Friday, June 3, 2011

Movie Review: "X-Men: First Class"

Forget the G-Men, these are the X-Men! Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr (a.k.a Professor X and Magneto, for those not in the know), meet and become friends, then tragedy corrupts their unique relationship when mankind refuses to accept them for what they are. As it is, there are always two sides to the same coin. Erik carries a Nazi coin the entire movie, a memento that helps him remember his mother's killer; a nice touch by way of screen storytelling, giving us viewers a visual cue to remember the character's emotional anguish of watching his mother gunned down before his eyes. However, the coin that Erik and Charles reside upon flips up into the air at the end of this film, but this is not about which side the coin lands, but how we get there.

X-Men: First Class details the days before the X-Men, the days before Charles and Erik were known as Professor X and Magneto. These were the days that Charles was a silver spoon playboy, who is compassionate, but may be too cocky for his own good. Compare that to Erik, who grew up in a Nazi concentration camp to watch a mutant named Sebastian Shaw murder his mother before his eyes. Now, as a young man, Erik scours the globe to avenge his mother's death and kill Shaw. Yes, this is the 1960s! The Cuban Missile Crisis! A time of great divide, and at a point in American history, right before everything just kinda goes South. Sebastian Shaw is manipulating the Russians and the U.S. to start World War III, and Charles is recruited by the CIA to help create a mutant division and stop this war. With Erik's help, Charles trains many young mutants to make up this team, from Mystique, to a personal favorite of mine, Beast.

There is a sophistication to X-Men: First Class. Director Matthew Vaughn evokes the visual style of 1960s pop art in his direction, using kinetic visuals and fanciful camera movements to create a sense of being lead through this world, but never feeling as if we're being pushed. Vaughn in particular should be commended for being able to balance the dual origins of Charles and Erik, as it takes nearly the first half hour to finally see these two meet. The first thirty minutes jet all the way from Oxford, England, to Vegas, to Switzerland, to Argentina, Germany, and Rochester, New York. There are tons of stamps on the suitcase within the first act alone, but Vaughn makes the transitions smooth and natural, a feat that is hard to explain in words, but makes the difference upon viewing the film.

With an arc of revenge, Michael Fassbender gets the meatiest role to play as Erik, but to say that James McAvoy does not succeed as Charles would be incorrect as well. To be honest, Erik is the scene stealer of the entire movie. This is Magneto as he has never been seen before. For once the viewer does not see Magneto as a manipulator of the plans, but actually use his powers in action, as a soldier, an action hero who must find a place between peace and anger in order to truly master his powers. Seeing Charles trying to teach Erik how to master his powers, shows how these two characters develop such a memorable friendship, keeping up the mantra of the entire movie. There is very little told, it is always shown to us, making X-Men: First Class a visual masterwork, and a joy for escapist popcorn entertainment with the action exhilarating, and all of the cast looking as if they had fun (especially Kevin Bacon, knocking villain, Sebastian Shaw, out of the park).

With that all said, X-Men: First Class all boils down to being comfortable in one's skin and how should someone different approach being different in normal society. Should they hide being a mutant, or should they have mutant pride? This question has been the foundation of nearly all of the X-Men films, so this may not be new territory, but the examination of how Charles and Erik become Professor X and Magneto, is what this movie is truly about. The journey these two men go on is exciting, beautiful, and heartbreaking, making X-Men: First Class must see entertainment.

I give X-Men: First Class an A+!

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