X-Men: First Class
A brainwavez.org Film Review

South Africa By: Mandy J Watson on 3 June 2011
Category: Screen > Film > Reviews
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Despite the silly title, questions finally have answers and the mysteries of the origins of the X-Men are revealed in this remarkable prequel to the X-Men film franchise.

X-Men: First ClassI attended the screening of this film with some trepidation. It's received some positive coverage online but I don't know how much of that can be trusted anymore. Increasingly we are being subjected to junk at the box office and it's difficult to find the truth within all the noise until a few days after release.

I'm happy to report that X-Men: First Class is one of the best films I've seen in recent years. It's a worthy prequel to the X-Men franchise as well as a great stand-alone story.

It's not necessary to have any in-depth description of the plot but the essence is that Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is persecuted by the Nazis as a boy and specifically by scientist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who discovers Erik's latent mutant talent, and this moulds Erik's character, his drive for revenge, and his conflicted sense of morality, all of which are central to the plot. Erik's internal conflict is a driving force behind much of the drama, especially as anyone familiar with the franchise knows that Magneto is destined to be a villain and morph from being Charles Xavier's friend to his chief antagonist.

X-Men: First ClassProfessor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), meanwhile, has led a privileged life in New York as a boy, he meets Raven Darkholme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) along the way, and by 1962 has graduated from Oxford University in the UK, having studied genetics and written a thesis on mutation. Charles and Raven are recruited by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) and later they and Erik end up collaborating with Division X, a branch of the CIA headed by The Man In Black (Oliver Platt). Other mutants, in turn, are discovered and recruited for the team. At the same time Shaw and his band of mutants, Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and Janos Quested/Riptide (Álex González), have been plotting to get Russian missiles installed in Cuba in order to escalate the Cold War to Shaw's advantage. In fact, most interesting to me was how the story weaves in and out of the Cold War, effortlessly mixing fact with fiction.

Although this is supposed to be a new beginning for the X-Men film series, and the first of a trilogy, X-Men: First Class fits in almost perfectly with the universe already created in the previous films. (The notable exception being a young character named "Emma", whose abilities are similar to those of Emma Stone, appearing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Not only that, but all sorts of questions left unanswered by the original films are addressed here in a way that's just a natural part of the story. We find out where Cerebro, the device Xavier uses to detect mutants, comes from and why Xavier is in a wheelchair. Mystique's presence in this film is also adequately explained and we learn the origins of the philosophies that eventually drive Charles ("we must integrate with the humans or lose our humanity") and Erik ("the humans are bigots who will never accept us so we must protect ourselves") apart.

X-Men: First ClassThere are minor plot problems (Mystique mimics Shaw without knowing what he's wearing and Banshee flies using his hypersonic screaming ability and with the aid of a special suit while somehow also managing to drag along a team mate whose presence doesn't affect the physics of the suit) but on the whole there are no major problems. The plot moves briskly but never in a confusing manner and it's always quite clear as to who all the characters are and what's going on. There are also some great action sequences, none of which become mired in special-effects hyperbole.

The special effects are exceptional, with only one major scene, a larger-than-life climactic moment featuring (among other things) palm trees, coming off looking as though it's computer generated. The rest, such as teleportation effects and an extra (completely impractical) rippling flourish that has been added to how Mystique changes form, look amazing. The production design is also superb. Everything from the key scene locations to the villainous lairs and Soviet military installations is rich without being inappropriately tacky or overdone. The hairstyles, clothing, and décor are reflective of the 60s without being too overpowering and therefore bridge the decades, making the characters and settings seem contemporary - they all blend into our 2011 aesthetic rather than stand out, which would have the unwanted effect of pulling us out of our immersion in the narrative. In scenes in which dated technology and products are required, such as a 60s-era black-and-white CRT television or 40s-era medicine bottles in a bathroom medicine cabinet, the items are integrated perfectly into the visual design and are not jarring or even noticeable to anyone not specifically looking out for them. In fact, it's wonderful to see that someone went to the effort to research and incorporate these cultural artifacts appropriately.

