X-Men First Class: Better Than Expected

Posted by Gia Manry on Jun 6, 2011 in Cinema, Comic Books |

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I’m going to give you a rough review of X-Men: First Class, but before I do that I’m going to give you the highlights:

1. It’s better than it looks.
2. That’s mostly not due to special effects.
3. Michael Fassbender completely works as Erik.
4. January Jones completely works as Emma Frost…as written in this film.
5. Xavier is kind of a dick

There are two main throughlines of X-Men: First Class; one is plugging the mutants into the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and the other, of course, is Erik’s transformation into the Magneto we all know and love especially as played by Sir Ian McKellen.

(Permit me to note here that this is not the review to read if you want an in-depth explanation of the various ways Matthew Vaughn did or did not rape the X-Men canon; the extent of my familiarity with the franchise’s history is having watched most of the awesome ’90s cartoon series.)

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The screenwriters on the pic— IMDb lists four, including Vaughn —deserve some credit for merging these two plotlines pretty seamlessly, although some of the dialogue falls flat (aww, how cute, Mystique and Hank/Beast both said “normal” at the same time… sigh). The writers also clearly realized at some point that they were writing Emma Frost for January Jones, because the role as written here is perfect for her: completely without depth. Major fans of Frost might be irritated, but all in all it’s not a big problem for the film, and her actions at the conclusion of the film make perfect sense.

I still feel like James McAvoy’s Xavier is a bit of a tool, and pretty wilfully oblivious to others for a psychic. But that, too, works within the film’s framework. None of the young actors in the film particularly stand out for their performances here, unless it’s Zoe Kravitz— she didn’t do poorly, but you kind of wonder why her character Angel is in the film to begin with. Of the grownups, however, Michael Fassbender does an excellent job as Erik throughout the pic. Towards the end certain shots even make him look impressively like someone who could reasonably look like Sir Ian McKellen later in life; James McAvoy, on the other hand, will never look as cool as Patrick Stewart. Ahem.

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It’s probably not a great sign that I’d forgotten about Kevin Bacon’s involvement as antagonist Sebastian Shaw until I started looking for pictures for this review; you’ll chuckle that it’s Bacon, and he does a fine job, but again, it’s not like Shaw is a very in-depth character in the series. Fassbender’s response to him towards the end is better than anything Shaw says or does, really.

My biggest complaint about the film is that it looks like all of the character CG went into Emma Frost’s diamond effect (it looked like someone devoted hours to those sparkly breasts) and there was none leftover for Beast, who looked kind of like a constipated muppet. On the plus side, nothing in the visuals was so exciting that you really need to see it in theaters, so if you’re on the fence, wait and stream or rent it and you’ll probably be decently entertained.

All in all, for a movie I was expecting to be groanworthy, the flick was very enjoyable.

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