Friday, June 03, 2011

Review Of X-Men: First Class

**spoilers beware**

**spoilers beware**

**spoilers beware**

[ Note: site links are highlighted in bold blue font. ]

Followers of my Twitter and Facebook accounts would, by now, be apprised of my high praise for this film. If my effusive comments prompted you to watch it, I hope you're happy that you did. :)

I'm no comic book fan, but having seen all 4 preceding X-Men blockbusters, with each successive movie worse than the one before it, I had high hopes for this "reboot", mostly because its 2 leads, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, like their older counterparts Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, are respected thespians capable of adding dignity to any film project they undertake.

My expectations were also elevated further by the eye-popping trailers and positive early reviews following its premiere screening last week.

Now that other critiques are pouring in ( check out Rotten Tomatoes for a quick summary ), I'm happy to note that the majority of opinions remains favourable, with only a small number of negative contributions. Although I must admit I was taken aback by Time magazine's Richard Corliss' grumpy assessment. He's usually quite spot-on, but perhaps not this time.

Here's the funny thing about me: I can be a huge stickler when it comes to historical accuracy, but allow film-makers ample liberties when other mitigating factors come into play.

In this case, the Cuban missile crisis has evil mutants yanking the puppet strings, culminating in a climactic showdown involving opposing groups of mutants, the Russian and U.S. naval fleets, and some major mind-blowing action on the high seas. ( More on this later. )

There's much to like if you can get past that initial hurdle, i.e. suspending your disbelief for just 2 short hours. Most importantly, the cast is superb. You can't go wrong with a McAvoy-Fassbender combo ( their first on-screen collaboration, with more to come in the confirmed sequel ), and there's strong support from Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Hoult.

Bacon, whose career I've followed for almost 30 years, since his Footloose dancing days, is an interesting choice for mega-villain Sebastian Shaw, a mutant who harnesses high levels of energy for diabolical purposes, and whose connection to Magneto is a driving force in this story.
It's interesting because Bacon isn't known for playing bad guys, much less a bad guy of this magnitude, in an X-Men movie no less.
I thought he did a very good job - menacing without being over-the-top, very stylish in attire and gait ( that famous swagger is still there :)), holding his own among the younger, gorgeous cast members.

Byrne and Hoult deserve special mention for their understated performances as a CIA agent and Hank McCoy / Beast respectively. You may remember Byrne from Troy and Damages, as well as the current release, Insidious. Hoult, on the other hand, cut his teeth playing precocious young teens in About A Boy and A Single Man, before a massive growth spurt rendered him almost unrecognizable.

Both characters aren't fully fleshed out, but are the most likeable and memorable, in my opinion at least. There's a lot going on in this film, and quite a few of the bit players get lost in the whole spectacle.

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Raven / Mystique, is given ample screen time in key scenes with both McAvoy and Fassbender, but still fails to win me over. I saw her in Winter's Bone - it bored me to death, rave reviews be damned - and remain unimpressed.

January Jones as Emma Frost also left me cold. I don't know if she was attempting to play up her character's icy quality, but her acting was painfully wooden.
She will, however, no doubt be fantasized about by millions, thanks to her outrageously campy wardrobe.
I'm particularly fond of one movie critic's description of her as a "giant disco ball". You know, when she whips out that impenetrable diamond shell. Pretty cool. :)

Which leaves the 2 leads.

First, McAvoy. Perfectly cast as the highly intelligent and kind Charles Xavier, he adds sparkle by showing Professor X's fun, flirtatious side. Before he became wheelchair bound ( the circumstances are revealed in a tragic sequence that is wonderfully executed ), he was a skirt-chaser like any normal, heterosexual young man - imagine that! :)
I've seen enough of his work to recognize his distinct style - that unmistakeable laugh, the twinkle in his blue eyes, an impish grin, effortlessly switching to emotional intensity and tears on cue.
His portrayal of Charles is warm and regal, a kindly mentor and fearless leader. Sadly though, he doesn't have that much high-octane stuff to do, spending quite a lot of his time on-screen with a couple of fingers delicately pressed to his temple, frowning like he's constipated.

