Movies

Movie Review of X-Men: First Class

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The original “X-Men” in 2000 propelled the meteoric rise of superheroes into the next decade and beyond.  The first installment was followed up by a spectacular second, “X2.”  Unfortunately, the third, “The Last Stand” (with the change of director from Bryan Singer to Brett Ratner) fell flat. Crammed with too many characters, it’s big on style and nothing else.  “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” has its moments.  Director Matthew Vaughn (“Layer Cake,” “Kick-Ass”) with Singer’s return as a producer brings back the “X-Men” that fans worship.

“First Class” is more of the origin story of the future Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen).  They’re young men learning about who they are, what they’re capable of, discovering their superpowers and others like them, and where they stand in the world.

The story opens in Nazi’s concentration camp, where metal-bending Erik Lehnserr (Michael Fassbender, “Pride & Prejudice) as a little boy, was separated from his family.  Discovered as a mutant by a psychopathic doctor (Kevin Bacon), he’s forced to mentally move a coin and fails, resulting in the tragic death of his mother.  What follows is a terrifyingly powerful scene as Erik’s power is unlocked by rage.  He carries this deep-rooted anger to adulthood, turning into a vengeance-seeker and later a full-blown villain.

Telepathic Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, “Wanted” grows up in a sprawling, remote estate.  One day he finds Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a shape-shifting blue mutant, masquerading as his mother in his kitchen.  Since then they live together like brother and sister.  There’s a glimpse of their university days, where Charles is quite a charmer with the co-eds and eventually becomes a renowned professor in genetics mutation.

A CIA agent, Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) stumbles upon the existence of mutants while in pursuit of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), which turns out to be the same Nazi doctor who killed Erik’s mother.  Sebastian is also a mutant, with the power to absorb and release energy force.  He’s accompanied by diamond-encrusted Emma Frost, twister-spinning Riptide, tailed devil Azazel.

An underwater incident leads Charles to Erik, where Charles saves his life.  From then on their friendship grows.  Erik’s intensity is balanced by Charles’ calming influence.  They travel together to track down the other mutants : wing-sprouting Angel (Zoe Kravits), ear-splitting Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), ape-like Beast (Nicholas Hoult), evolving Darwin (Edi Gathegi), fiery Havok (Lucas Till).  Their relationships with the mutant proteges display their mentoring ability.  The training at Charles’ estate to control and manipulate their powers for good provides some of the lighthearted scenes.

Even with a common bond, Charles and Erik’s ideological differences drive them apart.  Charles believes that mutants and humans can co-exist peacefully, whereas Erik seeks to destroy for fear of being dominated.

With Sebastian playing the United States and Russian governments to start World War III, the world now discovers the mutants and their abilities during the showdown off the Cuban coast.  Erik is most powerful with Charles’ assistance when he can find that place mentally between rage and serenity.  Sebastian meets his demise in a fitting fashion.

Once the missile crisis is averted, however, the humans, united by the fear of the unknown, turn against the mutants. With Erik out of control, Charles tries everything in his power to turn around the situation.  Charles is struck and ends up paralyzed.  The moment comes when the mutants, influenced by their own personal experiences, must choose sides in determining the future of the human race.

The retro design and archival news footage provide “First Class” an authentic feel.  It’s unfortunate that it’s missing a few of the main mutants; most notably Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Gray.  If you blink, you’d miss a surprising cameo or two.

It’s a thrill to see the superb special effects be put into exhilarating use; the interesting mix of superpowers, an anchor ripping off a ship, submarine and missiles suspended in the air.  But that’s not what makes “First Class” a real first class.  It’s a lot more than good versus evil.  The dynamics of Charles and Erik’s intense friendship, underlined by solid acting, is the strongest point.  The genuine human emotions and implications – rage, pain, agony, fear, isolation and longing – to be “normal,” to be tolerated for being different and be accepted in society are the pillars of the story.

An extraordinary blast from the past, “X-Men: First Class” will go down as one of this decade’s best superhero movies.

Copyright (c) 2011. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com. Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (http://themoviemaven.posterous.com)

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

1 Comment

  1. glendabigelow

    June 8, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I think if this movie does anything for film to put it “establish itself fresh in any concrete way” is that film fans want filmmakers that aren;t seduced by digital technology and use it as a storytelling tool. Neill Blomkamp, Duncan Jones and Gareth Edwards come to mind http://bit.ly/mNp6EL

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