D: Matthew Vaughn. DP: John Mathieson W: Vaughn/Ashley Edward Miller/Zack Stentz/Jane Goldman (Story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer). Starring: Michael Fassbender/James McAvoy/Kevin Bacon/Jennifer Lawrence/Rose Bryne/January Jones/Oliver Platt/Nicholas Hoult/Caleb Landry Jones/Edi Gathegi/Zoe Kravitz.
The origin story is one loved by audiences as well as filmmakers as it not only allows a revisit to a well loved story, but a new understanding of how that story came to pass.This summer’s X-Men: First Class is just that.
Recent years have seen many an origin story, most heavily in the comic book world. These stories include 2005’s Batman Begins, 2006’s Superman Returns, 2009’s Terminator: Salvation and of course, related to this film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (you can’t get more literal than that). Even the newer Star Wars films are origin tales, yet that argument belongs in its own post. Yet regardless of the influx of these stories, they never seem to get old to audiences. Maybe it is a game to see how faithful a filmmaker can be to something like a comic book series, or it just satiates pure curiosity to know, this is where the story came from.
Separate from its origin focus, X-Men: First Class works on a lot of levels. As an action piece it’s concise, thrilling and deliberate with its use of effects and space. This allows the plot and its characters to remain the focus of the film and the action as a way to actually move the plot along. A plot that see-saws between Erik or Magneto (Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (eventually Professor X played here by McAvoy). Stepping into classically Shakespearean sized shoes these young actors have the enormous task of creating their own versions of characters so well loved in Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. Thankfully, neither try to mimic voices or mannerisms of their older brothers. Instead you get two vastly different performances that reiterate the difference in life experiences and views these two men have. Fassbender is probably the more memorable here, using his gift of languages to make the young Erik seem more like a vigilante James Bond than anything else. McAvoy strength is in his conviction in Charles’ belief of the good in humans and need for understanding in human/mutant relations. These issues are tackled better here than they were in the third X-Men film, the one I hope to forget was made in years to come (once again, that argument would need its own post).
Additionally, X-Men: First Class has excellent pacing, which allows in context X-Men jokes to work with the story, rather than clogging it up. Unfortunately, the female performances do not live up to the males. January Jones is sadly forgettable and boring as telepath Emma Frost. As an avid Mad Men watcher, I know there is talent there, she just did not bring anything to this film. Rose Bryne is admirable and amiable as the young CIA operative who champions McAvoy’s cause. However, she is not given enough to do or any emotional link to the mutant group. Although, in a random moment there might have been a spark between her and McAvoy, but it’s lost in the shuffle. Lastly, Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Raven/Mystique lacked a great deal of fire. Her strength and drive come from anger, but Lawrence’s performance felt more like a pout and a whine than actual anger. She couldn’t make me believe she would turn into Rebecca Romijn’s version of Mystique.
Regardless though X-Men: First Class is still top notch, especially in the comic book genre films. Director Matthew Vaughn at its helm definitely worked in its favor as he proved in his most recent action-esq film, Kick Ass, that he knows a thing or two about pacing, suspense, and kicking but. Throw in a cameo by my favorite Wolverine and you will be clapping by the credits.