Film Review – X-Men: First Class

X-Men First Class  - Magneto

I’ll be honest, the X-Men and I have a problematic relationship. At first I adored them beyond all knowing, they were one of the first comics I ever really got into and my boyfriend of the time was able to supply me Claremont/Byrne Xmen to my little heart’s content. Oh Wolverine, oh Kitty Pryde, oh Storm and Colossus, how I loved you so very very much.

But much in the same way that when you start to snog other people you realise that your first love kisses in the manner of a wet haddock, so as I read other (more matures) titles I started to get the sneaking suspicion that for a lot of the time Claremont was winging it. The creation of Madelyne Prior a fantastic character, only to shout “HAHA SHE WAS A JEAN GREY CLONE ALL ALONG, SUCKERS!” really pissed me off. The suggestion that perhaps Nightcrawler and Mystique were related was hinted at and then abandoned. WARREN LOSING HIS WINGS FFS !!!

Ahem.

Sorry. Apparently I’ve still not forgiven that one…

Anyhoo, my mixed feelings about the comic book have extended to the movies. Patrick Stewart as Professor X = good. pronouncing it X-avier hugely irritating. Halle Berry reduced to glorified den mother as Ororo bad, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine surprisingly good. Constantly throwing away characters in an ill-thought out fashion (Callisto and Psylocke in The Last Stand for example), annoying beyond belief. Basically every little niggle I ever had about the X-Men EVER was amplified by those movies.

Which brings me, neatly, to X-Men:First Class, which is an origins story. Not only that but it’s a very canny origins story in that it doesn’t try to focus on too many characters. Charles and Erik, Raven (Mystique) and Hank McCoy (Beast) are all key players whilst other characters are thrown into the plot with mixed effect.

Perhaps it helps that we already know these characters, so Erik and Charles’ abilities are already established. Perhaps its the fact that the whole Human v Mutants thing is neatly underplayed for most of the time. Maybe it’s the fact that the story is neatly grounded into a real world event (The Cuban Missile Crisis), even if some liberties are taken. For whatever reason, X-Men:First Class doesn’t feel like a lazy reboot though, instead it’s some wonderful storytelling with a great script and superb cast.

While I wasn’t overly convinced by the casting of McAvoy originally he inhabits young Charles in a beautiful fashion, already old before his time, his chat up technique of using genetics/mutation science at once risible and rather charming. He is also completely blown off the screen by Micheal Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr. Villains are of course always more interesting than heroes, and in this movie as well as proto-villains Magneto and Mystique you also have Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost. (As well as an unrecognisable Jason Flemyng as Azaeal).

In terms of dramatic balance it all works very well, Erik is seeking revenge on the man who tortured him in the concentration camp, while Charles is working with the CIA and Moira McTaggart to bring in dangerous mutant Sebastian Shaw. Some liberties are taken with chronology, Banshee has become American, Alex Summers (Havok) is a generation out (but he was always more interesting that Scott anyway…) but I’ll happily take those dramatic licenses.

The script by Goldman and Vaughn is excellent, well-paced and intelligent. Vaughn continues to show a steady hand as a director and there are some charming bits of business that makes the film feel very slick.

And yet, oh dear, while I do think it’s an exceptional comic book movie and certainly the best X-Men film by a long chalk, I do wish the female characters had been better served. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Raven/Mystique but gets little to do other than worry about her bright blue appearance. While Mystique’s powers can be seen as a ubiquitous “get out of jail free” card, there is little focus on what she needs to do to train up. In the earlier X-Men films we see not only some awesome fighting skills but tech and intelligence too. Sadly barely features in the uber-cool training montage, other than to be shown weight-training.

Meanwhile Angel, played by Zoe Kravitz is reduced to a pair of wings and mini-skirt, while Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne) is the new den mother. She starts off as a resourceful CIA agent and ends up reduced and marginalised.

It’s the only thing that leaves a slightly bitter taste in my mouth, when the rest of the movie is so sure-footed. Overall though this is certainly the best X-Men movie and may yet be the best comic book movie of the summer.

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~ by moviegrrlreviews on June 20, 2011.

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