Monday, July 4, 2011

"X-Men: First Class"

X-Men: First Class
A review, done in bullet-points

I'll confess - I'm not a huge fan of the X-Men comic book properties. My first real exposure to the mutants was with the first Bryan Singer film, and I moved outward from there, picking up the classic 90s animated series and some trade paperbacks which collected some of the major storylines. I was also a fan of the uncanny series written for a time by Joss Whedon, and I saw the rest of the films in the theatre. So I'm not as fully versed in the X-canon as I am with the Super-canon, so these comments will reflect that quote-unquote bias. I'm also not going to attempt to post a comprehensive review of the film. That territory has already been well-covered by Superhero Hype, The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter,, and the New York Times, and I don't really have the time to say all of their comments again. So instead I will focus my thoughts in convenient bullet point format and run quickly through some of my major thoughts on this film.

What I loved:
  • The design and style. It was like a 1960s James Bond movie done with a budget and scale to rival modern blockbusters. It was a period piece, and they even replicated some of the filmmaking styles of the 60s. A training montage halfway through the film is amazing.
  • Professor X and Magneto. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender steal the show. They are great together, and they steal the scenes they are in. Fassbender has a little more to do and a much broader arc, but both of them knock it out of the park.
  • Flight effects. As a Superman-fan, I am a sharp critic of flying on film. I never think it looks realistic. But the scenes of Banshee flying in this movie are some of the best that have ever been done. Very realistic, yet without obvious use of computer generated imagery.
  • The scope, but without the "origin-sickness." This one will take a second to explain. In many superhero franchises, the first film suffers from "origin sickness," taking a lot of time to develop and explain the backstory of the hero, showing the process by which the hero develops. But that often means that the first hour of the movie is dedicated to slow-moving development before the more interesting part begins. And First Class avoids that problem really well. I don't know if it's the genius of the screenwriting or the fact that the script banks on knowledge of previous X-films, but it works really well.
What I didn't love as much:
  • Emma Frost, and to some extent, Mystique. This film continues the tradition of the X-men film franchise of having excellent leading men and adequate leading women. Much has already been written about January Jones, but even Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique isn't compelling. Maybe it's because the majority of her scenes
  • Comic book tropes. The characters at one point come up with their own code names. Without missing a beat, they automatically pick the ones established by the comic books, including esoteric names like "Professor X." Where did that name come from, other than the fact that the comic books said so? When Hugh Jackman called him "Wheels" in the first movie, that felt authentic. These "code names" just felt forced.
  • Cameos. Well, one cameo in particular that was set in a bar, featuring a certain mutant that we all know from the previous films. He was played by the same actor as the original films, and I know I am in the minority that this cameo actually took me out of the movie. It was distracting to see the original actor in the new franchise films. It would be like having Leonard Nimoy is a Star Trek movie featuring a brand-new crew. Oh wait...
  • Confusion over the next step. Is this film a stand-alone prequel, or is it the first step in another trilogy to link up with the original film? If it was the first, then things weren't complex enough for me to jump over the 35-year-gap to get to the next film. Aside from the main characters aging, it seems like it should happen tomorrow. But if we're being set up for a sequel, then things were wrapped up a little too neatly

This is one of the best superhero films I've ever seen. Despite having some problems here and there with continuity, it makes me want to see another one. Now I'm just hoping that Captain America is that good.

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