Thursday, June 2, 2011

X-Men First Class (2011) review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Great cast chemistry, believable character drama, top notch special effects, ample character development with equal focus on main characters, well shot action sequences, numerous references to previous x-men films,

The Bad: minor plot holes, pace too brisk at times, "tacked on" cheesy romance subplot, detracts a lot from comic book origins, look and feel of film does not match the intended 1960s time frame of the story

Current Availability Status: In Theatres Island wide 2 June

X-citing, X-travagent and X-tremely entertaining, X-men First Class explodes into theatres with a coming of age tale that digs deeper than your usual special effects laden blockbuster. Here is a rare creature, a prequel that may easily be one of the few that can hold their own against their original films. If the insipid X-men Origins Wolverine left a bad taste in the mouth, X-men First Class returns to the roots of what made the original X-men such a hit in the comic book world. Roaring adventure tales with lovable characters; epic in scope yet filled with heart and spirit.

One complaint against the otherwise excellent X-Men films by Bryan Singer was that it was less of an "X-men" film and more like a Wolverine film guest starring the X-men. First Class corrects that mistake and delivers a true ensemble film that gives ample development to all its main characters. Ironic that for the film which perfectly captures the team dynamic and chemistry of "X-men", it is not based on any one particular X-men comic title, not even the similarly named series "X-men: First Class"(the comic).

The movie works purely as a prequel set largely during the 1960s Cuban missile crisis. Before becoming Magneto the master of magnetism, Erik Lensherr was a bitter mutant seeking vengeance against the Nazi officer, Sebastian Shaw, who tortured him and killed his mother. Before he was professor X, telepathic Charles Xavier was a suave, wavy haired University graduate who, along with his adopted shape shifting sister, Raven, are put to work by the CIA to track down the infamous leader of the Hellfire club who so happens to be the Sebastian Shaw Erik is seeking. A fateful turn of events brings these unlikely individuals together and the discovery of Shaw's plans of nuclear war inspires the establishment of a team of mutant agents to end this crisis. Together, Xavier, Erik and Raven recruit a team of young adult mutants, each with their own powers, quirks and insecurities about their place in the world.

As the film moves along its brisk pace, the motivations, perspectives and unique personalities of each character are adequately fleshed out within a limited period of time. Themes of racism, alienation, extremist idealism and discovering one's calling in life, all themes inherent in the X-men comics and past movies, are explored. Tragic turn of events inevitably lead to questioning of one's allegiance and most courses of action that the characters take come very naturally, their reasons implied through dialogue and subtle cues . Audiences more used to explicit exposition and explanation for characters' motivations might feel that some of the characters' actions made little sense. Rest assured, it is all implied within the narrative but never feel at the forefront due to the film's pace.

Already at a whopping 131 minutes, X-men First Class does feel rushed only because it tries too hard to develop all the main characters. While each of them do undergo significant changes and growth by the end, this comes at the price of underdeveloped villains and a story that hops all over the world with no sense of a time frame. This leads to some avoidable plot holes especially in the middle and later parts of the film. And on the subject of time, this movie is meant to be set in the 1960s. However, aside from some old computers and archival footage of President Kennedy, nothing else feels like it fit in that era. The look of the various locales, the way the characters speak, even the clothing have an obvious 2000s feel.

Not that there is anything wrong with how the characters speak. The writers bring a snappy rhythm and youthful beat to the dialogue, enhanced many fold by the excellent performances and impeccable chemistry of the actors. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender who play Charles and Erik respectively manage to channel the nuances of the roles previously played Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen. As a result, their characters feel familiar for the long time fans yet fresh to newcomers to the franchise. The only black mark on the script is the mandatory romantic subplot involving Raven, Hank and Erik which felt like it was put in there as an afterthought.

After two disappointing X-men movies, "evolution leaps forward". Compared to the other X-men films, X-men First Class out shines both X-men 3 and X-men Origins: Wolverine. One could regard this movie as almost on par with the first, delivering pure entertainment in the action but never forgetting its heart in the characters. It is easily accessible to new audiences while those who have watched the previous X-men movies will thrill at the many connections and references made. With a sequel already being planned, the X-men movie franchise is finally getting the jump start it needs.

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Go For it: if you like an epic summer blockbuster with heart and unencumbered by comic book continuity or if you had been a fan of the first two X-men films, were disappointed in the 3rd or the wolverine film, and would like your "faith" in the franchise restored.
Avoid it: if complete adherence to the comic book is your top priority or if anyone other than Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier or Ian Mckellen as Magneto is near sacrilegious to you.

Entertainment: A
Story: B+
Acting: A
Characters: A
Music: B-
Replay value: A-
"Brains": B-

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