Friday, April 8, 2016

X-Men First Class (2011) (Movie Review)

         At the start of the 2000 teen’s, the X-Men film series was in a very bad place. An origin movie revolving around Wolverine was clearly a terrible idea, one that I called bad before I had even seen the movie. However, a movie themed around the genesis of the X-Men team ... dude, sign me up for that! “X-Men First Class” premiered in 2011, and was a much needed revival for the series. Now this wasn’t a remake or reboot, it still kept in continuity with the previous films and basically told the strait forward story of how this team of hero’s came to be. I was already excited, but cautious as this was the film that would determine if the series still had a future. To make a long story short, “X-Men First Class” surprised the hell out of me! All the previous X-Men films had either been well made but needed more kick, or very action packed but needed a better story. “X-Men First Class” was the first sequel to get things just right, it’s consistently fast paced and action packed, but there’s a strong script and great character arch’s that balance out perfectly.

      Our story is set in 1962, right in the heart of the “Cold War” during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s revealed in this film that mutants are “Children of the Atom”, and were born from the prolonged exposure of nuclear radiation. An evil organization of mutants simply known as the Hellfire Club are taking advantage of the situation and aim to start a global nuclear war that will bring about the end of the human race, leaving mutants free to claim the planet. A human CIA agent named Moira Mac Taggert stubbles across their plan, and seeks help from anyone with knowledge of human mutations. Her search leads her to a young Professor X, and his adopted sister who would later be known as the shape shifter Mystique. Along the way, they meet with the mutant Magneto who’s out for revenge against the Hellfire clubs sinister leader. A friendship soon develops between Magneto and Professor X, and the two agree to stop the Hellfire club from launching World War III. However, in order to stop this powerful team of malevolent mutants, professor X and Magneto will need to organize a team of their own to combat them, and thus the X-Men are born. Unfortunately, Magneto’s hatred for humanity starts to take shape, causing a rift between him and his closest friend, then to make things worse, he’s also dragging Professor X’s sister Mystique along with him. In short, there’s a lot going on in this film, but it’s very easy to follow.

       The first thing to note is that the cast is phenomenal, probably the most charismatic and well acted of any of the films, which is no small accomplishment considering how iconic the cast from the previous films were. James McAvoy especially had some big shoes to fill following in the footsteps of Sir Patrick Stewart in the role of Professor X.
To my surprise, he was outstanding, giving the character a lot of charisma, hummer and energy that helped separate him from Patrick Stewart’s portrayal. On a side note, I like that we finally see what Professor X see’s when he reads the minds of other people, it’s a really cool effect. Nicholas Hoult is also very respectable as a younger version of the character Beast and has some stand out action scenes. Other new X-Men include Havok, who has an awesome power involving an energy beam that he fires from his chest. There’s also Banshee, a young boy with a loud sonic vibrating mouth that can shatter glass and gives him the ability to fly. The flight scenes by the way are excellent as they give you that big jolt and feel of soaring though the air. Of course there’s Moira Mac Taggert played by Rose Byrne. She makes for a great human character, is very strong and I love how involved she gets when the team goes on missions.

     The real star is Michael Fassbender who is firkin amazing in the role of Magneto. His chemistry with James McAvoy’s Professor X is just perfect, the two share some great scenes, even some powerful moments and you really get the feel that these were two best friends who tragically get torn apart by their own ideals. Michael Fassbender also adds another lair of humanity and complexity to the character that we had never seen before. We know he’s going to be the “bad guy”, but the film brilliantly gets us to see good reason behind his goals and even sympathize with him on some level. Jennifer Lawrence is also very respectable in the role of Mystique, in fact before “The Hunger Games” launched her carrier, this if the film that introduced me to the talented young actress. I have to admit, while the character is great, I think her story arch could have been handled a little better. It’s very good, and sets up some strong relationships between both Professor X and Magneto, but there are some select moments that felt kind of forced. Her relationship with Beast for example isn’t that interesting, and her departure from Professor X just didn’t have the impact it should have. She’s definitely a strong addition to the film, just not on par with Magneto and his arch with the Professor.

       It’s also slightly annoying that for such a great X-Men movie, it doesn’t feature many of my favorite hero’s like Wolverine, Gambit or Storm. It should be noted that this is the first X-Men movie in which Wolverine is not a main character, which is fine, after all, the X-Men universe is a big one, and has more than enough characters that deserve their time in the spot light. But even with that said, I really miss having Wolverine as a main hero. Thankfully there’s an excellent scene set in a bar where Hugh Jackman makes a cameo in his signature Wolverine role, which leads to arguably the funniest line in the whole film, and best of all is that this little moment actually becomes cannon with future films. On that note, there’s some terrifically placed cameo’s and X-Men film references throughout the film. The movie even begins with the same flashback footage of Magneto’s child hoot from the first film, except we see a lot more this time. Michael Ironside, who’s one of my favorite villain actors, makes an appearance as a Navel Colonel, which is awesome, especially considering that he did voice work in the animated TV series titled “Wolverine and the X-Men”. There’s a moment when Mystique briefly takes an adult appearance, in which she’s played by Rebecca Romijn, the same actress who played her in the first three films. One really random reference comes from a CIA agent named Stryker, who’s revealed to be the father of Colonel William Stryker, the villain from “X2: X-Men United” and “X-Men Origins Wolverine”, but seriously what’s the point of that?

