Monday, June 6, 2011

X-Men [Indeterminate Amount of Time] Day 7: Review of X-Men - First Class

And here we are; X-Men: First Class has been unleashed upon the world and thusly X-Men [Indeterminate Amount of Time] draws to a close.

Pre-production, or at least discussion for pre-production, for this film began before X-Men: The Last Stand had even come out.  There was talk about where the franchise would go after the inevitable wave of immense critical acclaim and Oscar nominations for the obviously brilliant forthcoming third film.  Spin-offs seemed to be the word of the day as movies starring Magneto, Wolverine and others were pitched but one idea that ended up getting past the drawing board stage was a prequel to the films starring a younger Charles Xavier and a younger team of X-Men.  After the success of the first spin-off, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Not critical success, mind you) 20th Century Fox green-lit the prequel and whole elements of the Magneto film ended up being merged with it (Supposedly, possibly not).

At an early stage in production Bryan Singer had returned to the franchise he had previously abandoned to blunder tackle Superman Returns.   He appeared all set to direct this new film but once more bowed out to work on another movie instead (Jack the Giant Killer, whose production interfered with his involvement with this one).  This time however Singer stayed on as a producer.  Instead Matthew Vaughn, who himself once walked out on directing X-Men 3, came onboard to helm the film riding the wave of success from Kick-Ass.  It’s somewhat fitting that he gets the chance to prove that he indeed had the tools to make a decent X-Men film.

Now that’s we’ve looked the three original X-Men movies we’re primed to compare this new entry to its predecessors.   Seeing as the last two films were goddamned awful my hopes are not high.

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: There are some minor spoilers. Not too bad, but they’re there so watch out]

That I think they look cool says a lot about me...
In the year 1962 two men are about to set out on a decades long journey.  One is Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), an angry man who has been hunting down former Nazis around the world in order to avenge his family who were murdered in the Holocaust.  The other is Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is a young geneticist who is working on becoming a professor in Oxford.  They are two very different men with different view on the world but with an important thing in common: they are both mutants, people with powers far beyond the human norm.  And when they eventually meet they’ll have to work together to prevent the very thing that all people feared the most in 1962…

Quick!  Hide under your flimsy wooden desk!
 So the biggest fear I had going into this movie, aside from the growing belief that X-Men movies just don’t translate into good cinema anymore, was how fast the whole project seemed to move.  X-Men 3 was fast tracked too look how that turned out.  It would seem that this is partly because the script had been done prior to Vaughn coming onboard which sped up the film considerably.  So let’s talk about the script a bit.  While it’s not the greatest script ever written I find it to be considerably superior not only to the bad X-Films but all of them.  The story is extremely engaging, banking off the friendship between Xavier and Lensherr as they both step into a greater world of mutants.  The story is told significantly better than anything the movie franchise has churned up before and it’s the one time I can remember feeling genuinely invested in the main characters.  The conflict is also a good mix of being high stakes but without feeling like the characters are in over their head (No god-like entities that can kill with a thought in this one).  While not all characters are as developed as others all members of the X-Men get a chance to shine in some fashion which is a refreshing change.

I love the setting of this film. When I first heard that it would take place in the 60s I was skeptical but it works much, much better than the “near future” setting of the other movies. There’s a cool “Classic James Bond-like” feel to the world with cool gadgets (And a big brain scientist to explain it all) and a globetrotting vibe.  And how awesome is this whole “alternate history” take on this? Mutants involved with the Cuban Missile Crisis?  The X-Men the only ones standing between the world and nuclear war?  Hell for all we know a shadowy group of outsiders really were in ct responsible for the aversion of that very real crisis.  As this retelling never happened in the comic I think this as evidence that filmmakers need not stay 100% true to the source material so long as the result is a well told story.  I also really liked the costumes.   As I mentioned in my review of the first X-Men film I wasn’t really all that happy with the uniforms presented there but somehow I find the blue and yellow jump suits a lot more appealing, especially when they slightly differed with Banshee and Havok.  It seems a bit less hostile and a bit more fun.  The fight scenes are wonderfully executed as we finally get an honest to god battle between two different groups of super beings.  They’re fast paced and exciting and that works for me.  I also loved that when people from foreign countries were speaking they were talking in the appropriate language which is something that should occur more in Hollywood.

