New Release Tuesday: X-Men – First Class (2011)

7 06 2011

The one thing I dislike about the recent comic book movie trend is the urge to reboot a franchise so soon. For me it would just make more sense to take the James Bond route and change-up actors and directors but keep the stories and developments intact, like lets say… comic books do with writers and illustrators. Yet I digress, this new X-men movie shows an evolution of the summer blockbuster from the first in 2000 to now in 2011. Before movies just had to have action and perhaps the occasional humor, now a certain class and style needed to set one apart from another and Matthew Vaughn does this part very well. We pick up at the very origins of the X-Men; Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is finishing his thesis at Oxford while Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is hunting down Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) for past crimes against him. It is Charles’s helping the CIA that unites the pair as they close in on Shaw. Shaw is recruiting mutants in an attempt to destroy the human race and take over the world while Xavier must try to do the exact opposite. The film is set in the ’60s, right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis which gives an ideal setting to produce a unique atmosphere that we don’t see, at least from blockbusters that often. Yet as many unique moments Vaughn gives us, we get just as many run-of-the-mill montages, and the overall film structure is far from ground breaking. “X-Men: First Class” is thrilling, fun, and the great leads provide the necessary depth to make it stand out ever so slightly from the saturated summer crowd.

“A new species is being born. Help me guide it, shape it… lead it.”

To take a reboot of a recently deceased trilogy seriously, something new has to be brought to the table and for “First Class” the most glaring are the worthy younger models of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. James McAvoy is a high rising Scottish star since “Atonement” and “Wanted” and he plays the role with all of the conviction and kindness you would expect of Charles Xavier. Michael Fassbender is a cinematic force in the making, from “Fish Tank” to “Inglourious Basterds” to “Jane Eyre”, he just keeps switching it up and providing exceptional results no matter what the role. The rest of the cast is rounded out quite nicely, Kevin Bacon provides the standard bad guy routine, January Jones of “Mad Men” is a little too cold as Emma Frost but perhaps that was intentional, and Jennifer Lawrence who I adored in “Winter’s Bone” does well with what she has but her character isn’t fleshed out that well. Everyone else is just there although some may recognize Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy) from his role on the British teen drama “Skins” where he played Tony, Angel being played by Lenny Kravitz daughter Zoe, Rose Bryne from either “Damages” or “Get Him To The Greek”, and obviously Oliver Platt. It is a young cast full of many talented actors and actresses which makes me very intrigued to see what the future has in store for this franchise.

“Ready for this?” 

The ’60s setting gives the film a very welcoming retro atmosphere, combining the attire and music to the CIA infused storyline makes it all reminiscent of a James Bond film but obviously lacks the swagger despite how hard James McAvoy tried. Henry Jackman is the composer for this movie, and gives life to many of the action scenes in the film, unfortunately is was rather hit or miss for me. The use of many deep, pulsating beats cannot remind me of anything but “Inception” which although may not be that original it definitely lends gravity to the scenes. It reflects the film nicely in that regard as it is ruthless in the action scenes. Vaughn constantly goes for the throat and although there aren’t many moments of gore, if any, the body count is fairly high. Despite Jackman’s occasional effectiveness in the score, far too often does he veer into something you would hear in a Michael Bay movie. The uplifting melodies seem far too generic and modern bringing me out of the ’60s feel and into a bland summer blockbuster.

Overall “X-Men: First Class” was a very entertaining movie: the characters are great, the actors are likable, many of the CGI moments are amazing, and the whole movie has a refreshing feel to it. Nevertheless Vaughn never quite goes for it, McAvoy and Fassbender do their best but the movie never leaves it all on the line or constantly provides the necessary tension that it touches upon whenever Fassbender takes the screen. It is an intriguing beginning to what could be a great new franchise, definitely better than the original X-men but I don’t think it quite reaches the standard of some of the genre standouts in X-men 2, Spiderman 2, or either of Nolan’s Batman movies. It is definitely worth your time this summer and I am looking forward to seeing how they build upon this in the usually superior second movie.

Score: 75/100




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