This Year's X-Men. First or Second Class?
After the heady and frantic highs of Thursday’s launch party, I found myself not only inspired to finish off my Starburst article that wasn’t due until the 20th of this month for the July/Aug issue - but also, in the mood for a cinema outing. Super heroes vs exhaustion? Super heroes win every time.
I had toyed with the idea of making this a double bill, hoping to see Pirates 4 as well as X-Men: First Class, but the bad reviews of Pirates and the extortionate cost of 4 tickets for something that wasn’t a sure thing became factors in making this a single movie outing. That and 4 hours sleep. I will catch Pirates on DVD, when I can own it and watch it as many times as I please for a quarter of what I’d spend for one theatrical viewing.
X-Men is a film franchise that polarises geeks. Over the years, so many characters, mutants and sub-characters have been added to the comics’ continuity it’s nigh impossible to please everyone. I’m still surprised that the decision was taken to make an X-Men film back in 2000, not to mention being stunned at the realisation what was 11 years ago.
Some people liked it, some loved it, some abhorred the fact that they all wore black leather. Go figure. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was universally hailed as being definitive, though I’d also say that likewise so was James Marsden’s Cyclops and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X.
X-Men 2 is usually regarded in fan circles as being THE X-Men movie, and I’m not one to disagree. The inclusion of Nightcrawler did wonders to boost the returning cast. It was a case of the superior sequel.
Then came X3: The Last Stand seems to have been just that for moviegoers. There was a lot of story to go through, but I’ve never felt that the movie was as bad as popularly thought. Jean Grey becoming Dark Phoenix was handled well, Kelsey Grammer’s Hank McCoy/Beast was a high point and Hugh Jackman was still knocking the ball out of the park as Wolverine.
Personally, my problems with the film were the very quick, offhand and off camera elimination of Cyclops and to a greater degree - the bewildering amount of mutants. I’m a comic book fan, I’ve read quite a bit of X-Men...and I still couldn’t really keep up with who was who.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine - to me, was one of the best looking films I saw in 2009. I didn’t have a problem with it at all. I enjoyed the performances, the visuals and the scope of the whole film far more than I thought I would.
So, where does THIS latest offering fit in with the rest? It’s a prequel to what we’ve seen, right?
Well, the title X-Men : First Class is a little misleading in that the story really is more Origins: Professor X and Magneto. It covers the back story that has been previously mentioned in the earlier films that Prof. X and Magneto were allies at one point. So, basically it’s a historical film, starting off with an opening sequence that’s virtually a replay of the X-Men opening with Eric Lehnsherr being separated as a child from his parents at the gate of a Nazi concentration camp and destroying the heavy steel gate with his magnetic powers. He becomes the focus of Sebastian Shaw’s attention. Kevin Bacon delivers a sinister performance as the arch villain using brutal methods to coerce Erik’s co-operation.
Meanwhile Charles Xavier discovers as a child that he has incredible mental powers and befriends a young girl named Raven, capable of altering her appearance to mimic anybody she sees and soon to become known as Mystique.
I’m going to try and make this as spoiler free as possible by keeping away from too many details. Essentially, the bulk of the film takes place between the end of the war and the early sixties as the CIA wants Xavier and Lehnsherr to recruit mutants as part of a CIA special ops unit. Among those chosen are several characters who didn’t appear until later on in the comics continuity including Havok (Cyclops’ brother) who has a destructive power, Banshee who has sonic abilities, the Beast, Mystique (before she became a super villain as seen in the first three movies) and the Angel.
The Angel is my biggest problem - she’s a girl with insect-like wings rather than a male with feathered wings as seen in the source material and Last Stand. She seems more like The Wasp character.
No sign of Cyclops, Jean Grey or Iceman who along with the (male) Angel and the Beast, comprised the original comics line-up of the mutant super-team. But, as I say this is a prequel. What probably will confuse the casual moviegoer is the exclusion of Wolverine - who didn’t debut until much later. But having said that - this film has the most surprising and memorable use of the "F" word in a 12 rated film that I’ve ever known.
It is low on super heroic deeds, but bear in mind that this is the story of two men who ultimately took different paths, each creating a super-team of mutants. One bad, one good. It’s more of a set-up than an all-out slam-bang adventure, though it does culminate in the real-life Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The film boasts some amazing visual effects including seeing a submarine lifted out of the ocean by magnetic power. We see why Xavier, who walks throughout the movie, becomes confined to a wheelchair and understand how Magneto turns to evil and we sympathise. The costumes are very reminiscent of those worn by the X-Men in the early issues. There really is no faulting this film, apart from the few niggles I’ve mentioned earlier.
If there are sequels, I hope director Matthew Vaughn is on board again. As this is his second comic book movie in a row (the first being last year’s Kick Ass) he demonstrates here that he is certainly the go-to guy for super hero movies.
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