Tuesday, May 20, 2014

X-Men Retrospective: X-Men - First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Til, Caleb Landry Jones
Rated: PG-13

Peace was never an option.
     ~Erik Lehnsherr

This film had a lot of doubters before it came out.  I was not one of them.  You could say after Last Stand and Wolverine back-to-back burned people that they would be weary.  Personally, I just don't understand that.  That was those movies, the next one is a different effort.  We live in an era where sequels are important to studios and most actively try to get the best movie out possible.  First Class had two things I liked going for it; Matthew Vaughn (a director with pretty much a perfect record with me) and it was going to be a period movie set in the 60s and embracing some of the pop culture spy movie motiffs like James Band and In Like Flint of the era.
Back when Origins: Wolverine was going, the next one was supposed to be Origins: Magneto.  I didn't think that sounded particular interesting or fun.  Some of that script was infused into First Class and holy crap was I wrong.  Its this Nazi hunting, James Bond-esque spy stuff that is incredibly groovy.  And holy crap did I, like everyone else, fall in love with Michael Fassbender in this movie.  This guy was outstanding in the film.  Okay, so I guess I WOULD have enjoyed the hell out of a solo Magneto movie had I known this was the direction and execution it was going for.
Never in a million years would I have guess James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender would have me completely forgetting about Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.  A Professor X and Magneto focused film, two characters I understood their importance but didn't find them to be "cool" or "fun" members of the mutant race, turned out to be the coolest and most fun.  The drama and performance between the two actors completely sells the film and drives it.  By the end when Erik turns, its absolutely heartbreaking and devastating to you, the audience member...and you knew it was eventually going to happen.  And this was only the first film that establishes the initial relationship too!
Kevin Bacon also crushes it in the film as well.  Shaw was never someone too interesting or that I was crazy about back in the day, but Bacon's performance and take on the character easily makes him one of the series absolute best.  If you're not counting Magneto, I'd say he IS the best.  And for him in his career this is the perfect type of role for him to take.  Its sort of a logical turn and an unexpected one at the time for the Friday the 13th vet.  And I must mention that the way he gets it at the end is definitely in consideration for tops villain deaths of all time.
The rest of the X-Men in the movie are solid.  They're not much the focus of the film, but are fun in the doses we're given with them.  I like how they act especially much younger than Xavier and Lehnsherr.  Jennifer Lawrence is solid as Mystique, and I really enjoy the character stuff they do with her that actually builds depth to stuff we saw in the original films.  January Jones gets to play one of the coolest X-Men, Emma Frost, but luckily she's passable and doesn't drag it down as she's been known to.  I really dig the outfits we get to see them in at the end of the film.  As a matter of fact, I dig ALL of the 1960s inspired stuff.  Especially writing the X-Men in to the Cuban Missile Crisis for the film's climax.
While on repeat viewings it seems less rushed, but the end of the film falls into a prequel trap that tries to hurry some connections or events along.  I'll give this film a big pass on it.  They weren't sure they would make another film in this prequel cannon.  So, I'm sure Vaughn's hand was forced by silly studio people that wanted to see it connect as instantly to the original 3 movies as soon as it could.  They wanted Magneto bad and Xavier in the wheelchair.  But honestly, when you repeat view this movie, this whole dynamic actually works better and better.  Maybe its just the surprise of it happening so soon the first time you view the film that it feels forced.
This film had that rare occasion with me where when I was leaving the theater I felt as if I had seen a great movie and possibly the best in the franchise (I won't reveal whether it is or not til the rankings).  I was blown away by many of the performances and the character work in it.  Wolverine who?  Magneto was an absolute badass and they used his powers better than ever.  MacAvoy, whom I wasn't that big on before this, was incredible as professor Xavier.  After seeing this, I really didn't care if we ever went back to Halle Berry and the rest of the original gang...I wanted more First Class movies!  Luckily...whew...they announced there would be a follow up.

Next Time:  Wolverine is back...with a one off

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