PG-13 | 132 mins | Action, Sci-fi, Adventure | June 3, 2011Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Director: Matthew Vaughn
This prequel was a big gamble for Marvel. It's dangerous business to redo a well-known franchise such as the X-Men, presenting it contrary to conventional comic-book-inspired flicks -- with new actors, a different backdrop; less special effects, more dramatics. Risky, but Marvel should be proud of the decision, because it's worth it.
Eleven years ago, the X-Men film series was launched. I hated how Cyclops' character was played down in the trilogy, and was eventually killed, but I realize it's all Hollywood business. Because James Marsden puzzlingly decided to ditch the movie franchise in favor of a mediocre part in Superman Returns, produced by a competitor studio (but also directed by Bryan Singer), without a doubt 20th Century Fox and Marvel Pictures was not at all pleased with the actor who played Cyclops. So they prematurely killed the character to get back at him, to wipe out any future movie contracts with him to portray Cyclops. But that wasn't really my point. With the X-Men actors' starmeter rankings soaring along with their talent fees, 20th Century Fox couldn't afford to have Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry in another film together. So they decided to hit replay -- enter X-Men: First Class.
The first half lazily unwrapped the lives of Erik Lehnsherr (who will be Magneto) and Charles Xavier (Professor X), the dull intro counterbalanced by stellar performances of the lead actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the younger counterparts of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen's characters. While the young Erik is in a Nazi concentration camp unconsciously demonstrating his magnetic abilities, fortunate Charles Xavier meets little Mystique, a blue-skinned shape-shifter, at home. Then it swings to the early 60s, with Erik hunting a German genetic scientist turned topnotch evildoer apparently seeking revenge for his Nazi torture many years ago. Prof. X, on the other hand, finally becomes an Oxford professor.
McAvoy is convincing as a telepath, projecting the extraordinary sensitivity that the role demanded. And he could well qualify as a stud with his brainy pick up line. "Heterochromia is in reference to your eyes, which I have to say are stunning. One green, one blue. It's a mutation. It's a very groovy mutation..." Fassbender wisely portrayed a younger and emotionally complex Magneto, brimming with rage. The rest of the cast were passable; Kevin Bacon as the resident baddie Sebastian Shaw couldn't be more stiff, he could use some lessons from Jack Sparrow, maybe teach him how to be an effective mischief with a drunken gait.
The story develops to Professor X recruiting a group of teenagers with mutant abilities to battle for the U.S. government -- Banshee, Havok, Angel, Darwin. They would later battle against larger-than-life nasty, Sebastian Shaw. The movie also explains how Hank McCoy transforms to Beast, Mystique's love interest. Director Matthew Vaughn bribed us with a remarkable warfare, in operatic proportions. Magneto dangling from the Blackbird lifting a submarine was epic. You'd twitch at Professor X stretching his abilities to telepathically communicate with Magneto.
X-Men: First Class nicely fused real life events and fictitious mutant heroes, from Poland during World War II to the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
I still couldn't understand why Havok instead of Cyclops made it to the First Class, which if I do the math, with Prof. X and Magneto young as they are in the film, would make him older than (big) brother Scott a.k.a. Cyclops. (I guess, James Marsden and Fox still isn't in good terms.) Anyway, it's no secret most people in Hollywood are far more interested in making money than being faithful to the source material. At least some fans will be satisfied to see Nightcrawler's red daddy, Azazel!
Even with its flaws, X-Men: First Class is a valuable boot up of the comicbook legacy that is the X-Men.