X-Men: First ClassThe film is filled with love for all sorts of geek predilections, not just the comic-book fans. Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw is a case in point. He doesn't quite carry the weight that one expects from an antagonist with a Nazi history but Bacon's joyous portrayal of the character is reminiscent of an early Bond villain. Additionally, he and his band of mutants drift around the world in a high-tech submarine, complete with swinging 60s pad, that's a classic Bond villain lair. I loved this. It was one of the many unexpected nods to the Bond franchise that were intermingled with nods to the X-Men fan base, which comprised subtle references and cameos, often in montages, of course. Additionally, a number of recognisable faces fill many of the minor military and background roles, which is a treat for film fans, and the closing titles[1], which will be appreciated by graphic designers, are a mix of DNA and James Bond iconography in the style of 60s abstract design. There's also a great spit-screen montage in the middle of the film that both also evokes 60s design aesthetic and elevates the usual "learning to master one's skills" sequence from the mundane.

The score, by Henry Jackman, is typical dramatically orchestral superhero fare and, much like Thor's score, it fits in well in the background to enhance scenes but doesn't really stand out on its own. It's the only part of the filmmaking that I would wish to see improved. Unlike Thor, however, there are also key songs in the soundtrack that stand out and are quite enjoyable.

X-Men: First Class

Of course, it must be mentioned that in order to fit in with the X-Men film franchise the X-Men origin stories from the Marvel comics have been changed significantly. A few weeks ago this would have annoyed the comic geek in me (though the film geek is happy for the attentive efforts at continuity) but since DC Comics is now rebooting all of its comic properties I have been reminded that things have never actually been that stable and consistent in the comics world either. It's just generally best to think of films as their own entities, and judge them accordingly. I couldn't be happier about what the cast and crew have done with X-Men: First Class. More superhero movies should be made like this.

[1] I recall seeing the closing-title design company listed in the end credits but I can't find the information online to add a mention in this review.

The review screening was courtesy of Nu Metro.
X-Men: First Class opens on circuit in South Africa and the US on Friday 3 June 2011.

brainwavez.org Opinion
Rating: 8/10

Key Facts: X-Men: First Class
Year: 2011
Running Time: 132 minutes
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Format: Feature; Widescreen 1:2.35; Colour
Language: English
Country: USA
Director: Matthew Vaughn
X-Men: First Class
James McAvoy ... Charles Xavier
Michael Fassbender ... Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Kevin Bacon ... Sebastian Shaw
Rose Byrne ... Moira MacTaggert
Jennifer Lawrence ... Raven / Mystique
Oliver Platt ... Man In Black Suit
Álex González ... Janos Quested / Riptide
Jason Flemyng ... Azazel
Zoë Kravitz ... Angel Salvadore
January Jones ... Emma Frost
Nicholas Hoult ... Hank McCoy / Beast
Caleb Landry Jones ... Sean Cassidy / Banshee
Edi Gathegi ... Armando Muñoz / Darwin
Lucas Till ... Alex Summers / Havok
Glenn Morshower ... Colonel Hendry
Matt Craven ... CIA Director McCone
Gregory Goodman ... producer
Simon Kinberg ... producer
Stan Lee ... executive producer
Josh McLaglen ... executive producer
Tarquin Pack ... executive producer
Lauren Shuler Donner ... producer
Bryan Singer ... producer
Original Music: Henry Jackman
Cinematography: John Mathieson ... director of photography
Film Editing: Eddie Hamilton and Lee Smith
Production Design: Chris Seagers
Set Decoration: Erin Boyd and Sonja Klaus
Costume Design: Sammy Sheldon

On The Internet
X-Men: First Class: Official Site | IMDb | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia
X-Men: First Class Media: Official Site | Apple Trailers | IMDb Media Gallery

[ X-Men: First Class - Official Trailer: YouTube link ]

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