“Peace was never an option.”
For years, the X-Men movie franchise was stagnant, due in large part to two of its sequels/installmemts. X-Men: The Last Stand was a very average way to end a trilogy, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine really was an utter failure. So while there was excitement that a prequel to the trilogy in X-Men: First Class would be released, there was also warranted trepidation. Had the franchise already seen its best days, or was a new foundation about to be laid?
I say a resounding yes to the latter, as First Class does manage to breathe new life into the X-Men universe. At the beginning, we are in the year 1944 and much like the first X-Men, we see young Erik Lensheer, not yet known as Magneto, realize his talents when his mother is taken away from him. A short time later, a scientist takes him in in order to cultivate his unique skill. During this same time, we also witness Charles Xavier as a young boy encounter the shape-shifting blue-skinned, Raven, also not yet known as Mystique. They strike a friendship and we soon flash forward to 1962, where the story takes place. Erik is now a young man hell-bent on revenge against this scientist, while Charles is in college writing a soon-to-be very important thesis regarding mutation, with Raven as his best friend and confidant.
The two paths do converge eventually along with other mutants in an effort to stop a massive nuclear war. In all honestly, that is all that needs to be known plot-wise. It is very serviceable, but nothing that will rock the socks off.
But that is OK, because this film is not story driven but rather character driven, with many notable performances. In First Class, a surprising level of depth for many of the main leveled characters is featured. We get to see Xavier in college having a good time, yet still displaying the worldview that he harbors in the other films. We get to see Erik and his inability to forget the past, and why he ultimately is how he is. We get to see Raven not as the femme fatale, but as a young person unsure of herself in the grand scheme of things. Seeing this depth of individual characters makes the relationships between characters more meaningful, and even gives more heft to the other films now, and when the line is finally drawn, it truly means something.
As noted, there are some great performances, which isn’t exactly the norm for comic book films. For this, look no further than the perfect casting for the main roles. Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy turn in solid jobs, but Michael Fassbender really steals the show. He brings coldness and vulnerability to Magneto, presenting him in an anti-heroic vibe that is easy for us as a viewing audience to get behind, at least up to the point that his revenge is fulfilled.
Even those with smaller parts get time to shine, but there are a few characters that seemed to take too much screen time. The CIA agent wasn’t critical to the progression of the movie in my opinion, truth be told I even found her annoying. Other smaller parts are neither here nor there. Not all of the acting is good but I wasn’t watching a Oscar nominated movie, so it is what it is.
It seems like director Matthew Vaughn has a deft hand with penning for comic book movies, as evidenced by Kick-Ass’s success and this one. As for the directing, it is fine. I am not a budding director or anything but I know when and sometimes why certain things catch my eye. There are some action moments here but nothing extraordinary, and honestly, it seemed to lack a lot of action. I did not mind however because the characters and relationships were so sound, and anytime when the film was just straight action, it bored me somewhat, which is crazy for me to say because I typically love action scenes. I kept wishing that we would get more relationship building scenes with Magneto, Xavier, Mystique, and Beast.
There really isn’t that much wrong with X-Men: First Class. It serves as a nice reboot/prequel to the other films while also standing on its own well enough if chosen to be. I am interested in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but at the same time wary of it. The future-past dynamic could work but also could be a hindrance with too many characters involved. Regardless, at least First Class has set up for something potentially solid for the 2014 blockbuster season.
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