Saturday, 18 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

In 1962, as the world is gripped by the Cold War, Erik Lensherr is hunting down the man who killed his mother and manipulated his magnetic powers. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier, a professor in genetic and mutation, as well as being a telepath himself, is hired by the CIA to help find and stop the very same man: Sebastian Shaw aka Dr. Schmidt. As Charles begins looking for fellow mutants to teach them how to control their abilities and to help stop Shaw, Xavier and Lensherr cross paths and join together as they fight to stop Shaw from initiating the Cuban Missile Crisis, plunging the world into nuclear war...

Since superhero films are a dime a dozen these days, the next logical step towards is the superhero reboot. Batman is actually coming near the end of its reboot cycle, Spider-Man gets the reboot treatment next year along with Superman, and now the film series which launched the new wave of genre films gets rebooted with X-Men: First Class, adapted from the comic series of the same name, detailing the origins of the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. In recent weeks, this film has been praised and is among the most well-reviewed films of 2011 so far. So what did this young, semi-comic book geek make of it? Well, the original trilogy set the bar high immediately for any superhero films that might proceed, and while this is a really original take on the genre and the material, I was less impressed than everyone else seems to be.

All in all, the film just seems a bit rushed and, after a small bit of research, it turns out it was. The aim for this film was to steer clear of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which this film undeniably shares a lineage with, and to attempt to recapture the tone of Bryan Singer's X-Men and X2. It does this, but it just falls a bit flat, and for the life of me I'm not entirely sure why. There's lots of action, it's a lot smarter and braver than the last couple of X-Men films and has a very Mad Men-esque feel, something furthered by the casting of January Jones as Emma Frost, but it feels like a film which has been pieced together from various sources which, after some more research, turns out it was. Again. This script was an amalgamation of the comic book series and a planned X-Men Origins: Magneto film which is clear due to the amount of screen time Magneto gets above anyone else here. The film seems at pains to homage James Bond and Mad Men and X-Men and even Star Trek with its new, younger cast and nothing really seems to fit cohesively.

That's not to say the casting isn't top notch... at times. James McAvoy makes a really good Professor X, plays him exactly like a young Patrick Stewart. Michael Fassbender also is a commanding screen presence as a young Magneto, a troubled man out for vengeance. Jennifer Lawrence gets a huge amount of screen time as the young Mystique happily, but she doesn't command the same kind of presence her co-stars do. On the other hand, Kevin Bacon plays the bad guy, Sebastian Shaw, fairly well, but there's a constant niggling doubt as to why exactly this important role was given to Kevin Bacon. Really? Kevin Bacon? The Footloose guy? He's done nothing of real significance in years, so why is he here? Also, as I mentioned earlier, January Jones turns up as Emma Frost and to be perfectly honest, I don't like her as an actress, I think she's wooden, I think she's the worst thing about the exquisite Mad Men and she's one of the worst things about this.

What I didn't like about First Class was the number of smarmy, self-knowing, post-modern in-jokes. First Class makes a number of jokes regarding the original X-Men trilogy, as it is perfectly allowed to do being set before those films events, but it just seems out of place and only served to make me groan to be perfectly honest. There's two jokes about Xavier and his current full head of hair. Two. That's two too many. There's also two cameos, one of which doesn't make a whole lot of sense in regards to the film featuring the X-Men as they were when they were younger, and the other having absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than to fill time and to let the scriptwriter *cough* Jane Goldman *cough* feel smug. What also annoys me is when superheroes cross over into real life events and provide an alternate history. Maybe this is just me being overly critical now, but the X-Men solving the Cuban Missile Crisis? I don't like it, stick to beating up bad guys on your own plane of existence, don't mess with history.

Overall, the film looks very stylish but there's too many early cuts at the ends of scenes, indicative to a rushed shooting schedule with no time for re-shoots, and it just pulls down the quality and enjoyment of the film, for me anyway. The casting's hit or miss, the storyline starts off with good intentions but then spirals into ludicracy before remembering what it set out to do near the end, and half the dialogue seem forced because it can't create its own path, this film's events need to directly lead to whatever happened in the original trilogy or else people will start getting angry. I will say this for it though: It has the best use of the word 'fuck' I've heard so far this year.

Rating: **1/2