Wednesday, 8 June 2011

X-Men: First Class review

I’ll admit to being a big fan of the X franchise, despite the last two entries being less than good, but I still was quite excited about this new one. Mostly because the two main big players behind it were also behind last years awesome Kick Ass: Matthew Vaughn and Jane (well, hellooooo nurse!) Goldman.

Being a reboot/prequel of sorts the movie has to introduce us to characters we’ve already met, just younger. Once we get the perfunctory really young versions of the characters out of the way and meet the ones we’ll be spending the next two hours with, the reintroductions are done with such flair that it’s impossible not to smile. James McAvoy is brilliant as a young Xavier who hasn’t yet realised his calling, instead using his mutant abilities to pick up women in bars. His bond with a young Mystique (his ‘sister’) is also one of the more touching aspects of the movie.

And then there’s Fassbender; taking on the role of Magneto, originally played, perfectly, by Sir Ian McKellen can’t have been easy but his introduction is nothing short of genius. Attempting to hunt down the Nazi who killed his mother, by tracking down his lieutenants he exudes a charm and menace that’s by turns funny and chilling, and always intense. I could have cheered his dispatching of the three Germans in the bar (*). These Charles and Erik scenes are intercut giving us a sense of just how different these two men are before they meet each other, and it works brilliantly as the juxtaposition between the happy Charles scenes and the angst-y Erik scenes highlights and strengthens the eventual decisions they make later on.

(*) someone pointed out to me that the scene in the German bar (down to the camera angles and the lighting) looks uncannily like those Stella Artois ads. It’s something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since, because it’s right.

Once the plot kicks in, the film never really lets up. This is both a good thing and a bad thing; it’s good because the pace never slows at all, so you don’t ever get bored. It’s bad because, even at just over 2 hours, it makes the film feel a little rushed, with certain characters getting the short shrift. Criminally, Sebastian Shaw is one of these characters. His villain wants to destroy mankind because…um, he’s the villain. He’s not really given any sort of reason for wanting to do so, which is a shame because Kevin Bacon delivers a great performance, all self assured and cocky. In fact, that’s my only major gripe with First Class, the lack of a decent bad guy. I enjoyed the Bond-ian lairs and 60’s vibe that it all had, and yes I understand that the main focus of the movie was establishing the relationship between Charles and Erik, as well as introducing us to the new kids, but not at the expense of a menacing bad guy with a good motive. The other disappointing thing for me was the underuse of Emma Frost. She doesn’t really do much except for look really really really good (as do all the women in the movie, seriously), and I know she’s the Ice Queen and all but the actress must have interpreted cold and unfeeling, as dead eyed and one note. She doesn’t so much turn to diamond as she does wood.

However, I can forgive that all because all the other parts of the movie were so damn fun. From subtle nerd shout outs, to full blown crowd pleasing moments (including the finest swear-y cameo you’re going to see this year, which I’ll not spoil) it’s a pure joy from start to finish. Even the two montages aren’t the tedious bore that they normally are, rather they showcase the new mutants (the first class of the title) powers in a way that would take far too long to do otherwise, and in a very fun way too.

Speaking of the new characters; some are great, some are utterly superfluous. Starting with the great; Beast and Mystique, both characters we’ve seen before but here they are given new layers. Mystique’s arc in this film is really the same as Rogue’s in the original three but done better in my opinion, as you can see why she sides with Magneto come the end, despite loving Charles as her brother. Her mantra ‘mutant and proud,’ and the persuasion from Erik to not disguise herself in human form but rather be blue all the time is a neat little touch (and also leads to another brilliant blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo); it’s foreshadowing without it becoming clunky. Beast’s arc is sort of the same but in reverse, and Nicolas Hoult’s performance is the best in the movie, behind McAvoy and Fassbender. And that’s coming from someone who normally hates him in all his roles, About a Boy aside. However, most of the other first class aren’t really there for anything other than to show off some (admittedly cool) superpowers. Angel is a waste, Havok is cool but doesn’t have much to do, and Banshee was probably my favourite of all the new students and his flight was probably the most smile inducing part of the whole thing for me. I don’t even know who the tornado-from-his-hands guy was.

Then we have the action. It’s bigger than any previous X-Men movie to date, and it doesn’t disappoint. Magneto raising the submarine from the water is a truly fantastic looking moment. The fight with Havok, Banshee and Azazel is brilliant, with Azazel bamf-ing all over the place. The attack on the X-lab is brilliant and showcases some awesome effects. In fact every single character gets a moment to shine, aside from maybe Charles whose sole ability is to put his two fingers to his temple and read your mind (although his magic trick line is very very funny).

The climax to Erik’s arc in the movie with him killing Sebastian Shaw was perhaps the most comic book-y scene I’ve ever seen. Charles is reading Shaw’s mind from a distance just as Erik is slowly moving a coin through his brain (the same coin that Shaw told Erik to move with his mind back when he killed his mother, and couldn’t) and the camera pans across the side of Shaw’s head and Charles’ head. I’m not explaining it very well, but it’s a great scene, and is a showcase of just how confidently directed the whole movie is. It effortlessly takes its globetrotting, Cold War skirting, 60’s vibe in its stride and there’s not a misstep throughout the whole two hours.

I read that this is going to be the first movie in a new trilogy, which is great news, but it leads to my other complaint about this movie. Once it ends you could go straight into X-Men no problem: we have Magneto now seemingly bad, with Mystique on his side. We have Charles, paralysed, in his wheelchair. And we’re living in the mansion. Obviously there is room for more First Class movies, but I always envisioned them taking a bit longer with Erik turn to the dark side. To have him there after one movie seems rushed, and also it negates the beginning of X Men: The Last Stand, in which Erik and Charles (still with the use of his legs) are still friends. Although I don’t mind ignoring X3 too much [perhaps a holdover/resentment from Vaughn and Singer for being ousted from that movie back in 2006] it does pretty much give the fingers to continuity.

Last annoying thing, I promise. They did have some awful lines towards the end, specifically with Moira (hellooooo, Rose Byrne) coming up with the name “X-Men” as well as Charles saying ‘I’ll probably be going bald soon.’ It’s annoying, and seems like it’s trying to desperately remind the audience that they are watching an X-Men movie and just felt forced and unnecessary.

In summary, I am a bit biased as I’ve loved the X-Men for many many years now, and despite some very minor grievances, I loved this movie. It’s not the best X-movie, that’s still X-Men 2, but for me it comes a very close second. A great start to the summer season.

4 stars.

1 comment:

  1. "I don’t even know who the tornado-from-his-hands guy was."

    thats riptide from the Marauders, (played by Álex González)
    good post btw =)