Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: X-Men: First Class

I was a fan of comics as a kid – definitely DC over Marvel.  I would save all the coins I could find until I reached seventy-five cents and then I would harass my mom into stopping at the local comic book shop on the way back from the supermarket.  Some forty-five minutes later, I would have whichever issue of Superman featured the slickest artwork that month.  So whenever a film comes out based on a hero straight out of the funny pages, I am always excited to see these visuals on screen that during my youth could only be realized through the imagination.

X-Men: First Class is a good movie.  It will not crack my Top 5 Superhero Movies list (Thor, The Dark Knight, Spiderman 2, Iron Man, and of course Superman the Movie) but it is a very strong entrant in the genre.  That it did only $146M domestic and $206M foreign speaks more to a bit of franchise fatigue and the stink of Brett Ratner emanating from the debacle that was X-Men: The Last Stand.  It also had to overcome the stigma of prequels that historically do not do justice to the original (i.e. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd).   What makes this film better than its peers is that it features a storyline reasonably grounded in reality executed by a solid cast.

One does not necessarily think of a superhero narrative as a period piece, but the film is firmly grounded by the fact that it is loosely set against the backdrop of significant historical events of the 1960’s.  James McAvoy and his “John Lennon sideburns” do an admirable job of playing an unfamiliar version of Charles Xaviero – a fully ambulatory non-follicularly challenged one, while Michael Fassbender brings a sense of brooding to the proceedings minus the camp that plagued Ian McKellen’s Magneto.  Director Matthew Vaughn has the two friends/foes leading a group of young mutants mostly unfamiliar to the general public, and he strategically breaks from the canon of X-Men mythos for the sake of good story telling.  

As for the rest of the cast, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult stand out amongst the young X-Men; Kevin Bacon is thoroughly unlikable as the chief villain amongst villains; and Rose Byrne and Oliver Platt do a fine job of playing G-Men working furiously to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis.  My one complaint about the cast is about January Jones who fails to deliver a single line with any kind of conviction.  I have not seen this kind of apathy in an actor since Natalie Portman played Padme in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

I would absolutely recommend this film.  You don’t have to be a fan of the genre or familiar with the history of the X-Men to enjoy it.  The film has good pacing and a bit of humor to accompany the action that drives the film, thus avoiding the overwrought sense of gloom that at times overrides Nolan’s Batman films.  Watch it as a stand-alone though because while it was a very good film, it may not have performed well enough at the box office for 20th Century Fox to greenlight another installment.

Standout Performance: Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence stand out amongst the accomplished cast.  Look for them in the upcoming “Prometheus” and “The Hunger Games” respectively.


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