The first two X-Men films were fantastic, and X-Men: First Class reaches that level without feeling like it’s all been done before, even though it has; the latest X-Men film is actually rather refreshing, feeling brand new in a classic way. Matthew Vaughn, director of Kick-Ass and Stardust, does a marvelous job quarterbacking this summer blockbuster, and Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy give seething performances, as if this film wasn’t just a popcorn flick.
The retro 60s style is authentic, and interesting because we’re given an alternate universe of a mutant-inhabited Cold-War time period. Everyone is looking dapper in their suits and leather jackets, in a very Bond-esque sort of way. The pace of the film is fairly quick, as not a moment is wasted. Vaughn juggles several stories very well: Erik Lehnsherr’s tale of vengeance, Charles Xavier helping mutant’s find a place in society, and Sebastian Shaw’s plans to start World War III. The story-lines connect rather smoothly. The effects are used properly, not over-doing anything, and using only enough to authentically capture the special abilities of the mutants. Although this is a mostly character-driven film, the action is dazzling and has emotional weight behind it.
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan were spectacular in the roles of Magneto and Professor X. However, what Robert DeNiro did for the Vito Corleone character, originally played by Marlon Brando, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender both do for Professor X and Magneto.
James McAvoy plays the younger Charles Xavier with enthusiasm and charm, as well as a genuine conviction to the mutants’ integration into society. He is a peaceful leader, and we see that through his compassion of mutants and humans alike. When he trains the mutant students, as well as Erik, he is the voice of guidance and reason, a universal conscience to help one evolve. What we also get is a somewhat cocksure, humorous young man that likes to use his telepathic powers, as well as charm, to pick up the ladies.
Michael Fassbender as the young Erick Lehnsherr has, appropriately enough, a magnetic screen presence. We are given his background of his concentration camp hell, and we feel his passionate yearning for vengeance throughout. It’s hard not to be in awe as we see him come to form as the mutant civil rights leader that plans to lead his cause with a bullet (or possibly a coin). Fassbender quietly holds an anger that timely erupts through his pores.
Kevin Bacon playing Sebastian Shaw fills the role of the standard villain, but Bacon gives Shaw a flare, as he is at ease being a menacing figure. The rest of the cast does exceptionally well.
Amazing performances all around, especially from the two heavy hitters, an engaging plot, fine use of special effects, and sleek style make X-Men: First Class one of the best blockbuster films to watch this summer. The X-Men films have always been something more than just action and style, and this film is no different. Despite being wholly entertaining, it also gives us the message that the role of “the other” will always exist, as we need someone to blame and take the fall for the weaknesses we all have. We see the development of the two approaches of dealing with prejudice: Magneto’s belief in “us” vs. “them,” and Professor Xavier’s belief that it’s “us“ vs. “us.”
There are several times that the dialogue can be cheesy, and although most of the time the actors pull it off, there are moments of weakness where one cannot resist shaking their head. Additionally, some of the character arcs feel somewhat rushed, but it makes sense as the source material must be translated to film.
Watch out for a couple of surprise cameos.
Film Recommendations:X-Men X-Men 2 X- Men: Last Stand
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