X-Men: First Class is another notch on Marvel Films’ belt. After several false starts, they seem to have gotten their shit together and have been cranking out hit after hit. The Iron Man franchise was a success and Thor seems to have gotten praise from both hard core nerds and newbies. Comic Book movies seem to have hit their stride.
The prequel (sort of) to Bryan Singer’s 2000 adaptation of the comics, the new X-Men film takes a look at Professor X, Magneto, Mystique and Beast back in their youth. It’s sort of a period piece, but there’s not a lot that you can actually place in the 1940’s or 60's. The tech is pretty campy looking (think James Bond), but it’s not particularly recognizable.
If you grew up with X-Men at all, you’ll recognize the story. Charles Xavier meets Erik Lehnsherr and it’s the start of a beautiful friendship. But then they realize that they want different things for their people (i.e. mutants) and they become enemies. The film version differs in the specifics, but the heart of the story is still there.
The first act covers the introduction of Xavier, Mystique and Magneto before they got the silly codenames and longjohns. If you’re one of those fanboys who insist that filmmakers never deviate from the comic canon, you’ll want to skip this movie all together. The first part of the movie is already rife with them and it only gets worse. For instance, Mystique is Xavier’s adopted sister, Moira MacTaggert is a CIA Agent, Sebastian Shaw is really a Nazi scientist who first met Magneto as a child, etc. For anyone who accepts that artistic license will inevitably mean that adaptations will change the source material, all you need to know is that it all WORKS.
The second act has Xavier getting his recruits into shape in order to face off against Shaw and the Hellfire Club. The supporting cast is one of the low points for me. There's "Angel", a stripper with dragonfly wings who spits explosive acid (say what?). Azazel is a straight up Nightcrawler rip-off who is red instead of blue (O_O). He even teleports, and uses swords. And has the elf ears. Oh, but they gave him a scar, you know, so he's different. Sigh. There's also Riptide, who would not have been my first choice for a bad guy. He was such a born B-lister back when he was introduced that they killed him off right away.
I've also got a few fanboy peeves about Emma Frost. I always wanted to shoot the writer who introduced the idea of "secondary mutations" to the books. I hate hate HATE the "diamond form" that Emma has and the fact that it's used here made me want to scream. It doesn't look any better in CGI than it does in the comics. And I have no idea why they thought it was a good idea for Havok to look like he's hula hooping when he first starts using his power. It looks utterly ridiculous. Seriously. What the hell, guys? He absorbs the energy of the cosmos and throws off beams of plasma that level a city block, but there he is, gyrating on screen like an idiot. Sigh.
Casting is also hit and miss. Kevin Bacon seemed ok as Shaw, and I loved Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee (who also had the best portrayed power in the film, aside from Magneto), but January Jones was far too soft to be The White Queen. Oh, she looks the part, but I imagine Emma Frost as someone who makes you want to kneel and beg her to spank you whenever she talks. Jones doesn't pull that off at all. Ditto for Jennifer Lawrence. Again, she looks great, but she has none of the grace that Rebecca Romijn brought to the role. She feels like a bouncy Disney Princess, even when she's supposed to be commiserating with the Beast over having to hide their mutations.
The real center of the film is the chemistry between James McAvoy (Children of Dune) and Michael Fassbender (300) and it's them that carry the whole thing. There's a scene in the second act where Professor X is attempting to help Magneto master his powers over magnetism. It's short, but I thought it was very nicely done. Most of the things I remember from the movie were small moments like that, instead of the big set pieces. Hank transforming into the Beast. Banshee showing off. Mystique on a date (Jennifer Lawrence is seriously hot).
The last part of the film has the newly trained X-Men facing off against Shaw's band of evil mutants to stop the Russian boats from getting to Cuba during the missile crisis. It's a little historical retcon that gives them an excuse to let the special effects guys go to work.
Now that I've gotten all that out, my initial high after leaving the theater has died down. I think X-Men: First Class wouldn't be too high on my list of favorite comic movies, but it's certainly an improvement on the first Punisher, Ghostrider, the second Hulk, or that last X-Men.
Though I'm not sure that Matthew Vaughn has won himself a place on my favorite directors list, but he got the job done on this film. I doubt it'll hold up as well as Thor or Iron Man on subsequent showings, but I was highly entertained during its 2 hour 10 minute run. The early parts with Fassbender were especially engaging (guy needs more stuff).
All in all, it was a great way to kill some time and more than enough to whet my appetite until Green Lantern and Captain America roll into cinemas next month.