07 June 2011

The Power of X

It should be noted that I am a geek. One of the highlights of my year so far was attending the Dallas ComicCon and missing Leonard Nimoy in the hall by just seconds. Geek.

I love comic books; the art, the characters (both fantastical and realistic), the stories. Whether it be a far away galaxy or right here on earth, the future or in the present or the past; I am constantly impressed by what the writers and artists are able to accomplish. Comic books, and their grown counter part the graphic novel, represent the perfect blend of my twin passions- movies and books. Seemingly simple writing is reinforced by the art work, both working diligently to move the story forward and build characters frame by frame.

It seems shocking that it would take so long for Hollywood to jump on the geek bandwagon, until you remember comics are for kids. Or, at least that was the popular thought when the greatest characters were created in the 50s. Who would have thought a dime store comic book would later sell for millions?

Regardless of how long it took to get there, Hollywood eventually did come calling and have been turning out both good (1st Superman, Batman, Blade, Iron Man, Ghost World) and bad (Daredevil, the Hulk, Barb Wire, Tank Girl (though I LOVE that movie), Ghost Rider) ever since. The list could go on. It amazes me how anyone could fuck up a comic book movie. It's all right there! The set design, art direction, costumes, physical characteristics, etc. Each character has a long and layered back story. There are established hero's and villains, not to mention plots galore. Seriously, some one must be taking the piss to turn out as much garbage as they do.

It was with great excitement that I went to see "X-Men: First Class". I love the X-Men. Of all the big "brands", the mutant warriors of good and evil are by far my favourite. I love how each character is so different from the next, but there are subtle overlaps in powers. The line between good and evil is also blurred as each villain and obstacle are attacked by opposing sides- the "good" X-Men and the "bad" Magneto and his army. [side note: Does anyone else think it's kind of lame that Magneto didn't get a cool moniker for his brood?].

My favourite character is Jean Grey, almost exclusively because she becomes the Dark Phoenix whom I adore. It is much for this reason I loved "X-3", and seem to be the only person who did! I urge you to go back and watch it again. Sure, Brett Ratner isn't known for the subtlety that proved Bryan Singer the right man for the job. (Remember when everyone hated that he was directing? Fools!). The story was good but perhaps they tried to do too much in too little time (much like this newest film). **SPOILER ALERT IF YOU NEVER SAW "X-3: THE LAST STAND"** Still, who could forget when Mystique is cured of her mutant-ness and Magneto leaves her behind? I think the line is something like, "You were beautiful, now look at you." To a nude Rebecca Romijn!! Or, the struggle Rogue goes through when faced with the possibility of a cure. Should she? Shouldn't she? I hated the choice she ended up making, though now, years wiser, I understand it.

How did Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) meet and then how did they come to be foes? (I won't use the term enemy, as I've always felt they still have a great deal of love and respect for one another). When did they become Professor X and Magneto, respectively? When was the school for gifted youngsters established? Why is Charles in a wheel chair? All and more will be answered!

The film starts with our hero's in the 40s- Erik in a Nazi prison camp and Charles in a mansion in upstate New York. It then moves pretty quickly to the 60s and the dawn of the Cuban missle crisis. Mutants are alone, unrecognized, and in hiding. Erik is hunting his old nemesis and war criminal Sebastian Shaw (a devilishly cool Kevin Bacon) and Charles is getting is doctorate in Oxford. Soon, he is enlisted to help CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), and believer in the extraordinary, as she hunts for Shaw. Shaw has taken what he learned as the chief medical experiment guy in concentration camps and turned himself into a superhero with the ability to absorb energy. He looks smashing! Joining him on his quest for world domination is Emma Frost (January Jones), Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), and Azazel (an unrecognizable Jason Flemyng). On the side of good, Charles and Erik use a prehistoric version of Cerebro to locate other mutants who may be able to help in their task. Finally, more than half way through the movie, we meet the first class: Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Angel, not to be confused with the male Angel from "X-3" (Zoe Kravitz), Havok (Lucas Till), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), and Darwin (Edi Gathegi). It's nice to see some new faces in the already established movie-verse of X-Men.

Matthew Vaughn has transitioned well from the indie darling "Layer Cake" to more commercial fare like "Kick-Ass" and this film. His attention to character is precisely what this film needed. There is a lot of history (both real and from the comics) to cover, and not getting lost or dragged down and away from the plot could be tricky in less capable hands. I think there were just too many cooks in the kitchen, with four credited screenwriters, not to mention two story by credits. Clearly, someone had a lot of fun writing it but the film would have been better if it didn't try to introduce too much of the school. It should have been called "X-Men: Origins" and saved the "First Class" moniker for a second film when we could really explore the establishment of the school.

There are great performances through out, most notably Fassbender. It's great to see Magneto with a bit more humanity, before it is killed and he begins trying to lead the mutant uprising. Lawrence proves she can handle a blockbuster (good thing what with "The Hunger Games" poised to become the new "Twilight") and Hoult shows just the right edge of nerd and carnivore. The biggest fault in casting is the other women. I'm not sure if Jones is just used to the "Mad Men" school of acting or if she just can't act, but she was never really present and seemed to phone it in. One would think the role of Ice Queen would be perfectly suited to her, but I guess that doesn't work in every dimension of the 60s. Thankfully, it does not distract from the overall film. Byrne is also under utilized, but I disagree with other reviewers that her character was so unbelievable. We must remember, most women at this time were homemakers or secretaries. It is not far fetched that she would be demeaned or objectified in the work place. Of course, the Moira MacTaggert of the comics is a lot more interesting (and not a CIA agent), but what can you do?

I want desperately for this film to do well (knock on wood). I want more sequels! There is so much story to be told, so many characters who still have not had their day, it would be a shame to stop here. Whether you're a card carrying geek like me or just someone looking to have fun at the movies (all without having to check your brain at the door), then this is the must see of the summer.

**** (4 stars)

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