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X-Men: First Class - Movie Review by A.D.Harris

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taken from theadamharris.blogspot.com

If there's one thing that 'The Last Stand' taught us about X-Men movies it's that they can be poor. On a similar note, if there's one thing that 'Origins: Wolverine' taught us then it would be that X-Men movies can be really, really poor. There were too many under developed characters struggling to mesh together into a cohesive plot-line with far too little care and appreciation for the mutants who we had grown to love during the earlier sequels. In other words they were a failure on many levels, disrespecting their audience and leaving a bitter taste in the mouth...

That put 'X-Men: First Class' in a small predicament; it had to get the audience interested in mutants again and ignite the spark that 'X2' once lit and shined so brightly. A total overhaul needed, a fresh approach necessary and therefore FOX did what was the logical option; bring in the writers/director of last years best superhero movie 'Kick Ass'. Matthew Vaughn may still be best known as the Brit gangster director/producer of 'Layer Cake and 'Lock Stock,' Jane Goldman best known as Jonathan Ross' wife but between them they are becoming known as the creators of the freshest and most inventive blockbuster comic-book adaptations on the planet.

This is one of the movies 'aces up it's sleeve,' Vaughn & Goldman have created a realistic, relevant, classy and richly entertaining vehicle driven on by X-Men characters developed as well, if not better than ever before. Heading back to prequel territories the pair have essentially devised a story to get "Origins: Magneto & Professor X" into a two-hour vision of what the past could have been like had mutants existed amongst us; it cleverly uses the real-life "Cuban missile crisis" as a basis for the plot. There's no denying the inventive-ness of the story, how rich the character development is and how funny certain moments are...

What the writers needed to bring the script to life was a cast worthy of it's quality and boy, did they find a good group. Led on with sheer brilliance by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, the group of young actors have all put in some of their finest work.

McAvoy as Xavier is a worthy companion to Patrick Stewart's interpretation; you can feel his version is a combination of old and new with plenty of original characterisations applied yet keeping within the realms of possibility that he will become the balding man we know and love. It's a calming, mature and subtle piece of work from McAvoy, and it makes the few moments where you see Xavier in true anguish and dread even more powerful and emotional. As the character begins to head into his inevitable collision course with his wheelchair you feel for him more than ever before and the emotional whack of the film is carried on McAvoy's shoulders with plenty of gusto.

Fassbender on the other hand takes Magneto a different direction, letting himself dominate the screen and pushing the character further than Ian McKellen ever did. Big, bold and menacing at all times Fassbender steals every scene he's in; his presence throughout the movie is always felt even when he is absent. The repeat of the concentration camp scene we first saw in the original helps set the tone for his tale, one of tragedy and heartbreak which sets the boy Eric Lensherr on the path towards the un-trusting and dangerous Magneto. As a result of Fassbender's performance you get engrossed and invested more into the Magneto origins arc of the story, testamount also to the strength of the script at how it humanises the future villain of the franchise. There really is no denying that when Fassbender is on screen 'First Class' goes from good to great.

One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is the duos relationship with the shapeshifting Raven, more commonly known as Mystique. The film creates a very strong relationship between Xavier and Raven, showing how she struggles to deal with her mutant condition and Jennifer Lawrence creates a lot more sympathy for her than we ever felt before. The shift we all know will happen when she chooses Magneto over Xavier therefore feels more important and shocking. It's little insights and plot-threads like this that make 'First Class' stand out against the others; the moments where the motivations and desires of the characters are clear and concise.

As for everyone else, it's a great bunch who excell in a wide variety of roles. Kevin Bacon makes a great villain as Sebastian Shaw, who despite his lack of exciting-mutant powers in the showy way the others have adds a realism and grittiness to the film. Also his past connections to Eric Lensherr makes for a thrilling spectacle when the final battle commences and Magneto as we know him begins to emerge...

Nicholas Holt as Beast is also well writtern and acted, he has a strong impact in the short space of time devoted to him, and Rose Byrne does just about enough to convince as Dr. Moira McTaggert who is a human finding herself in middle of a mutant conspiracy.

Major disappointment once again falls on the shoulders of January Jones, who after a ghastly performance in 'Unknown' has delivered once again a wooden bore of a mutant in Emma Frost. You almost feel that Vaughn & Goldman didn't know what to do with her character; she disappears for a good hour around the mid-point, but I like to think they decided to bench her for poor performance. It's bitterly disappointing as the character had so much more potential...

Visually 'First Class' is fantastic; it will be hard to better some of the more complex CGI sequences the movie offers; an attack on the FBI or the submarine rising two instances that stand out. Throughout it strikes as a beautiful and smart vision of the mutant world and even is bold enough to throw in some hilariously cheeky cameo appearances that are sure to leave the audience with "Cheshire Cat" grins.

Overall, it's fun and action packed, yet also dark and gritty. It's almost a reminder from the writers of just how superhero ensemble movies should work (and did work when Bryan Singer had control of the reins.) The characters have real emotions, they mean something to each other and to the audience. Plus their story is as epic as it could get...

... I'd say epic is the word best suited to the film, and as a result perhaps to show in writing just how epic is is would be impossible. It would certainly never be as effective as this...

All I'll say is press play and repeat this line: "I... am Magneto."


If you felt like, even for only a split second, you had mutant powers... well then I've proved my point.

Brilliant. Epic... First Class!

9/10

Adam

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Twitter: @AdDHarris
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