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ScreenWise: X-Men First Class

Tue, Jul 19, 2011

Paul Meekin
StreetWise Contributor

Photo: www.onlinemovieshut.com


X-Men: First Class has the pop and style and comic book action and humor beloved in this genre. Director Matthew Vaughn, who cut his chops on the hyper-visceral, hyper-violent Kick-Ass has accomplished something sort of great here. He’s resurrected a sinking franchise.

Starting in sunny Nazi-occupied Poland, we meet the young Erik as he is ripped away from his mother by SS officers. So desperate to be with her, Erik unleashes his magnetic powers for the first time, mentally bending and contorting the metal fence keeping them apart. Immediately after this feat, Erik is greeted by SS officer Sebastian Shaw, played adeptly by Kevin Bacon by way of Christoph Waltz. Shaw threatens to kill Erik’s mother unless Erik uses his powers on command. He does, but mom’s killed anyway. Years later, an adult Erik (Michael Fassbender) embarks on a Munich-esque quest to hunt down and kill Shaw.

Meanwhile, the soon-to-be-Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is at Oxford with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the blue- man-meets-Na’vi character form the first three films. Mystique is in love with Xavier, but soon-to-be-baldy is not ScreenWise interested, possibly because Mystique looks blue and scaly.

Then the CIA gets involved. From there, the plot follows the creation of the illustrious X-men set against the backdrop of the Cold War, in which Shaw, the old, mutant, Nazi General (which is a phrase I wish I got to type more often), is attempting to start World War III, so that mutants can rule the world. It’s an entertaining origin story.

Things are actually fairly complicated for a summer action flick, but that’s okay. The interplay between Xavier and Erik is palpable, their life experiences very directly influencing their conflicting viewpoints that inevitability lead to their tragic falling out. Obi-Wan and Anakin, eat your hearts out.

With X-Men: The Last Stand being practically a cartoon, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine killing any hope of making any sense of the X-men continuity, Vaughn picks of the pieces of a shattered franchise and puts them back together the best he can, exceeding low expectations by leaps and bounds.

The movie hovers in this weird prequel / reboot area, almost like the 2009 Star Trek, but never gives us a reason why certain things are different, such as Hank McCoy suddenly being a lot older, or why Mystique is suddenly a completely different person.

By keeping the continuity of the old films, these characters can only exist in the past, in the past where we know Xavier won’t die. Beast won’t die. Magento won’t do anything earth shattering. No Wolverine. We know what comes next for these characters, and sure, the journey is sometimes more exciting than the destination, but comic books are by definition stories of “what happens next.” That’s why we buy the next issue.

The only knock I have against this film are these qualms. It seems Fox was eager to cast new actors, new producers,and give a brand new start to the franchise, but for some reason had a problem starting completely fresh.

Otherwise, The enjoyment derived from X-Men: First Class greatly depends on your level of comic book geekdom. Many of the best parts of the film are in-jokes and references to the sweeping and often confusing X-men continuity. Knowing the events that come after this film, in the movies that came out before it, can take this movie to a completely different level of enjoyment.

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