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Skippy Goes To The Movies!: “X-Men: First Class” June 11, 2011

Posted by Skippy in Movies, Popular Culture, Science Ficton.
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Verdict: An excellent superhero movie that surpasses its predecessors.

I have to admit that when I saw the trailers for “X-Men: First Class,” I put this movie on my “wait for Netflix” mental list. After the abominations that were “X-Men 3: The Last Stand” and “Wolverine,” I was ready to write off the X-Men movie franchise. Further, this movie was sandwiched between “Thor” and “Green Lantern,” two movies for which I was/am infinitely more excited, primarily because both movies have not hesitated to play up the beefcake factor. And for that, my shallow ass is eternally grateful.

However, I am pleased to report that “X-Men: First Class” is far and away one of the best superhero “origin” movies in recent years. It deftly balances weightier, philosophical issues with action pieces. At a running length of just over two hours, it doesn’t feel like it drags. Some critics have claimed that this movie is “too talky”—to that I say, balderdash. Do not pay those reviewers any mind. While I think it would have fared better at the box office had it been a late summer/early fall release, it is not so ponderous as to leave the viewer wanting more action and less talk (e.g., 2006’s “Superman Returns”).

One reason this movie works so well is that, even though it is a movie that revolves around a team, we focus only on two characters, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender). Picking up from the first scenes in the first X-Men movie, we see young Erik Lensherr, the future “villain” Magneto, come into contact with this movie’s antagonist, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw is a sadist who is working for the Nazis; he wants to unlock Erik’s power, so he tortures young Erik. Meanwhile, in the United States, Charles Xavier meets another mutant, the future Mystique. Charles takes Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) under his wing, and they grow up together, but Charles appears rather oblivious to the fact that Raven loves him. This movie presents Charles as a brash, arrogant figure—and if you had his ability to read people’s minds and influence them to do what you wanted, wouldn’t you? We see that Xavier’s views about human-mutant coexistence emerge from his youthful naivete and arrogance; he does not take into account that he is able to “pass,” a point that both Raven and Erik point out to him. Erik especially functions as a counterpoint to Charles’s views about human-mutant coexistence. A survivor of the Holocaust, Erik has seen the worst of humanity and knows that humans would and could not tolerate this evolutionary leap. This is a nice nod to the way in which the X-Men comics have functioned as an allegory for, first, the Civil Rights movement and the tension between Martin Luther King’s arguments about integration and Malcolm X’s arguments about separation and self determination and second, the emerging gay and lesbian movement, the problem of “passing” as a heterosexual, and the question of “nature vs. nurture.”

Eventually, Charles and Erik meet (Erik has become a Nazi hunter in pursuit of Shaw, Charles is working for the government). They learn that Shaw and his band of mutants are trying to incite World War III in an effort to eradicate the world of the sub-optimal homo sapien. So Charles and Erik attempt to recruit more mutants—leading to a cameo that is hilarious and ten kinds of awesome. Again, there are some critics of this movie who say that it is short on humor. And again, I think they’re dead wrong. This movie has more of a James Bond feel than a strictly comic book movie feel—and that works in this movie’s favor. Thus, the humor in this movie has a decidedly dry wit to it. However, that humor doesn’t overwhelm the seriousness of the situation. Indeed, we see how Xavier is injured so that he is confined to a wheelchair—and it is appropriately tragic. Director Matthew Vaughn and the bevy of screenwriters (Bryan Singer being one of them) have crafted a rare gem: a superb, action-packed superhero movie that doesn’t insult its audience.

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