Friday, December 06, 2013

"X-Men: First Class": the two-paragraph review

"X-Men: First Class" (XM1C) is something like an origin story for the X-Men. It begins in World War II-era Poland, as Bryan Singer's first "X-Men" did, then rapidly segues to the 1960s and the Cuban missile crisis. James McAvoy plays a young Charles Xavier (Professor X); Michael Fassbender plays Erik Lensherr (Magneto). The film chronicles the men's friendship, the origin of Professor X's academy for mutants, the gathering of an early crop of mutants, and one nefarious mutant's plans to instigate world war. Perhaps the hardest aspect of XM1C to swallow was the casting of Kevin Bacon as the top villain, but Bacon pulled the role off fairly well, despite some horrendously accented German at the beginning. (Not to be outdone, Fassbender complemented Bacon's German with some horrendously accented French.)

The bad news first: the musical score for XM1C was far too intrusive and too bubble-gum for the genre; it might have worked better for a TV special. The good news, though, is that XM1C was a vast improvement over both "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Neither of those movies had a compelling story to tell, and the battle of ideas that fuels the X-Men franchise was lost in the spectacle. XM1C was, happily, both more cerebral and more emotional than either of its predecessors. It took the time to explore its major characters' motivations, not to mention the psychic landscape of many of the minor characters as well. Although the movie's third reel dissolved into typical Hollywood bombast, the primary conflicts still felt gritty and personal. In the end, I found X1MC to be well worth watching, faux science aside. As with the first "X-Men," XM1C dealt with themes ranging from eugenics to racism, from celebrating uniqueness to feeling the need to belong, and from compassion to vengeance. Well done, indeed. And Logan/Wolverine's cameo was a classic.

UPDATE: One bit of noteworthy trivia: both XM1C and "Kick-Ass" (reviewed here) were directed by Matthew Vaughn. Both films include a scene in which a vengeful hero throws an edged object at a wall-mounted drawing of the hero's intended target. In "Kick-Ass," Hit Girl throws a shuriken at a drawing of crime boss Frank D'Amico; in XM1C, Erik Lensherr mind-throws a Nazi coin into the image of Dr. Klaus Schmidt (later renamed Sebastian Shaw). In the latter case, that act proves to be a creepy bit of foreshadowing.




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