Witness The Origin
Do you remember when it was announced that Star Trek was being rebooted, or Batman for that matter? Do you recall the outcry from fans and the nervous dread in predictions and early reviews? If you do, you surely remember that they were spectacularly surprising successes that stood out as one of the finest movies filmed under their respective series name. X-Men: First Class is no different and has neatly set itself up to be not only a fine, entertaining blockbuster but easily the best prequel ever filmed.
Opening in the mid-forties, the plot explores the harnessing of young Erik Lehnsherr’s mutant ability, under the cruel tutelage of Sebastian Shaw [Bacon]. Simultaneously, we are also introduced to a young Charles Xavier, who confronts an imposter that turns out to be a very young Raven/Mystique. As the film rolls on twenty years, Xavier [McAvoy] is studying in Oxford with his ‘sister’ Raven [Lawrence] and Lehnsherr [Fassbender] has spent his time tracking down and eliminating several prominent Nazis who worked in concentration camps. Outside of this, the CIA have been monitoring the movements of underground terrorist group, ‘The Hellfire Club’ led by Sebastian Shaw. Having witnessed mutant abilities for the first time, Agent MacTaggart [Byrne] travels to England to seek out the advice and assistance of the newly graduated Xavier. After a brief covert operation goes array and Shaw escapes, Xavier befriends Lehnsherr and the CIA grants them leave to recruit several young mutants. Shaw’s plan to destroy humanity, giving birth to a dominant brotherhood of mutants is slowly revealed – complimenting the tense cold war setting – leaving our leads little choice but to intervene and expose themselves to the world.
Granted, there are a handful of mediocre elements and a few liberties taken with certain characters but all-in-all, this is a stellar achievement. Vaughn has managed to not only breathe life into a series that was nearly throttled by the sub-par Last Stand and absolute dross Wolverine Origins but he’s created a truly fantastic film. The very fact that this is a 20th Century Fox flick and not produced by Marvel Studios is the biggest surprise; the locations, sets, costume design, visual effects, cinematography, pacing, everything registers as more than just a well-crafted genre piece but a genuinely thrilling blockbuster, masterfully combining humour, drama and action. More an intelligent character study than some disposable action farce, First Class really captures the mythology and feel of the X-Men comic series. From the examination of Erik’s tortured soul, to the aesthetic fears of Hank McCoy [Nicholas Hoult] and Raven, every aspect is handled with such a semblance of realism and credibility that you can’t help but be moved by the character’s trials and tribulations.
Additionally, Henry Jackman‘s score is exceptionally gripping, hitting every beat gracefully, from the dark stalking tones of Erik’s theme to the thunderous orchestral treatment of the action scenes. As far as the cast is concerned, I simply cannot fault them; the bond between Xavier and Lehnsherr is tenderly and often beautifully told, the younger recruits all deliver exactly what was expected of them and Kevin Bacon makes for an exemplarily sinister villain. There were, however, two minor points that niggled at me. The first was Hank’s transformation to Beast; it was well handled and keenly done but – to be honest – Beast is almost impossible to properly nail. Valiant efforts have been attempted in the past but no one has managed to crack it. Hoult is a brilliant McCoy but once he transforms we’re still left with a few unsatisfactory elements. But, this is a minor quibble. My main complaint is January Jones’ portrayal of Emma Frost. Visually, they did a great job and the sultry aspects have been highlighted well but without the sass and personality of the comics she feels a little under addressed; that’s not to say she’s little more than eye-candy but a great deal more could have been achieved.
With the tasteful nods to its predecessors and memorable cameos from previous cast members, this feels like a Marvel Studios production. I know Fox are hoping this will be the start of a new trilogy and if the current cast and crew remain, I doubt there would be a single fan that wouldn’t be happy to see more.
3rd June 2011
The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilery spoiler time**
The multi-lingual t… no. The Wolverine cam… no. Er… turning the satellite dis… no. Curiously enough, this is actually a very difficult task. As the film is comprised of so many outstanding moments (from both a cinematic and comic-fan perspective), it’s hard to narrow it down to just the one. Alright, lets go for one of the big pay offs. Having distracted Shaw long enough to remove his telepathy-blocking helmet, Lehnsherr turns his back on Xavier and exacts slow, fitting revenge on Sebastian for executing his mother. Whilst sustaining a telepathic link with Shaw, Xavier shares the inflicted pain and lets out a chilling scream. Cleverly shot, it’s a very touching, if not gut-wrenchingly twisted, moment.
Much like the highlighted scene above, selecting a standout individual is an equally taxing task. Each of the actors involved have amazing shoes to fill and while McAvoy and company do a wonderful job, it’s evident that Fassbender is a truly phenomenal actor. During the opening half an hour, during Erik’s systematic hunting of the Nazis, he finds himself in a bar in Argentina. Confronting the two aged soldiers, Fassbender sells his performance so exquisitely that the whole scene felt more like a surreal spy thriller than a Hollywood action flick.
“I’ve suffered at the hands of men simply following orders. Never again.”
In A Few Words:
“Better than I could have expected, better than I could have imagined and I would even go so far as to say better than any X-Men adaptation to date”