Wednesday, September 28, 2011

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Notable Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones

The "X-Men" franchise might be significantly flawed (read my review of "X-Men III" to get the jist), but its really damn entertaining. The comics have transferred to film well and the cast of characters that they have developed in the ongoing series have been a riot to watch. Luckily, this prequel of sorts is not only another great entertaining film, but perhaps one of the best and almost topples "X2" as the best executed of the franchise. It rocks and rolls with all the mutant flavor we come to expect, yet retains that underlying intelligence that makes these stories ones to watch.

In the late 1960s as the US and Russia continue to threaten one another with nuclear war, a new line will be drawn in the events unfolding. A young holocaust survivor Erik (Fassbender) is out for vengeance against Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) for the atrocities he suffered in World War II only armed with his anger and an odd ability to manipulate metal. A young scholar Xavier (McAvoy) is recruited for the CIA for his telepathic abilities to help aid against the unseen powerful threat of the same villain Shaw. Together the two very different men must learn to craft their genetic abilities to stop this rival mutant league led by Shaw who is hellbent on starting another world war.

What really makes this "X-Men" film work so well is the back drop of its development. The setting of the Cold War in the last 60s blends a brief look at history with these fictional characters and how their actions and different viewpoints affected it. It's a fantastical blend of old and new as we see the birth of our beloved league of mutant heroes and the growth of two characters who would soon become regular arch-enemies. This look is perfectly executed as it gives us many of the 'whys' to the details of characters we have already seen in the future while retaining its own style and identity - a tough thing to do with prequels.

Matthew Vaughn also ably gives the film a great pacing of blended story and style. He throws in many comic book like moments (split screen, bright colors, and high octane shots), but grounds all of it with significant character work and interactions making it seem as real as possible for such an out there concept. This, blended with the great differing viewpoints on their stature in society as 'evolved' people of our two leads, gives the movie credibility in thoughtfulness and allows some of the great writing to show through.

It must also be mentioned that "X-Men: First Class" is stunningly well cast. McAvoy channels the young Xavier to aces and the supporting cast ably lifts the leads to new levels despite many of the smaller characters having poor back story work (including the rather poorly used Angel). The true highlight is a tie between the rather hard-to-hate sinister evilness of Kevin Bacon as Shaw and the great depth of darkness in the light of Fassbender as Erik aka Magneto. Both of whom steal their respective scenes and leave the audience dreading when they will meet.

Although "X2" still retains the spot for best "X-Men" film, "First Class" gives it a run for its money with its cleverly written story, great characters, and intelligent spin on a mutant team being crafted in historical context. It's entertaining with great action sequences and fun comic book like moments (Magneto's use of anchors to sink a ship being a highlight), but its still a well thought out film that really challenges the audience to think. A necessary for a great "X-Men" film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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