Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

X-Men: First Class

It's hard to believe that it's been 11 years since Bryan Singer's "X-Men" hit theaters and quite honestly surprised me. It was a far better movie than I had expected. It wasn't because I was a die hard comic book snob, nor was it due to me believing that superhero movies were beneath me. It was simply because I hadn't expected much from it. In 2003, Singer's own follow up "X2" was actually in many respects a step up from the original despite shamelessly lifting the entire ending of "The Wrath of Khan." Then during pre-production of the third entry Singer jumped ship to direct "Superman Returns," thus leaving Brett Ratner to finish the job. The less said about the result the better.
After the lackluster third entry Fox decided to rejuvenate the franchise by giving us the origin story of Wolverine in the aptly named, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which admittedly I never saw. So as someone who had never read an "X-Men" comic and had enjoyed but not fallen in love with two out of four movies in the film series, I awaited "X-Men: First Class" with the sort of fervor that can best be described as, "Yeah... I've got nothing else going on and it starts in an hour. Why not?"
It's 1962 and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender, "Inglourious Basterds") is a young man, but despite his youth he has more than his share of horrific memories. His ability to move metallic objects with his mind could not save his parents or anyone but himself from being killed in the Holocaust. Erik has revenge on the brain and his number one target is his chief tormentor from the death camp, Sebastian Shaw (a surprisingly evil Kevin Bacon). Shaw, now a highly successful playboy with connections to seats of power, is seeking to turn Cold War tensions to his advantage.
Meanwhile, a young and dashing professor by the name of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is putting his ability to read minds to good use by drunkenly hitting on coeds. Like his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"), Charles is a mutant, but he displays no shocking physical characteristics. Raven, naturally being blue, has a decidedly more difficult time with her own mutation.
With U.S.-Soviet problems escalating the United States government is seeking any advantage it can get. Young field agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, "Bridesmaids") has taken an interest in Xavier's theories and with the hesitant backing of the CIA, Charles sets about finding other mutants and training them to fight. It is also his hope that they will find acceptance in human society. When he comes upon Erik a friendship is forged that unbeknownst to them will change the world forever.
Anyone who knows these characters and the story of what is to come also knows about where things will stand at the end of this film. Knowing that they do not have surprise on their side, the four screen writers and director Matthew Vaughn ("Kick-Ass") still manage to give us a mostly satisfying look at how it all began. At 2 hours and 12 minutes it's a bit longer than it needs to be and occassionally character motivations are muddled but for the most part it's good fun with an interesting enough story and some good performances.
McAvoy wisely doesn't attempt to be the young Patrick Stewart. He's a great actor and has the confidence to play Charles Xavier his way, delivering a fine performance. Lawrence is absolutely terrific, the character of Raven/Mystique given far greater depth than it had even been allowed before. It's just a shame that this character also suffers from the muddled motivation issue, though that can hardly be blamed on Lawrence. There's nice work here too from Byrne, Bacon, and Nicholas Hoult ("About a Boy," "Wah-Wah") but the runaway star of the show is Fassbender. Like McAvoy, he makes his character his own. You won't see traces of Ian McKellen there but when you're as good as Fassbender you can just be yourself. Erik is a character walking the tight rope between right and wrong and every decision he makes, even if it's the wrong one, is understandable. He's the most well-written and performed character in the film and the main reason I look forward to this prequel's inevitable sequel.
There should certainly be better movies this summer but there will most definitely be worse ones. "X-Men: First Class" is a perfectly good way to spend a summer evening. 7.5/10.

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