Friday, July 15, 2011

X-Men: First Class Review

When X-Men first graced the silver screen back in 2000, I greatly enjoyed it as well as its sequel released in 2003. Bryan Singer really had the franchise down portraying the characters and their conflicts in a great light. Combined with some excellent action sequences, Singer made a memorable start to the franchise's feature film debuts. After Singer moved on from the series it arguably took a strong turn downhill, however Singer has returned as a producer for the latest installment, the prequel X-Men: First Class.

Set in the 1960's, the film follows a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as he creates a team and then a school for "gifted children" who's purpose is originally to assist the US government in the Cuban missile crisis.

I personally loved how X-Men: First Class took such a popular and memorable recent historical moment and had the entire film centered around these actual events, complete with stock footage of JFK and various news broadcasts. It really helped ground the story, giving it a sense of credibility while also showing us the "unofficial" side of what happened, all of which work wonders for suspension of disbelief.

Of course, as a prequel set in the '60's, X-Men: First Class explores the early relationship of Xavier and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Beginning with the opening scene from X-Men, X-Men: First Class shows young Erik Lehnsherr loose his parents in the Nazi internment camps, and the subsequent experiments the Nazi's conducted on him to try and harness his mutant powers. As a result Erik is angry; very, very angry.

Years later, he's begun a quest for vengeance, hunting down and eliminating those who hurt him and his family. This takes him in search of Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a former Nazi who has his own plans for the US and Russia and the pending missile crisis. This also leads him to meet Xavier, a man and a mutant who becomes his close friend, and together the two aid one another not only in the hunt for Shaw, but also in the protection of other young mutants whom they begin to form into a team.

Like the original two films, X-Men: First Class has very strong character development. I personally wasn't too big on McAvoy's portrayal of Xavier as I found him rather pompous (though I suspect that was done on purpose), but I thought Fassbender was absolutely brilliant as Magneto. I really felt for the character, his need for revenge, for self preservation, and the struggle to be different in an unfair world. His influence on the other characters, such as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), was both stimulating and moving, as were his morale disputes with Xavier. Watching the two drift apparent, using different methods to achieve what they first believe to be the same goal and the realization in one another that each is after something different, well, it's quite sad. The relationship between Mystique and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) also really grounded the central theme of what it means to be normal and to embrace one's own self.

Being a comic-based film, X-Men: First Class features some excellent battles and action sequences complete with stunning special effects. As the young mutants learn to harness their powers better, the action only becomes more intense and more grandiose culminating in the Cuban missile blockade itself, which brings about some additional wonderful character moments as we see these iconic personalities molded into what we already know they're destined to be and how they'll deal with the world they now find themselves in.

X-Men: First Class is not only an excellent film for fans of the franchise, but it's the best film I've seen this year. Filled with very real moral predicaments, strong characters, and wonderful action, the film doesn't disappoint from start to finish and I'm quite glad that Singer has once again dabbled in this wonderful franchise.

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