After being scarred for life by watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine I have decided, I was done with X-Men films. Apparently, I was not the only one since. The Hugh Jackman’s solo performance was so bad that it managed to almost completely sink the entire franchise. You see, there was supposed to be a whole bunch of “Origins” movies in which they would cherry-pick the best characters and bringing us their origin stories – starting with Origins: Magneto. But… Wolverine was so brain numbingly horrible, that the studios got scared, and sent the Origins series to live with their auntie and uncle in Bel Air.
Fortunately they picked up the pieces and gave the helm of this operation to Mathew Vaughn, who just recently won me over with Kick Ass. He in turn brought in some of the kick-ass team with him – most notably Jane Goldman who wrote the screenplay. The story was handed to Bryan Singer (who masterminded X2 – the last good X-Men movie). I always say that script and direction are what makes a movie. Even the best, award winning actor can’t save a movie if the script is shit and the direction sucks (case study Natalie Portman’s acting in Star Wars prequels). At a first glance, First Class got a very decent talent in that department. Because of this, and because Vaughn got a free pass in my book for making Kick-Ass, I decided to give this movie a try.
I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed. I’m glad I didn’t skip this one. Vaughn and his team managed to pull X-Men franchise out of a deadly nose dive without even needing to push the “reboot and remake” button. That said, First Class is a reboot of sorts since it invalidates some of the flash-back scenes from Last Stand and Wolverine movies. It does not touch the chronology of the first two movies though.
As it is customary for X-Men adaptations, this one also plays fast and loose with the source material, but there is really no point dwelling on this. They have been doing this for 11 years (the first X-Men movie came out in the year 2000, can you believe that?) so I really can’t be surprised about the departures from the comic cannon. At this point, all I care for is that the movie has a compelling story, and that it did.
The opening scenes introduce us to young Magnetto being tortured and tormented by a Nazi researcher Sebastian Shaw. Shaw aims to unlock the secrets of the mutant powers, and is using the concentration camp population as test subjects. He is also played by Kevin Bacon which is actually kinda funny. Pretty much everyone in the movie theater chuckled when he showed up. There is a long camera pan that first shows us his uniform, then Bacon’s face shows up, and then German comes out of his mouth when he starts to speak. Quite unexpected, and somewhat hilarious – but Bacon actually pulls off a quite decent evil Nazi bastard.
Fast forward to 1962, and Shaw is an international criminal mastermind with a team of mutant helpers, adult Magnetto (Michael Fassbender) is hot on his trail plotting his revenge, while Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is getting ready to defend his PHD and lives with his childhood friend Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
Why 1962 you ask? Because of Cuban Missie Crisis, of course. The script cleverly uses this historical event as a centerpiece for the story. You see, the idea is that soviet leaders, as crazy as they were, would probably never risk an all-out nuclear Armageddon by shipping some warheads to Cuba, unless they were manipulated into doing so by a super villain of some sort. Enter Sebastian Shaw and his merry team of evil mutants. As soon as the US government catches wind of his shenanigans, they approach Charles Xavier for help, based on his doctoral thesis on genetic mutations. Xavier realizes that they need a team to counter that of Shaw’s and so he starts recruiting.
McAvoy and Fassbender make an excellent buddy-team. Their friendship, and cooperation escalating into open conflict is one of the main themes of the movie – and it is a good center-piece to have, seeing how these two characters come to have pivotal roles in the other X-Men movies. Jennifer Lawrence is… An absolutely gorgeous girl. Even if the entire movie sucked, I would still probably pay the ticket price just to see this girl do her lonely, vulnerable and sometimes flirtatious shtick. She hardly ever shape-shifts, and she is out of the blue make-up 90% of the time, but I won’t complain because, frankly her make up was not all that great. Rebecca Romijn knew exactly how to rock the blue make-up, and it looked great on her. Lawrence doesn’t really look as good in it. She is a beautiful girl, but the blue seems to take away, rather than accentuate her looks. Plus she seems a bit lost and unsure whenever they put her in it. Perhaps this is just the case of wearing make-up that was originally designed for someone else. You sort of have to tailor these to an individual actor…
Then again, I hated the Beast’s makeup as well. It notably different from that sported by Kelsey Grammer in Last Stand. Which makes me wonder why they re-imagined Beast by not Mystique. Perhaps it’s because they were pissing all over Last Stand but did not want to invalidate anything from the first two movies. Who knows…
To summarize: good script, good direction, good use of a historical event as a backdrop. McAvoy and Fassbender make great young Xavier and Magnetto. Jennifer Lawrence is absolute eye candy. Make-up sucks across the board. Kevin Bacon is a compelling villain. It’s official: X-Men does not suck anymore.
Oh, and these advertisements that say First Class is better than Dark Knight – yeah, that’s pretty much bullshit. It’d not even close. But, it is still a fantastic movie. Much better than the last two X-Men installments. In fact, much better than Thor.