As regular readers of my blog will know, I was particularly excited about the release of X-Men:First Class. I haven’t ever been a particularly ‘mutant [fan] and proud’ but when news of this prequel came to light, I found myself inexplicably excited and a sudden X-Men fan. Well the 1st of June arrived and off I was to the cinema, barely able to contain my anticipation.
Technically being a prequel nothing can really be spoiled, but just in case you’d prefer to avoid details of the film being revealed I would advise you to stop reading and go and see the film!.
There is really only one word that can sum the film up and that’s epic. Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman are clearly X-Men fans and are very respectful of both the genre and of Bryan Singer’s films, whilst creating a film of their own. It begins in Poland in 1944, just as the first X-Men does and I couldn’t actually tell whether it had been re-used or re-shot; I’m presuming the latter and then rather than jumping forward several decades, we are given the backstory of Erik Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto. The child acting in the first two sections of the film is a little cringeworthy, but a good and necessary starting point for seeing our two protagonists develop and its not soon before Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and James McAvoy (Professor X) assume the older versions of the characters and being so easy on the eye as they are, all is well and good. Being a two hour film as it is, director Vaughn is clearly aware of the need to be pacy and no sooner than Magento’s desire for revenge has been established are we transported to 1962 and the backdrop of the cuban missile crisis around which the action proceeds.
James McAvoy perfectly showcases his cheekier and charming side, first witnessed (by me anyway) in Wimbledon and already there is a strange kind of nostalgia forming for Charles Xavier before he becomes Professor X. Another brilliant thing about the prequel is the development of the character Raven Darkholme, a.k.a Mystique, here played by the stunning Jennifer Lawrence who demostrates her range after independent hits such as The Burning Plain and Winter’s Bone. Whereas in the first film she is a rather undeveloped character; sidekick of Magneto and undeniably ‘evil’, here there is considerable and perhaps overly so, explanation for her decision to join the dark side. From her overarching desire to be normal to becoming accepted for who she is, blue warts and all; something which Magneto ultimately offers. The chemistry between Lawrence and McAvoy seems a little unbelievable and though she is introduced as his ‘sister’ there is clear sexual tension throughout which if I’m honest is a little disturbing. The only other criticism I would have is the rate at which Charlex Xavier becomes the polar opposite to Erik Lensherr. When we first meet Charles as an adult he’s using his knowledge of mutants as chat up lines with a dazzling twinkle in his eye and guzzling beer at the local pub. However as soon as Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne) comes onto the scene with sightings of other mutants, all his other cheeky chappy persona dissipates and he becomes the philosophical advocate of mutant rights that we know and love; though you can’t help but think if he wasn’t quite so uptight he may not have balded so soon. The Moira MacTaggart story is also modified somewhat from the original comics and rather than her being a friend that Xavier meets at graduate school and plans to marry, she is a CIA operative working for him. Though their passionate discussions about genetic mutation do eventually hint at and lead to a passionate romance.
Comedy is provided by the delightful Michael Fassbender, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors. Though initially characterised as aggressive and vengeful, he has a way with words that often elicits a chuckle from the audience, I won’t spoil these details! Although there is a fabulously tense and well-acted scene near the beginning in Argetina when Erik exacts revenge on the soldiers in the concentration camp. A deliciously taut and calculated sequence that forebodes the lengths Erik will go to in order to avenge his mother. And the foreboding doesn’t stop there. The film is continually peppered with dialogue that indicates their later situations; such as Charles telling Erik when he harnesses his full power he will be more powerful than him. As well as some great cameos from Wolverine and the older Mystique.
The chemistry between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender is fantastic and though Vaughn has very little time with which to ascertain their meeting, their great friendship and their eventual rivalry, he immediately establishes their different ways of thinking and incompatible ideals; the chess scene in particular, which also includes my favourite line: ‘now listen very carefully to me my friend’. The two share some great quips such as during the expansion of Xavier’s telepathic powers, in which Erik declares he makes a ‘very cute labrat’ or something to that effect and this gives ways to a fun and pacy sequence in which we meet several of the new mutants, among them Banshee, Havoc, Beast, Angel and the short-lived Darwin. I realise I may have to wrap this up somewhat as I haven’t even got half-way through the film and it appears I’ve written an essay. I apologise, but I quite simply loved this film.
The formidable enemy comes in the form of Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw and his sidekick Emma Frost, played by Mad Men’s Betty Draper: she herself made the joke about only starring in projects with Men in the title and set in the 60’s. Bacon clearly relishes his role at the evil Shaw, whilst Jones is dazzling (perhaps more to do with the diamonds than her at times wooden acting), but her ice queen qualities as Betty Draper are put to perfect use. I don’t need to bore you with the intrinsic details of the action, though you may argue I have already done so, but know there is an epic battle: of minds, of powers and of forces in which the mutant team splinters and we begin to see the formation of allegiances.
The two perhaps best moments of the film however, are when Erik and Charles essentially become Magneto and Professor X. The former in his excrutiating murder of Shaw, in which he takes on the telepathic resistant helmet and the latter wherein he becomes victim to a deflect bullet. As soon as we see where it hits there is the heartbreaking realisation that this is how Xavier becomes paralysed and as he shouts ‘I can’t feel my legs’, one can’t help but to feel a lump in their throat.
The support cast are excellent, with an especially good turn from Skins’ Nicholas Hoult as Beast, balancing the seriousness of the conflict with the fun of discovering the extent of one’s power. Despite being a sci-fi/comic book/fantasy movie, the message behind it is a universal one, espousing ideals of being proud to be different and embracing who you are meant to be. Though the whole ‘Mutant and Proud’ line is not subtle at all. The special effects are as impressive as one would expect and the whole film flies by, with one wishing it might actually go on a bit longer. As good as I had hoped and perhaps better, I recommened it highly, even if you are not an X-Men fan. Perhaps afterwards you might be.
In an after note, its also refreshing to have a franchise do something original and utterly compelling whilst staying true to its predecessor/successors, (I’m never sure how to go about this prequel thing). With the likes of POTC4 and the Hangover 2 at the cinema, you’d be far wiser to spend your money on X-Men than either of the others.
In other news, Cameron Crowe has made a Pearl Jam documentary; not only he is the director of ‘Almost Famous’ which is an outright homage to all that is rock’n’roll, but Pearl Jam are one of my favourite bands, i.e. a match obviously made in heaven.
Also I can now call myself an Oscar winner, despite the fact I was awarded not by the Academy but by Esher College, a no less prestigious institution I will have you know. I’m aware its not actually real, but let’s hope it does foreshadow the real thing. And at least now on my next script I can write ‘by oscar winner Nicole Davis’. I’ve always wanted a double barelled name.