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Monday, June 6, 2011

X-Men: First Class

But what is most satisfying about the film is that not only is it an exceptional summer movie, it is also an exceptional film – and that is something to appreciate.

Let’s be honest; the beginnings of the X-Men franchise were good. The first installment had enough intrigue to evoke a sequel, X2. Both were very good films, with X2 being evidently superior (and to date one of my favorite films in the superhero genre.) When the third installment came along, things became a little bumpy, for X- Men: The Last Stand held nothing against its precedents. However, it didn’t even get close to the level of pure atrociousness that the spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine brought.

I for one still held respect for the franchise, all credit of which could be given to the first two installments. Still, I had no desire for the series to continue. X-Men: The Last Stand had given the series a solid closure, as imperfect as it was. (As for Wolverine, I prefer to just block that out of my memory; anything related to that film was and is irrelevant to anything I had to consider.) So when I heard that a prequel to a prequel in the franchise was in the making, I couldn’t help but feel a little worried.

But at that moment I hadn’t realized a crucial fact, the fact that there indeed existed a link between the first two films in the series; Bryan Singer. Yes, the director of Unusual Suspects, who just happened to have directed the first two X-Men films – but not the third or the spin-off. Then I looked at the credits for X-Men: First Class and discovered the verification that the film indeed had a chance.

It came in the form of a credit of production and writing… a credit for Bryan Singer.

X-Men: First Class is a prequel to the previous films in the series. It tells the story of how Charles Xavier becomes Professor X, and of how Erik Lehnsherr becomes Magneto, the main antagonist in the first three films. The setting is the sixties, when a traumatized, revenge seeking Erik and a successful Xavier join forces with the government of the United States in attempt to track down and defeat Sebastian Shaw, a Nazi mutant who has intentions of creating a worldwide nuclear war. They recruit more mutants, train, and each begins to grow their own point of view on their situation – and in doing so, some may begin to part ways.

The performances here are, (pardon my pun,) first class. Both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender give great performances as Professor X and Magneto respectively, although Fassbender’s seems far superior. His performance is one that requires a great amount of emotional input, and Fassbender has no problem with meeting the standards that the movie sets; in fact, he goes way beyond them. This is some of his best work, not only because he manages to come through with such genuine and believable emotion, but because he plays his character with perfection. Somehow, he makes his character stoic but always intriguing. The performance is so complex, multidimensional, deep, and fascinating that it makes this, without a doubt, Fassbender’s movie.

McAvoy’s performance isn’t bad either. He gets through the emotion and characterization, but there is one big problem – it is a performance that lacks the intricacy, captivation, and slickness that Fassbender’s has. In fact, his performance makes the character seem very one-dimensional at times. McAvoy’s portrayal of Xavier as a self-satisfied, knowledgeable intellectual isn’t very interesting even when we are first introduced, and by the end of the movie his character becomes one that, although holds a crucial part in the plot, becomes easy to disregard in many scenes.

The fact of the matter is that, by itself, the performance isn’t that bad, but here it stands in the shadows of Fassbender, which comes along to be the films greatest flaw (and amongst its few.) This is a film that was supposed to have been carried by two leads, and due to McAvoy’s underwhelming performance it becomes difficult to decide on what point of view to view the film in. At times it feels like an ensemble film, at times like Fassbender’s, and at not enough parts as both Fassbender’s and McAvoy’s.

The supporting cast does an impressive job, most notably Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Bacon. Lawrence, who was nominated this year for Best Actress at the Oscars for her extraordinary performance in Winter’s Bone, plays Raven, Xavier’s adopted sister who goes on to become Mystique, a shape shifting antagonist of the first three installments in the franchise. To me, Lawrence’s performance gives the greatest amount of emotion in the entire film. Kevin Bacon plays Sebastian Shaw, the main antagonist in the movie, and as in all of Bacon’s performances, he gives a magnificent one. He is charismatic but intimidating and at times terrifying – a perfect villain for a superhero movie.

However, First Class’s biggest strength is its script. The dialogue is believable and clever, the pacing is spot on, and the way the story is told and the plot unfolds is done with perfection. Most of all, the characters are written excellently. You care for every single one of them, and that is what makes this film superior to many others.

In a way, X-Men: First Class is a gift to all movie goers. It is the perfect summer movie, filled with action, superheroes, and tension. It has outstanding performances, an impressive script, and is without a doubt the best installment in the X-Men franchise; and amongst the best superhero movies released in recent years. But what is most satisfying about the film is that not only is it an exceptional summer movie, it is also an exceptional film – and that is something to appreciate.