Monday, 6 June 2011

Review: X-Men : First Class

Rating: 12A  Runtime: 132 min
There have been a string of X-Men movies spanning just over a decade. With a strong franchise birth in the form of X-Men and a brilliant follow up, X-2 really set the bar, yet were superseded by the disappointing X-3 and the abysmal Wolverine catastrophe (the less said about that, the better). So it was with great skepticism that I attempted to prepare myself for this inevitable prequel. With Kick Ass director Matthew Vaughn at the helm, what first appears as a no hoper quickly morphs into something of optimism.

It's 1964 as a young, and ahem groovy, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) begins an initiative to track down and unite mutants from all over the world. Subsequently, he encounters others with such 'gifts' to join him, and sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), in using their extraordinary abilities for good. Charles forges a strained friendship with dark horse, Erik (Michael Fassbender), who finds it difficult to let go of his harrowing past. Before we know it, our new batch of mutant misfits are rehoused in a CIA facility quicker than you can say adamantium claw. The time spent here allows for characters to bond and develop what is essentially a young support cast lead by the bold Lawrence. On the other side of the spectrum exist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and smoking hot side kick/slave, Emma Frost (January Jones), who seem hell bent on the annihilation of the human race for self preservation. The narrative explores an overarching political plot where nuclear war is upon us, as the Soviet Union and USA stubbornly square off against one another. The recurring 'survival of the fittest' theory is applied to justify Shaw's actions and plays an integral part throughout. To Vaughn's credit X-Men : First Class displays a confident ability to squeeze numerous back-stories and X-Men history into the equation without making the plot feel cluttered. Cheeky nods and cameos are subtly, as well as unsubtly, dotted in the film, the latter includes one hilarious, stand out effort you will be aware of after you see it. The actual story, too, is developed at a pleasant pace as it builds progressively as characters interact, conflict and betray one another, until we reach a climactic finale.

As per its predecessors, CGI plays a prominant role. Some of the effects look superb and, for the most part, are spot on, however, the standard does dips at times. Minor quibbles such as the visual features of Beast (Nicolas Hoult) -which were always going to be a challenge- and a slight over kill on some effects sometimes fail to deliver. Similarly Azazel (Jason Flemyng) as well as Raven's alter ego, Mystique, aesthetically aren't particularly pleasing to the eye.

Once the characters form the unofficial X-Men, we are exposed to some top notch acting, which involves perfect chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender who resonate on screen together. The latter, especially, oozes suaveness and sophistication in a bondesque fashion. Such a catalyst forces McAvoy to raise the bar in his retorts, and indeed, his overall performance.   Furthermore, there's a romantic spark when it comes to the sub plot love story between Raven and, before Beast mutated, Hank, which serves its purpose adequately, even if it is laced with cheese. 

Aside from the serious and, at times, dark nature of the film, the comedic elements are nicely balanced during some less tense moments. The humour creates genuine laughter largely thanks to Fassbender's exquisite delivery. What makes X-Men : First Class appealing is its no nonsense approach. Straight forward in its attempt to construct interesting and morally unhinged characters, coupled with a non exclusive appeal that allows easy access for both mainstream and hardcore comic fans alike.

Whilst there are many positives to this bold prequel, it is worth noting that there were a few minuses worth a mention. Firstly, as with all prequels, it is imperative to get the script air tight and, for the main part, does achieve this. However, series timelines come into question as some relationships that emerge don't quite fit into previous installments. Vaughn does however claim this prequel stands alone. So, in that respect, I'll let him off then.

As recent trends suggest, franchise reboots tend to be much darker and gritty in their nature. Prime examples are Chris Nolan's exquisite Batman and, currently filming, The Amazing Spider-Man. During critical points, X-Men : First Class threatens to take a shadier route. Character ambiguity directs the film towards a more sinister outcome and, towards the end especially, tantalises with immoral and questionable decisions. Unfortunately just as you think the series is about to turn nastier, morality and convenient plot devices intervene, which result in the inevitable 'good overcoming evil' scenario. For me, a bleaker path would have lead to a much more powerful and deeper film as a whole, but as I say, it's merely a minor criticism. 

It's fair to say that X-Men : First Class isn't quite on par with X2, yet by no means is it a failure. In fact it's one of the best comic book films to emerge for a number of years. With a fine collaboration of actors, and a more than solid storyline, it's jam packed with history, inside jokes, individual character plights and epic CGI. Vaughn really does immerse us into his 60's set world by giving us more than a whiff of era authenticity. Exceptional performances from McAvoy, and notably Fassbender, combined with witty dialogue gives this some serious weight and intellect, which maintains the utmost of class throughout.


Sources : Internet Movie Database 
Images : Google Images