Tuesday, September 20, 2011

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class is an exceptionally well made film that has almost nothing to do with the X-Men.

I suppose that's not entirely accurate. It has nothing to do with the X-Men comic books (which have been around for almost 50 years and spanned literally thousands of issues), and is mostly just based on the X-Men series of of films (which have been around for about ten years and spanned three films), so that explains why the mythology and history presented is mostly a jumbled mess that will have people who have only seen the films feeling confused and people who have grown up on the comics feeling annoyed. However, as an origin story taken on its own, it's a cracking good film.

I'd be surprised if the writers of this film even read any of the original comics books before crafting their screenplay, since every detail and character idea is taken from the earlier films, which is fine since those films were already pretty far removed from the comics. So what we have here is a film intended to be a prequel to a series of films that were very loosely based on a series of comics. That's why we have a Charles Xavier who is British even though he's American in the comics, and a Moira MacTaggert who's American even though she's Scottish in the comics. At least Xavier's personality, powers, and back story come through mostly unchanged, while most of the other characters are just given a name and appearance from the comics and turned into something... else, almost as though they are mutated forms from their original comic book counterparts. So Moria MacTaggert, a Scottish geneticist who meets and falls in love with Xavier because they are both studying human mutations while at Oxford is now an American CIA agent. And the rest of the characters are similarly changed, as is the entire makeup of the "First Class" itself, since the actual lineup from the original comics have all been used already in the earlier films, so it wouldn't make sense to have Cyclops, Jean Grey, et all living back in the 60s.

So as an X-Men film, it falls flat and borders on being something insulting, considering how much is changed, dismissed, and flat out rewritten for these films. But as an action movie, it's absolutely stunning. Matthew Vaughn is an excellent director and some of the set pieces in this movie are brilliantly filmed, even if none of them really add up to a cohesive whole that makes much sense or is all that satisfying on any real emotionally or intellectual level. The scene where a young Magneto kills a bunch of aged Nazis in a bar in Argentina, for example, was one of the most well done and entertaining scenes I've watched in a long time.

The cast is also pretty exceptional, with James McAvoy out-Xaviering Patrick Stewart, who is a brilliant actor who completely phoned in his performances in the earlier films. Michael Fassbender was awesome as Magneto, giving just as much gravitas as Ian McKellen, but actually seeming like more of a real threat since he didn't look like an arthritic senior citizen. Kevin Bacon stole the entire film, however, as one of the best villains I've ever seen in any comic book movie. No, this was not the Sebastian Shaw from the comics, but Bacon was so good I didn't care. The rest of the cast was played by a bunch of gorgeous, sexy women who mostly walked around in their underwear, so they were also very good and very memorable. This did seem like a bit of a step down for Jennifer Lawrence after her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter's Bone, but boy is she talented and very, very beautiful.

So... X-Men: First Class. Check it out, but don't go in expecting anything all that amazing or showing any real fidelity to the comics or even the previous films. When the plot gets confusing and has you feeling lost, don't make the mistake of thinking it's all explained in the comics, since none of this is from the comics and it's just because the script isn't that great or well thought out. But boy is it a lot of fun.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

Yeah, it's kind of too bad--when I saw they were going back to the 60s, or whatever, I thought maybe this was going to be out of the continuity of the other films, and that maybe it would be closer to the comics. Not that I care that much about it being close to the comics, but getting tied up in the continuity of the other X-Men movies would be limiting, I would have thought.

Anyway, I still want to see it.

Naomi said...

I'm glad I saw your review before I saw the film. Now, I am less likely to spend a lot of time saying, "what?" when I see the movie. Although, my brain hurts just thinking about an American Moira who is a CIA agent.