X-Men First Class

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The good news is that sequels, per se, don’t have to be tired re-treads. As the 4th outing of the X-Men series, X-Men First Class is the “Origins of Superheroes” episode that predates the preceding films, not including the backward traveling “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Within, we see how Charles Xavier becomes the default leader of the more kindly disposed mutants, and we see how “brother” Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto) is drawn to the dark side. If those names are not familiar, this movie wasn’t made for you. On the other hand, you might just enjoy it more.

Set primarily in the early 1960’s, the movie has a retro feel that adds a visual charm, and the recasting of central characters in their younger years generally works. In particular, I liked James McAvoy’s exuberant Charles Xavier, a lively and hipper imagining of the matured, enigmatic Professor X played by Patrick Stewart in the preceding movies.

Some other observations:

1) Marvel Comics (Spiderman, Iron Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four) stands apart from DC (Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, Batman). When it comes to superheroes, Marvel excels at exploring the “why” behind its characters’ actions, rather than simply jumping between the inevitable good guy vs. bad guy battles sprinkled with humor. What’s the motivation? It matters, and this film provides the background for the central characters that carry the franchise.

2) Superheroes should have fun. Sure, they can get caught up in relationship dramas, suffer “woe is me” depression, and generally bicker with whoever is about, but at some point, the use of their powers should be a joyous exercise of their unique gifts. Here, an X-team finally seems to enjoy themselves.

3) Political correctness abounds. The prevailing “Mutants vs. Humans” tension is nothing other than a (literally) dressed up reminder that majorities should be sensitive to minorities, if not appreciative, and (even) welcoming.  Compared with the plainly obvious racial “duh!” of Pocahontas or the “don’t judge a book by its cover” message of Shrek, X-Men at least offers its characters with interesting makeup and nifty special effects, even if one unfortunate character is burdened with mosquito wings and spits fireballs. She deserved the swat.

4) Kevin Bacon… really? Sure, he plays a bad guy. But the problem is that he’s playing. He’s still the likable dude from Footloose and Tremors, cast against type. As Sebastian Shaw, he’s not even 1 degree from himself. Meh.

That said, the weight that tends to ground X-Men First Class is not the fault of the writing or the actors involved. It’s similar to a movie based on a book that you’ve read. You know who’s supposed to be the good guy, and you know who’s supposed to be the bad guy (or girl).  As a result, the characters are not riddles to be solved, just known entities that will be explained. There’s no mystery to it.

3 of 5 STARS

2 comments :

  1. Great review! I've been an Xmen (only the movies) fan since the start-- and it's funny how I got the "aha! now that you said it, I see it" feeling as I read your post. Haha, I wish I was as perceptive. ;)

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