Thursday, 2 June 2011

X-Men: First Class Review

X-Men: First Class 

After my disappointment with Thor, X-Men: First Class was one that showed great promise from the various trailers, the choice of director and the cast. The X-Men film franchise recently took a ‘tumble’ with the terrible X-Men: Last Stand and the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, therefore it was in need of a reboot. Director Matthew Vaughn’s filmography has been relatively positive. His last film Kick-Ass showed off his talent and ability to deal with the ‘hero’ genre while creating a dark and gritty atmosphere. Therefore the thought of a ‘serious’ and raw X-Men film was pleasing to the ears. In terms of the cast, the likes of Michael Fassbender and the new talent of Jennifer Lawrence seemed relatively suitable and clever choices in regards to a youthful band of ‘mutants’. The result is a superhero film that entertains but lacks finesse, especially in its writing. 
Set in the 1960s, the film portrays young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as he helps CIA agent Dr. Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to stop Sebastian Shaw’s (Kevin Bacon) attempt to fuel Cold War tensions. Meanwhile, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) seeks revenge on Shaw for killing his parents. The two join forces, with the help of other ‘mutants’ to take down the members of the Hellfire Club and prevent Nuclear War. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the ‘Red Scare’ setting never really comes through. While cars and technology and the archive footage of John F. Kennedy directly attempt to portray the era, you never fully experience it. If anything Watchmen did well, was its style and visual atmosphere that put you in various periods the film explored, from Noire to suburban culture. 
The story is one that introduces the more obscure characters of the series, which plays more to the fans. Cyclops, Rogue and Storm have been swapped for the likes of Havok, Banshee and Emma Frost. Vaughn does a respectable job of developing some these characters, yet doesn’t expand on the more important individuals. The character of Emma Frost features heavily in the Comic Book universe, and seems underused. Yet, the character of Raven Darkholme (Mystique) and especially Hank McCoy (Beast), are fully realised and are well portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult. Their energy and charm help to bring a sense of youthful charisma in amongst the seriousness of Fassbender and the soft quiverring of McAvoy. 

However, the primary focus of X-Men: First Class is the characters of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, and the growing relationship between the two. Patrick Stewart successfully became the face of the Star Trek but also managed to portray a charming, and noble Professor X, in the last four films. Therefore it was always going to be hard for James McAvoy to establish himself in the role. McAvoy’s recent career has taken a bit of a dive with the likes of Gnomeo and Juliet and Wanted, and this transpires into his portrayal of the Professor. His plucky, youthful character as graduate from Oxford University is entertaining and shows a different personality to the usually stern and moral Professor. However, when he finally does form the ‘X-Men’, McAvoy’s performance sags to a point where his soft, mumbling dialogue is lacking in presence. 
Michael Fassbender steals the show, with his portrayal of the troubled Erik Lehnsherr/ Magneto. He comes across as a complete ‘bad-ass’ on a path of enraged revenge.  Magneto’s character has been one that always intrigued me, and Matthew Vaughn has taken the time to developed him well and carefully. We see his pain and anger as he kills, destroys and tortures. My only nit-pick with Fassbender’s performance is his accent. The character of Erik is German which Michael’s own nationality successfully portrays. Yet his overall accent seems to generally change from American to Irish which is a minor niggle. 
What failed with Thor was the lack of explosive set pieces as a ‘superhero’ film. But Vaughn provides great action throughout the film, that moves away from simply ‘force pushing’ enemies as we’ve seen in a lot these comic-book movies. There is a real power and brutality to the various character’s powers, whether its Magneto stabbing a dude with a knife, or Azazel (Nightcrawler’s Dad) teleporting and dropping a guy from the sky. While the CGI isn’t the greatest, it does well to ‘realistically’ show these enjoyable and destructive set pieces on screen. 
However, X-Men: First Class suffers from some problems. The major problem with the film is its script. It is just poorly written and cliché, and not in an intended fashion. Comic Books have always had a ‘campness’ to them: the colourful costumes or the cheesy dialogue. Thankfully, Vaughn’s X-Men steers clear of the questionable outfit choices of the comic book characters. Yet when a film tries to distinguish itself from the previous series, and is a ‘serious’ reboot of the franchise, it is hard to forgive it for a rather laughable attempt at great storytelling. From the ‘God help us all’ from the Generals about to be killed, to the contrived speeches of Professor X, it all feels like it has been stripped from the printed medium. The various members of the writing staff were also involved in Thor and again the dialogue was below-par in that film. It’s a bit of shame after the clever, funny writing of Kick -Ass that X-Men: First Class fails to gain the similar ‘mature’ tones in amongst the adolescent nature of a Marvel film. 
Overall X-Men: First Class is an entertaining film, yet never really amazes. There’s great action scenes and well organised and well balanced character development. It certainly was more enjoyable than Thor and has a very different but fresh take on the X-Men franchise. I’d argue that overall Vaughn’s take on the band of ‘mutants’ is better than any of the previous films. However the script flops and some of the major performance fail to top those of Bryan Singer’s pictures (X-Men and X2), in particular McAvoy’s. 
Note: There is a fantastic cameo that Vaughn manages perfectly with enough humour and sensibility. You will laugh!!!!...............No its not Stan Lee (Thank God)

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