Friday, June 3, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Taking on another in the long list of X-Men films was not going to be an easy assignment for director Matthew Vaughn. Having a series that is not as well known as the characters themselves makes it even more difficult. "X-Men: First Class" is not a prequel and isn't a reboot of a series. The film stands on it's own from the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009) and X-Men films that started in 2000 and followed with sequels in 2003 and 2006.

Having previously taken on a comic-based movie with "Kick Ass", Matthew Vaughn has the required background for such a large franchise. However, taking on a film like "First Class" requires the introduction of several new characters. To accomplish this task required some significant work with the casting department. The cast includes several young actors and actresses that I have been increasingly interested in lately. James McAvoy (Professor X) first got my attention in 2006 with "The Last King of Scotland". Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) received an Oscar nomination for her leading performance in "Winter's Bone" (2010). January Jones (Emma Frost) has been a beauty on the screen since 2003 in "American Wedding". Nicholas Hoult (Beast) was very good, but overshadowed in "A Single Man" (2009).

A standout performance comes from Michael Fassbender (Magneto), who finds a way to humanize the signature X-Men villain from the previous films. Completely unrecognizable is Jason Flemyng as the villain Azazel. Rather forgettable is Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw. Finally, any X-Men movie (or comic book movie) wouldn't be complete without a cameo and you can probably guess who has the cameo for this one. There is also an unmentioned female cameo from someone that appeared in the first X-Men film. Quack back if you catch who she is.

With any of the comic book films the special effects are equally as important to the film as the script and acting. There have been so many comic book films that there weren't really any effects that jumped off the screen as impressive. Instead the effects were rather toned down to play off the 1960s time period. Additionally, the script wasn't the best and didn't exactly follow the comic series. The original lineup for the First Class was Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, Jean Gray and Professor X; only Beast and Professor X are carried over. For the character of Angel they replaced him with a female stripping pixie that spits fire. Rather than use Cyclops they chose his younger brother Havok. No mention/reference is made of Iceman or Jean Gray likely because they were included in the previous films out of sequence. This has become my biggest complaint about the X-Men franchise. The world they exist in is so vast and rich with characters and stories that the mix/mash of characters and stories makes it difficult to stay true to the series. A good article summarized the differences even better.

As an individual film, "First Class" was very entertaining and is worth seeing. However, if taken as cannon for the franchise it swings and misses at times. It is being set-up as the vehicle for the franchise going forward, so the fan-boys will have to accept that. Overall, the film is just 3 Quacks and is still worth seeing if the summer temperatures are getting too high for you. You might even be surprised by the award consideration this film might receive.

(screening date 6/2/11, release date 6/3/11, location AMC Mazza Gallerie)

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