the future of a race or fear of accepting one's power.  With this exploration, the schism of ideals between Erik and Charles deepens, and we see how the relationship we witness in the first trilogy came to be. 

Magneto and Professor X's story is the primary focus of the movie; however, the character arc of Mystique was the most intriguing.  The Mystique in the first movies is a quiet, statuesque figure usually in the back ground looking ominous.  I honestly can't even remember any dialogue she had, let alone a character traits.  However, in FIRST CLASS, Mystique is shown as a self-conscious twentysomething with an incredible shape shifting power that she's scared to embrace because well, she's a young gal who cares and knows most people prefer their women the normal skin shade...not blue.  She initially never stays in her true form not wanting to fully accept her uniqueness and toys with the idea of taking a serum that would hopefully make her always look "normal".  Like all the other mutants with Charles and Erik's guidance, she slowly begins to learn to accept herself and harness her capabilities. 

The action scenes live up to all the promise from the previews in the trailers.  They're fast-paced, fun, and a submarine flies!  There are some visual effects that aren't as realistic and crisp as some of the others, but those few moments can be easily overlooked.  As exciting as the action is, the real fun of the movie is watching all the young mutants (Havok, Darwin, Beast, Angel, and Banshee) as they find each other, realize their not alone, and join together to learn the full extent in which they can use their powers. 

FIRST CLASS is how you start the summer movie season.  There was a lot stacked against this film from the beginning: will the director, Matthew Vaughn, stay faithful to the material, why are studios rebooting a successful franchise...again, origin stories are usually pretty bland, and how would fresh faces bring originality yet continuity to characters already iconic in superhero movie lore?  It's a solid film without making any excuses.  And like any franchise movie, overall it is better to go in knowing about the world or with seeing the other movies because then you're in-the-know on some of the more fun nuances, but this has a strong and clear enough story that fortunately for some, knowing the history isn't a necessity. 

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