So, without any waffling nonsense, here’s my review of the new X-Men flick. Snikt! Bamf! Oh wait- they’re not in this one. Er…whatever noise Professor X makes. Squeak, probably, if his wheelchair hasn’t been cared for properly. That’s right, not even a paragraph in and I’m being irreverent about cripples. It can only get better from here.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Since the Wolverine film was badly recieved by everyone bar a crazy few (ahem), Fox decided to nix the planned X-Men: Origins series and go with a prequel set in the swingin’ ’60s. Fox are to be commended here as they’ve actually listened to the whinier fans and not only involved Bryan Singer (director of the widely acclaimed first two films) but also ignored the shit out of the continuity of The Last Stand and Wolverine.
“Let’s just say I’m Frankenstein’s monster and I’m looking for my creator.”
The basic story of First Class is thus. 1962. We see a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) before they became nemeses, team up with other mutants and a secret government organisation to stop mutant supremacist and mad bastard Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his team of superfreaks from plunging the World into nuclear war. The story’s solid, giving us a Watchmen-esque parallel history of the 1960’s and, more specifically, the Cuban Missile Crisis. As I mentioned, continuity between this film and X-Mens 1& 2 seems of paramount importance with the opening being the same powerful, rain-soaked Holocaust flashback from the first film. The acting’s damn good and it really was a masterstroke casting McAvoy and Fassbender. I genuinely couldn’t think of any better to fill the shoes of Stewart and McKellen. Fassbender is easily the best thing in this, although I was really impressed with Jennifer Lawrence as a younger Mystique.
For me, the film was always going to be made or broken on exploring Xavier and Magneto’s relationship from best friends to mortal enemies. I’m happy to say this is done well in First Class. Xavier is fresh from education with a vision of a mutant utopia and everyone holding hands and singing songs. Magneto is a man of action. He’s seen the dirty underbelly of society and has very little time for naive ideology. The seeds for their rivalry are there, but they also make convincing comrades, with one scene involving a huge radar dish (it’ll make sense when you see it) being the pinnacle of this.
Whilst the new mutants are a mixed bag ranging from “interesting” to “dire”, it’s nice to see Fox have been reading my blog and took my suggestion made in my Last Stand review and made Beast a (partly) CGI creation. In any case, the make-up is a hell of a lot better than whatever poor Kelsey Grammer was lumbered with. Shouty Lad, Wingarella and Totally Not Going To Die Black Guy were probably the least involving, but I quite liked Havok (Cyclops’ older brother). It’s nice to see a true to the comics Emma Frost as well. Also look out for several cameos, that’s all I’m saying. I was disappointed when they announced that they weren’t going to do a second Origins film focusing on Magneto and instead opted to reboot the franchise. However, it seems like the Magneto film may have already been half-written and was incorporated into this one. This works really well in the earlier parts of the film as we’ll have some talky Xavier stuff and then cut to Magneto, in full-on Bond mode, kicking arse and not even caring about the names. I love this incarnation of the character and this love was solidified in a bar scene involving a knife. It was so awesome that the following scene was blurry as I had welled up with joyful tears. Whilst I’m talking about action and stuff, the big sequences are genuinely impressive and surprisingly graphic for a 12A. The big ending actually manages to be epic and involving in a way that so few superhero films manage. It’s a really satisfying conclusion.
There are certain things that dragged the film down for me though. I thought the young mutants “codenames” scene was fucking cringeworthy. I realise that at some point we as an audience needed to find out their X-names, but Christ. Let it never be said that I don’t hand out constructive criticism though, so here’s my idea. Y’know that scene in Reservoir Dogs where Laurence Tierney is gruffly handing out their heist names? Like that. Since their names are pretty unimaginative, it would make sense for a CIA agent to just dish them out and save me rolling my eyes. Also, in the aforementioned amazing end sequence, for some reason, Magneto turns Oirish. Don’t believe me? Check this clip out. It’s a great performance from ol’ Fass, but I found it to be quite distracting. Also, at times the film seems too focused on tying in to the Singer films or foreshadowing future events (Xavier makes a crack about going bald, for instance) and since we now know where Magneto got that iconic helmet from (invisotexted) did he really have to spray it a garish red and purple and have a matching cape? I really wouldn’t have minded if they’d tweaked the costume design to be more in-keeping with Fassneto.
Still, X-Men: First Class is a real return to form for the series. I enjoyed the hell out of it. The performances are great, the dialogue is really well-written (apart from a few hiccups) and the action sequences are truly special. If Captain America keeps up this standard, 2011 will be owned by Marvel, despite what certain viridian lamps have to say.