Now, on to the undeniable star of this summer vehicle, namely Fassbender.

It's actually rather ironic that his name comes second in the credits, and that McAvoy, not him, was cast first. Because X-Men: First Class appears to devote its best material to Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto, giving Fassbender ample opportunity to show off.
And show off he does. In the most beautiful ways. :)

Where do I start? How about the James Bond homage, where Erik travels to exotic locales to hunt down Nazi war criminals, employing creative torture and execution methods? Or maybe that scene where Erik attempts to capture Shaw on his yacht, ripping a long metal chain through the vessel like a madman?
Then there's the mind-bending finale, as Erik first heaves a giant submarine out of the ocean, then singlehandedly halts a whole slew of high-velocity missiles in their tracks, before gleefully waving them back to their sources.

Anyone notice Fassbender's got exquisite hands? One of my fetishes, sorry. :)

My personal favourites:

1) Erik's surprisingly subdued farewell to Shaw, by pushing a Third Reich coin gently through the latter's skull.

2) And easily the best part of the entire movie: Erik, with Charles' guidance, learns to unlock the strength of his power, using it to ( get this ) turn a humongous satellite dish.
Unfortunately, the clip isn't available on YouTube, and words don't do it justice. But it is, IMHO, the film's most poignant 5 minutes, revealing not just the depth of friendship and trust between the 2 men, but also highlighting Erik's bottomless pit of personal pain.

Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I am officially awed by both actors. :D

Many have already predicted great things in Fassbender's future, with critics recommending him as a worthy successor to the James Bond franchise should Daniel Craig decide to retire.
I fully support that motion! Consider this Fassbender's unofficial audition for the iconic role. :)

[ You may notice I've added him to my list of favourite actors, debuting at a very high #4. Sadly, John Cusack needs to be reshuffled. His recent career choices have not served him well. ]

Hats off to director Matthew Vaughn, who helms the film with great skill. The big scenes are expertly handled, allowing maximum thrills without causing confusion. The quieter ones are equally riveting, a good example being the chess game played by Charles and Erik as they discuss their differing worldviews.
I keep hearing fantastic things about his other movie, Kick-Ass. Must download it and watch ASAP!

Kudos to the screenwriters ( a team that includes original X-Men director Bryan Singer ) for what I consider a terrific job with the script. It isn't perfect ( I can pick out a few glaring loopholes ), but considering the immense number of characters being juggled amid the chaos, the final product stayed coherent and convincing enough. Some great lines in there, especially between Charles and Erik.

Last but not least, the awesome soundtrack, by a composer I'm hearing about for the first time, named Henry Jackman. I pay close attention to the music every time I watch a show, which is precisely how I discovered John Powell and other rising stars. Check out the X-Men: First Class theme, accompanied by a cool montage.


p.s. If you're interested in another excellent film about the Cuban missile crisis ( this one's based on fact ), I highly recommend Thirteen Days. The Megavideo link works.

And since I'm going on leave starting this Sunday, I'll try to find time to post a review of another Fassbender movie I recently watched: Eden Lake, a low-budget British thriller that outdoes many Hollywood productions, and which is so disturbing it kept me up a few nights. No kidding.

Something else I'm VERY excited about: tickets for The Bridge Project's Richard III are finally available. This year, however, features priority booking for SRT Friends, which necessitates a donation. And I'm wondering if the size of that donation will determine what seat you're given. Argh!

Am hoping an insider I've been in touch with for some time will be able to help. Definitely don't want to sit all the way in the back!

Looking forward to seeing you back in Singapore soon, Mr. Spacey. :)

Also ( hopefully ) in the next entry: waxing lyrical about The Tudors season 3 & 4. Have been watching this almost everyday. It's bloody addictive!

1 comment:

Jonny said...

I wasn't able to get off work to watch x-men first class so I watched it online. Great movie, personally I thought there was more action in the earlier versions.