If all the big blockbuster/superhero films coming out over the next few months are half as good as X-men: First Class, then we’re in for a helluva summer.
This fantastic prequel, directed by Matthew Vaughan (Kick-Ass, Stardust), takes us back to the days when Magneto, here known by his real name, Erik Lehnsherr, and Professor X, or Charles Xavier, first met, became friends, and joined forces. We get to see more of Erik during the Holocaust, and meet the sadistic villain Sebastian Shaw (played capably by Kevin Bacon), who helps Erik to discover his powers (albeit in the worst, most horrific way possible) and then experiments on and teaches him how to use them. We see Charles and Raven, or Mystique as she’s later known, meet as children, as he adopts her into his family. Once the boys are grown, we watch Erik as he attempts to hunt down Shaw (who’s trying to single-handedly start World War III), yearning to exact revenge for the horrors bestowed upon him by the Bacon-ater. Xavier is at university, publishing a thesis on mutations, and through various plot devices, the men join forces to try to stop Shaw and prevent a war during the Cuban missile crisis. Kind of a bizarre backdrop, but it works.
The standout of the film, who I don’t think enough good things can be said about, is Michael Fassbender, who plays Magneto/Erik. He absolutely OWNS this film – he’s AMAZING. He brought so much depth and complexity to the character as to make him the best kind of villain: The multi-dimensional one who isn’t truly evil, he’s just been through the ringer, and the filmmakers have enough respect for us as an audience to show how the character has become what he is today. This film illustrates Magneto’s journey perfectly, and Fassbender is up for the challenge. I can’t even imagine anyone else playing this role, and I only saw the movie yesterday. He’s truly some kind of genius – he carries around such unparalleled intensity, if he wore a paper bag over his head, his eyes would surely burn holes right through it. Excellent in Inglorious Basterds, I can’t wait to see what he does next – there’s no way this guy won’t get an Oscar in the next five years.
James McAvoy likewise, did a fantastic job. He brought the sense of fun and kindness to his role that Patrick Stewart so wonderfully has done in the past. The two leads have superb chemistry, and it’s a complete blast to watch as their friendship blossoms and they’re united, fighting alongside one another, their powers playing off the other as easily as can be. We want so badly for them to continue working together, but we all know they become enemies, and this film does a great job of helping you get why they need to go their separate ways. Heartbreaking stuff, in all seriousness. It makes me wonder how McKellan and Stewart feel to see their roles played again by younger men since there’s no doubt McAvoy and Fassbender have done each character his due justice.
There were a few things I wasn’t too crazy about, one of which was January Jones, who plays Shaw’s right-hand bee-yotch Emma Frost. Truly, she has to be one of the worst actresses working today. I know she looks like a living Barbie doll, but aren’t there other super-hot, LESS lifeless choices out there? She brings new levels of stiffness to the term “wooden”. I think she’s quite awesome on Mad Men as the crazy bitch that is Betty Draper, but then again, Betty is an insipid, shallow, shrew of a housewife, and I guess those terms probably describe Jones as well. I don’t think playing Betty taxes her.
There’s a group of young mutants who are rounded up by Xavier and Erik to help the cause and while they’re mildly amusing, they’re mostly embarrassing. Mystique and Beast are the standouts, and much as I heart Nicholas Hoult from his childhood days when he was in About a Boy, once he turned into Beast, I could hardly stand to look at him. Why, when Kelsey Grammar played this role in the last film, was his face painted blue (which looked about as realistic as one could hope for a blue-headed monster) and then Hoult gets his turned into a cross-eyed CGI blue furry monkey? This was distracting, and probably the only place I thought the look of the film was poor.
In general though, the CGI for once wasn’t overblown or overdone, it seemed to serve the story, instead of the other way around, which is what I loved about the first X-Men. That film blew me away with its focus more on the characters and their struggles, as opposed to effects and no plot, which is what I’m used to for blockbusters. I remember just being plain fascinated with those characters, and eager to find out more about the world they inhabited. This film created that magical sense of wonder for me again, and a desire to rewatch the first couple of films just to see the Magneto/Xavier chemistry again, knowing the things that I know now.