X Men First Class has real Class…

X Men First Class is a stunning success for the simple fact that like the Star Trek re-boot it actually pulls of what could have been a disaster. Like Star Trek the preveous series of films in the X Men franchise had hit the bottom of the barrel. As well, X Men comes up against three of the possible pitfalls that come into modern comic book movie adaptation.
First is the presentation of characters: Too many movies simply give the costume, the “superpower”, show some flashy effects; and presume as fans that we’ll simply fall over ourselves because Wolverine, or SnakeEyes, or Deadpool are there live on screen. Even the great Sam Raimi was forced into this by the studio in Spider Man 3.(“Lets have Sandman, AND Venom, AND the Green Goblin!)
Secondly there is the “Nolan” effect: This is where “gritty” automatically equals “real”. Batman works in a “gritty” world because it suits the character, not so other franchises.
Thirdly there is the presumed sequel. Marvel’s movies are dangerously walking this fine line as each of their movies are more and more a setup for Avengers than origin movies in their own right.(You could argue that Iron Man 2 wasn’t so much a sequel to Iron Man but a prequel to Avengers.) We’re given the barest introduction to the character(s) and just as things get established the credits roll.
Given the propensity in Hollywood and even the history of the X Men franchise towards these failures the fact that X Men First Class mostly sidesteps these and gives a great character driven, “bright”, and fully formed movie is commendable. Consider this for a moment, the opening scenes are exactly the same, shot for shot, with the original X Man movie. That in and of itself could have spelled disaster from the start. However this movie “owns” that sequence and makes it work.
What really underscores the excellence of this movie is the outstanding acting by Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy as Eric Lehnsherr(Magneto) and Charles Xavier respectively. Fassbender seethes with anger and wrath as we’re introduced to the adult Eric who has become a Nazi hunter searching for the shadowy Sebastian Shaw who developed Eric’s mutant power in a Nazi concentration camp through inhuman torture. McAvoy on the other hand exudes compassion, and surprisingly, a bit of “coolness” as a swinging sixties ladies man. These two are thrown together as they attempt to thwart a new plot of Sebastian Shaw to ignite a third (nuclear) world war.
It must be noted that the setting of the movie in the sixties is one of the main ways this movie works. The era itself lends the brightness of the sexual revolution, civil rights reform, and “groovyness” yet also presents an ominous backdrop of real threat. This allows for some truly funny sequences in the “recruiting” montage (including an absoulutely spot on, unexpected, and hilarious cameo), as well as communicating the excitement of discovery as these characters discover they are not alone.
Another honorable mention has to be Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Mystique. Her transition from loyal “sister” of Charles to consort of Magneto is surprisingly nuanced and also offers a window into Xavier’s blindspot’s and incredible nievete’.
As much as X Men First Class is bold to both re-establish characters and give obvious nods to the first three films perhaps the boldest decision is that Magneto actually emerges as the hero/anti-hero of the movie. Surprisingly Eric ends up being both absolutely right and even a little justified in retaliation and his hatred of humans, and Charles is shown to be astonishingly, dangerously optimistic.(ironic that someone who can supposedly read minds could get that so wrong) Even as the movie ends Charles appears to be a little more wiser and dare I say it paranoid.
All this isn’t to say X Men First Class is a perfect movie. There are times when the movie descends into cheesiness and the “evil mutants” certainly fall on the “superpower is character” cheat. (even January Jones’ Emma Frost isn’t presented as being anything more than a collection of “assets” one of which is telepathy) But again it succeeds in infusing the excitement of the original X Man film with great character performances. It also gives a well rounded story that if this was the only “prequel” it would be fine. But let’s hope this is only the beginning, and we get to see these characters again…


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