Unlike every other X-Film I was happy to see that the range of characterization was fairly wide here.  While the previous films more or less had the entire team as background noise in this one each member felt more developed.  Though key members are certainly given more time to be explored than others everyone has a distinct voice and personality and I greatly appreciated that.  Well maybe not Darwin, and yeah I’m not happy with how they dealt with that character at all.  Anyway I feel that this was made possible by the fact that for the first time in history Wolverine isn’t the main character of an X-Men movie.   The young Xavier and Lensherr are clearly the main focus of this followed by Mystique and then Beast but I felt like the other characters worked well enough and can be explored further in sequels.  Speaking of Xavier I loved his persona in this where he was half the professor we know and love and half a womanizing playboy whose flaws hurt those closest to him.  More than ever Charles felt more like a person to me, including in the comic. James McAvoy plays this role perfectly and needs to be commended.   Meanwhile with Lensherr, aka Magneto, comes off more human (For lack of a better term) and sympathetic than he ever had in the previous films. Michael Fassbender does a fantastic job as the extremely complex character.   Jenifer Lawrence doesn’t set the world on fire as Mystique but she does come off head and shoulders above her predecessor (She certainly has more to do, at least).  The rest of the team proper were pretty decent in their respective roles for sure. I ended up not minding that Banshee wasn’t Irish.   Kevin Bacon is a serviceable villain for the most part although his character felt a bit lacking in certain regards.   It’ doubtful that Sebastian Shaw will go down with the most memorable of superhero movie villains.  January Jones, who was absolutely dreadful in the film Unknown from earlier this year, was okay as Emma Frost. She wasn’t terrible but she didn’t really do much for me, though that may be partly the script’s fault as Miss Frost wasn’t nearly as interesting as she usually appears in the comic books.

[EDIT: I've now watched this movie a second time and I've decided that January Jones is not simply "okay" as Emma Frost; she's GOD AWFUL.  I suspect the pure awesome of this movie blinded me a bit during my initial viewing but now I realize that Jones' portrayal was a big hole of suck throughout the film.  She read her lines like a robot without a shred of emotion and lacked everything that made the White Queen a cool villain and a great character.  The charm?  The wit?  All replaced by DULL SURPRISE! Taking in mind how utterly horrendous she was in Unknown I conclude that January Jones is one of Hollywood's least talented actors.  I don't give a shit how hot she is; someone please build her a rocket and send her ass to Mars so I don't have to suffer through any more of her movies.]

Also "Hellfire Club" sounds cooler than"Brotherhood of Mutants"
 No body of work is without fault, however, and X-Men: First Class isn’t the exception.

At the risk of giving spoilers I was unhappy that by the film’s climax the minorities character recruited earlier in the film had become unavailable leaving the team made up solely of white guys (And one blue girl) and I find the implications unfortunate.   A more major problem, depending on your point of view, is the continuity of this movie with its predecessors.  Now if we take this movie as it’s own standalone film and ignore all the callbacks to the other films then it’s no problem.  To be honest this is what the creators should have done; make this a reboot film rather than a prequel.  But instead there’s a lot of hiccups in the connection between the movies.   Things like Mystique’s relationship with Xavier is never once hinted at prior to this film and yet the two were like brother and sister here, so it’s odd that they never even exchange words in the other movies.  Also the gap between this film and the first X-Men film is a bit wonky as this movie take place in1962 where X-Men took place in the “near future of 2000” (Though that’s vague) which is a distance of thirty-eight plus years implying that several of the return character are considerably older than I first suspected.  The worst culprit is Moira MacTaggert who appears fairly young in this movie (Played by Rose Byrne) but is clearly no older than late thirties by The Last Stand (Played by Olivia Williams in a cameo) and insanely SHE’S AMERICAN IN 1962 AND SCOTTISH IN (The near future of) 2006!  It’s one thing to change her nationality from the comic to the movie, which I’m not super happy about, but how in the hell can this possibly be the same character!  Also Xavier and Magneto’s trip to Young Jean Grey’s house in the intro of The Last Stand and Xavier’s cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine couldn’t have happened if this movie is to be taken seriously.

There are a lot of other, possibly tiny, issues all over this flick, especially for a guy who just watched there of the previous movies the week before watching this one.  It’s better to pretend this movie has no relation to the other films in order to achieve maximum enjoyment, no matter how many clues suggest otherwise.  THIS IS A REBOOT, A REBOOT I SAY!!!!

Reboot, goddamn it!
 I love this movie.  It is the best superhero film I’ve seen in a long while.  It’s smarter than most that came before it, including all the previous X-Men movies, while at the same time possessing everything you need for a summer action film.  First Class manages to avoid most of the problems I had with its predecessors and indeed it’s most annoying aspect can be ignored if you just pretend those movies never happened and after watching The Last Stand I’m somewhat inclined to do this anyway.  It was better than Thor, better than Kick-Ass and better than  many other films of its genre (Save the very big guns such as The Dark Knight). Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger have a very hard act to follow.  Matthew Vaughn should hold his head up high because he did exactly what he said he would do; make a superior X-Men film.  Were I Brett Ratner I’d go hide in a dark hole for the next ten years after this. In fact I hope he does so we’ll never have to suffer through Rush Hour 4.

Because it stands above its peers I must give X-Men: First Class 5 Adorable Pandas out of 5.

Pros

-Great characters

-Great setting

-Fun action and fight scenes

-Surprisingly emotional affair

Cons

-X-Men of color get a somewhat raw deal

-There are a lot of continuity issues with the past films

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