Movie Review Monday: X-Men First Class

Mike Finkelstein has some special powers.  He could read people’s minds, control metals, morph into any person’s shape, and turn blue.  Turns out that Hollywood made a complete comic series about him (dividing his powers up among a bunch of different characters, of course), and now, a film!  Here he is with his review of “X-Men: First Class”

PLOT: The back story of the two original mutants, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender).  In 1962, the two join forces with the CIA to stop a rogue mutant, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), hell bent on igniting a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union. They start to round up other mutants to help fight the battle, and start their journey to being known as Professor X and Magneto.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: The X Men franchise has been in a rut lately.  X-MEN and X2: X-MEN UNITED were excellent tellings by Bryan Singer, but then THE LAST STAND and X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE took those two and flushed them completely down the toilet.   So it’s no surprise that people weren’t expecting anything from such a quick reboot.

Ladies and gentlemen, I won’t just say that X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a good return to the series, but I will go as far as saying that it might be the best out of the entire series.  Maybe it’s because of what we’ve had to deal with since 2003, but the story was fresh, the characters were clean, and the story was simple enough: a group of people trying to find their way.

At the center of all this are the two mutants that started it all: Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr.   Here, Charles is not the mature, wheelchair bound oracle we all love.  He is a young man on his way toward a Doctorate.  He drinks, he flirts, and he uses his mindreading techniques and mutation lines to get girls. It takes a minute to get over the initial shock of seeing Professor X pound back a beer (everyone was young once…), but James McAvoy is so charming and noble in the role that you have no problem seeing him growing into what Charles will become in Patrick Stewart.

Erik, on the other hand, is not as innocent.  Put through torture and experiments in the Nazi Concentration Camps (the opening scene hits hard, seeing how equally brutal and nonchalant someone could be towards a child), he is bent on revenge.  He doesn’t believe in good in humans, and wants to kill all Nazis left alive on his way to the worst of them all: Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).  Michael Fassbender conveys the anger and hurt that eats away at Erik, and just like McAvoy, you could see him easily growing into Ian McKellen over the years.  What Fassbender does that’s even greater, however, is he makes Erik’s views make sense.  There is no doubt that Xavier is the good guy, but there’s always been a huge gray area for Erik.  When you’re able to look at Magneto not as a future villain, but a good man with his own views and fears, you know the actor is doing his job right.  Add this to Fassbender’s roles in INGLORIOUS BASTARDS and the upcoming A DANGEROUS METHOD, and you’ll see a man who is going to be A-list very soon.

When Charles and Erik finally meet, magic happens.  Again, this tale is about finding your way, and realizing that you’re not alone.  Seeing the relief in their eyes, you almost feel like you’re being let in on an extraordinary moment you shouldn’t have ever had the privilege to see.  You know where they are going to end up, but you’re able to see them now as nothing more than two innocent kids, trying to do what is right by them, and that’s special.

As for the supporting players, we have some fun and unique mutants on both sides, but Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult as the conflicted Raven (Mystique) and Hank McCoy (Beast) are the most intriguing.  Out of all the subplots, theirs carried the most weight due to the extreme choices they would have to make to be normal.  Yes, there were some clichéd speeches, but still cute nonetheless.

Kevin Bacon has a game named after him, and for good reason!  The man could pretty much play anything.  Here, he is mesmerizing as Shaw, first as a Nazi and then as a full blown 1960s baddie out of some James Bond movie.  We hate him, and yet, at the same time, he’s so evil that we don’t know how we’re going to beat him.  As an audience, the stakes are raised.

We also get some cool FBI agents, both sweet and cruel, including a gentle, good natured Oliver Platt, and a beautiful, genuine Rose Byrne. (She somewhat disappeared in the middle there for a while, but she did what she had to do.)

I think Matthew Vaughn knew he had something special here, because he took this origin story and did what Gavin Hood should have done with X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE: molded something beautiful out of it.  Many people were waiting for FIRST CLASS to fail (another reboot? *cough*), but the story was bare bones and back to basics, which is exactly what it needed.  We had developed characters and exciting subplots, and a few choice nods to the X-Men universe and the previous films (including two great cameos).  The 1960s feel was classic, yet fresh at the same time, and we had a great mix of action, drama, and especially in the training phases where everyone was messing up in some way, a pretty big dose of humor.  If I needed to point out anything specific that bothered me, it’d probably be Beast’s prosthetics and makeup, which reminded me of a chia pet Muppet, but that wasn’t anywhere near enough to take away from the storyline.

Basically, what I’m saying is If you’re a comic book or X-Men fan, or even just enjoy a good adventure caper or the old 1960s spy films, see X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.  You won’t be disappointed.

GRADE: A-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) MICHAEL FASSBENDER AND JAMES MCAVOY: These two actors embodied both the Charles and Erik from the comics, as well as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s visions, all while giving their own twist to the characters.  I had fun meeting any getting to know them as young men, and all the while, I still felt like I knew them for years.

2) CAMEOS: One cameo made me smile.  The other made me laugh my ass off.  Great little nods to the series and the other films.

3) COUNT TO THREE: Very intense bookends to a very intense film.  Beautifully done.

4) FIRST GLIMPSES OF CEREBRO AND STRYKER’S FATHER: The same type of nostalgia that the cameos had.  It’s that feeling of seeing all the beginning stages, and knowing what is to come of them in these people’s lives.

5) KEVIN BACON: Oh, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  There’s a reason why Kevin Bacon is in everything: because he’s good.  Here, his Sebastian Shaw was evil and flamboyant in a very Bond villain-ish way.  And I loved every minute of it

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) MAKEUP: Got to admit…I really didn’t like anyone who had a lot of makeup on.  Both Raven (Mystique) and Azazel looked like their layers were caked on, and Beast looked like a stuffed animal you could hug.

2) SOME CLICHÉ LINES: Yeah, I know it’s part of the theme, but some of the lines about being proud of who you are and not hiding (especially from Raven), got a little repetitive.  I understand.  Just annoying.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Taylor Lautner (yes, the Taylor Lautner) was considered to play Hank McCoy (aka Beast) but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.  Beast/Werewolf?  Pretty close….

2) Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy both appeared in “Band of Brothers” at the start of their careers. This is their first appearance together since.

 

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