Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men may not be First Class, but it's pretty darned close

If you've been reading CineCritical for even a short time, you'll have picked up that I am a fan of comic books.  And no comic book has managed to capture my imagination more than the X-Men.  When I was a child, it was the dynamic names, cool powers and bright costumes that caught my attention.  Now that I'm an adult, it is the examination of human nature and the political interplay between two powerhouse characters that I find most intriguing.  And that progression seems to be the path that the franchise itself has taken.

When we first met the X-men on the big screen they were the flashy, big-action team that we were expecting; less the colourful costumes.  And that franchise, the original on the big screen, enjoyed tremendous success.  Though the costumes of old never did materialize, the original trilogy did enjoy the dynamic names/cool powers combination that I so loved as a child.  And by the end, to its detriment.  By the third film each scene had a new mutant, complete with new powers and name.

In the reboot we do have an overabundance of mutants as well but with a central story that is grounded (as in the first of the original trilogy) in the unlikely and difficult friendship of the two most powerful men at the party.  It is the relationship between Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) that anchors the film.  The basic plot is smart and simple enough to give rise to solid character work, and it is the development of the relationship between MacAvoy and Fassbender and their respective performances that really wowed me.  Not that it's the best acting I've seen from either, most certainly not, but their talent and effort allowed me to comfortably suspend my disbelief.  What's more, it provides lots of material for examining the underlying themes which so propel my mind when reading the source material.

I've read reviews that complained of the many locations visited during the film, saying that it was jarring but I don't believe that is actually a problem here. That said, it's far from a perfect film.  Although Kevin Bacon works hard and is very effective as a lead villain, his character never seems to have any particular motivation other than being a baddie.  And the wooden performance of January Jones as Emma Frost is downright snooze inducing.  But neither of these things is enough to take away from the feeling of exhilaration I had from the conclusion of this film.

Ultimately the film is well crafted and generally enjoyable.  There are one or two things I could have done without but I left the theatre pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Bonus: Vaughan has included some very well crafted nods to the fans.

My rating: 3 out of 4

2 comments:

  1. A few things:

    1. I really liked how the new movie looked at different locations in the world. X-Men has always thrived when it has been topical and historical. There is something about the story of mutants that connects with a wide audience.

    2. Loved the cameos in the movie! The brief Hugh Jackman appearance was great, but I was in love with that shot of Rebecca Romijn's Mystique.

    3. I am a fan of January Jones, mostly because I love Betty Draper. I don't think she was great as Emma Frost, but I liked how her cold demeanor reflected her character.

    4. I don't know if the acting was all that great. I think James McAvoy was overacting, and I was a little disappointed by Jennifer Lawrence.

    5. You've read the comics, I haven't. A lot of the mutants I had never heard of, but I thought Angel was lame.

    6. I still missed Jean Grey!

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  2. I too was a little disappointed in Jennifer Lawrence's performance but I thought overall the acting wasn't terrible. Perhaps my enjoyment of MacAvoy was not entirely unbiased...

    As to your question about Angel: she's not even vaguely original, first appearing in a spinoff title "New X-Men" in 2001. I think they probably just picked someone at random that Zoë Kravitz looked like.

    For the record, the original X-Team from the comics (not that this franchise has ever worried about sticking to the comics, nor should they as this is a re-imagining and should be a little different) was:

    -Jean Grey (then called Marvel Girl)
    -Warren Worthington (The Angel)
    -Scott Summers (Cyclops)
    -Bobby Drake (Iceman)
    -Hank McCoy (The Beast).

    All of whom appeared in the original trilogy (albeit with their ages and back stories a little re-jigged). All that aside, it really doesn't matter what happened in the original comics because most of the characters have been around long enough that they have the most convoluted life stories ever and the whole point of a new medium is to examine a new thing, hence new back stories.

    If you're at all interested, some tidbits from the characters we did get which are sometimes funny to me in the context of the films:

    1. Alex Summers is Scott Summers' (Cyclops a.k.a. James Marsden) LITTLE brother. So yeah, there's that.

    2. Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) is the child of Azazel and Mystique. Mystique having given birth to Nightcrawler would have made their flirtation in X2 a little awkward had that storyline been carried over to the films.

    3. Moira MacTaggert's comic alter ego was always a Scottish geneticist and a leader in her field. She and Charles met while they were studying at Oxford, were briefly engaged and had a child together.

    4. Banshee was also a lover of Moira's, meeting her during his time with Charles and the X-Men and eventually running a sister facility to Xavier's school with her from a castle in Ireland. Hogwarts the first anyone?

    There's a lot more but I'll stop there as I'm sure you're all capable of using Wikipedia.

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