      Oh yeah, this movie also features my favorite collection of villains in the whole series. The Hellfire Club were big baddies from the comics and they make for really entertaining foes in this film.
Their leader is the Black King, but he never goes by that title, everyone just refers to him by his human name Sebastian Shaw, which I’ll admit isn’t all that intimidating. In the plus column, he’s played by Kevin Bacon, and he infuses the character with a deliciously evil charm. I never thought the guy from “Foot Loose” could be so much fun as a comic book villain, but he’s so charismatic he actually comes off like a classic James Bond villain. He’s always manipulating different organizations, winning over different sides, always dressed in different attire, and he has this really cool power that allows him to absorb energy which is channeled to create his own personal explosions.
At his side is the White Queen, who once again is only referred to by her human name Emma Frost. Now she’s always been one of my favorite characters from the X-Men comics, and it was great to see her on screen. She’s played very well by the attractive January Jones, and might just be one of the most entertaining supporting villains I’ve ever seen in a comic book film. He powers include diamond skin and telepathy, but really it’s her seductive charms that make her such an enjoyable yet vile character. The other Hellfire Club members include a bad ass, red skinned mutant named Azazel who can teleport. Another attractive menacing female character called Angle, who has butterfly wings and can spit fire balls. There’s also a guy named Riptide who can create tornadoes, but he’s the most forgettable of the bunch.

     With all these different characters, sub-plots and story points, this film could have become a real mess, but thankfully the team behind the camera makes all the right choices. Matthew Vaughn is the director and he knows how to pace an X-Men movie, giving us just the right amount of exposition, character exploration and thrilling action all in one nice package. His direction is also very stylish, which gives the movie its own distinct feel. I will say that the first 15 minutes can be a little complicated as we’re being introduced to several different parties at once, but everything gradually clicks together as the film goes on. It’s really cool to see the X-Men working like secret government agents, they go on ops, and then when the cover is blown they bust out their powers and have at it. Honestly, I think this is the most “Fun” on the X-Men movies. I love seeing this team come together from the ground up, I love their interactions, I love their banter, and I really love the montages in which we see them training and improving on their powers. Even with that said, I think this film captures the human emotion of our hero's better then any of the previous films. This is also a very colorful looking film, I love the sets, the interiors, and ever frame looks like the page of a comic book come to life. Speaking of "Eye Candy", there's no shortage of attractive woman in this film. The costumes are also more colorful, and look more like their comic counter parts, especially in regards to Banshee who looks uncanny by comparison.

      The Climax ... holly cow, this is personally my favorite final battle of the whole series. Both the United States and the Soviet Union have fleets baring down on one another off the coast of Cuba, their war ships are armed and the X-Men are caught right in the cross fire battling the Hellfire Club.

The whole situation is just dynamic and creative as hell, with our hero’s teleporting to various locations, flying through fleets of ships, lots of explosions, and lots of really cool mutant versus mutant action. As the fight wages Magneto gets into a thrilling confrontation with the villain, which leads to one of my favorite death sequence I’ve ever seen in an action film. When all the fighting is said and done, the climax closes on this really powerful note as Magneto shows his true colors, and parts ways with Professor X while leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. It’s one of the best acted, and impactful scenes of the whole series.

       My final verdict, I think “X-Men First Class” is one of best superhero movies of the new millennium. It’s fast paced, the performances are every bit as charismatic as they are powerful, it’s visually engrossing to look at, the story is strong, the action is sensational and the overall presentation of the X-Men is arguably the best of the whole series, or perhaps I should say “the close team" element feels strongest in this film. It’s just a near perfect comic book adaption, and one of the most satisfying origin films I’ve ever seen, in fact it might just be my personal favorite. There are some things that could have been handled a little better, and obviously it’s not a cinematic masterpiece, but it is very well constructed, and the fun factor is constantly on high! If you’re a long time X-Men fan, I highly recommend this film as it’s one of the franchises best outings, and even if you’re not a fan of the series, I'd still say it’s worth checking out. It not only rejuvenated the series, it pulled it out of the gutter, polished it up and made “X-Men” a respectable title again. Actually, the films will get progressively better from this point, and we’ll see what’s in store next time when I review “The Wolverine”.

                                     I give “X-Men First Class” 4 ½ stars out of 5.                       

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