daniel cohen reviews the newest x-men flick…
Plot: In the early 1960’s, mutants are still hidden from the general public. When the Hellfire Club, a pack of mutants who try and force war between the United States and Russia, Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) of the CIA recruits Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), a student of genetics and a powerful mutant, to combat these dangerous foes. He is joined by Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), a vengeful mutant who seeks revenge on Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), the Hellfire Club’s leader. Xavier and Lehnsherr form a close friendship as they locate and train other mutants.
Much like with the Tim Burton Batman movies, as much as I loved them, they became a distant memory when Christopher Nolan came around. Well, now with Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, the original X-Men trilogy has joined the Burton Batman films, fading into dust forever. Now I’m not saying X-Men: First Class is the caliber of the Nolan Batman movies, but it’s a spectacular piece of entertainment, and so far my favorite movie of the year.
For me, the best part about X-Men in general is the relationship between Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto). While this is certainly present in the original trilogy, let’s face it: it was the Wolverine show. He was the main character in those movies. In First Class, it’s their friendship that will impact the future of mutants forever. You feel that in this movie. And these guys really are good friends. They joke around and have fun. There’s a great montage where both of them practically go on a road trip rounding up mutants, and you feel their bond oozing out of the screen. It also helps that the two actors are off the charts outstanding.
James McAvoy is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. He gives Charles Xavier charisma, power, and leadership that may even out do Patrick Stewart’s performance of the character. And Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr: Awesome. There’s one sequence where he’s just ripping through guys in this compound. His eyes are basically telling everyone to ‘Stay the hell away.’ Aside from his rage and anger, he gives the character an equal amount of pain and vulnerability. McAvoy and Fassbender work together like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
But they aren’t the only ones who shine. Jennifer Lawrence as the shape-shifting Raven/Mystique may be the most compelling figure in the whole movie. She’s so likable, and the script really fleshes out her character. They give Raven three well-developed relationships throughout the course of the movie which include Xavier, Erik, and Hank McCoy/Beast played wonderfully by Nicholas Hoult. The only disappointing thing about McCoy is that when he finally goes into Beast mode, his fighting style isn’t as cool as it was in X-Men: The Last Stand, which is one of the few great things about that film.
All of the other supporting characters are great. There is no weak performance. Kevin Bacon as the villain Sebastian Shaw does not disappoint. He’s such a slimy, evil, powerful jerk bag, but he’s so charismatic when doing it.
Everyone has a good time in this movie, especially the younger mutants. The director has a lot of fun with the material, but it’s also a very serious film. The acting is good in the original trilogy, but a lot of the performances are stoic and overly serious. I love the camaraderie and fun the younger characters have, because when bad stuff happens to them, it has such a bigger emotional impact.
The original trilogy is definitely more comic-bookey, which is fine. But here, Vaughn takes a page from the Christopher Nolan hand book, making this as realistic as possible, even though it’s a movie about super-powered beings. It’s just that you believe in this world a lot more than other superhero flicks.
But don’t worry, because you get your fill of mutant powers. And they improve upon it as well. For example, in 2003’s X2 we saw the teleporter Nightcrawler who was certainly bad ass, but the teleporter in First Class, Azazel (Jason Flemyng), really uses this power in a scary way, getting some of the characters into some serious shit.
I also the love the training sequences, especially when Alex Summers/Havok has to focus his ability. This crazy bastard’s power is so unstable that Hank McCoy has to build a special chest plate just so he can control it. Geez Louise. One thing that was annoying though was that in these training scenes, Vaughn goes with the comic panel style editing, similar to Ang Lee’s Hulk. It’s not as annoying, but completely unnecessary.
Now one thing I want to touch on is how First Class does or doesn’t connect with the original trilogy. I’m not going to spoil anything, but I am going to explain whether or not it fits the continuity of the first three films. So if that’s something you don’t want to know, skip the next paragraph.
This is a total 100% re-boot. However, they try something here that has never been attempted. It’s a re-boot, but with an asterisk. They take certain elements from the first trilogy and put them in this new franchise. I was confused and not really buying it at first, but when the film ended, I totally got onboard. It’s basically like rebuilding a sports team, but certain things get to move on with the new regime while others are erased from existence. This is an interesting approach to a big budget franchise that we’ve never seen before, but it works.
In fact, the movie was just very good to great, but it wasn’t until the last thirty minutes where it transcends into OMG level. The last act is absolutely heart pounding. To use the old cliché…I was on the edge of my seat. Some of it is predictable, but even the predictable stuff is executed so brilliantly, you don’t care. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of stuff that totally catches you off guard. It’s just superb directing by Matthew Vaughn.
Vaughn delivers a near masterpiece. It’s paced so well. There was never a moment where I thought it was slow and needed editing down. When the film ends, I desperately wanted another half-hour. And the movie is over two hours long! It’s fun, serious, action-packed, and filled with character development. I pray we get a sequel.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)