johnlink ranks X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)

This turns out to be the fourth comic-book inspired ranking of the month. While I see my share of these movies, I don’t usually seek them out more than any other films. Perhaps, though, having any four out of nine randomly selected movies turn out to be comic book movies wouldn’t be so surprising in the modern Hollywood landscape. Like any genre, the quality of the films is varied. This month, for example, I’ve seen an extremely weak one (MEN IN BLACK II), an above-average entry (THOR), and a superb superhero flick (THE AVENGERS). Where would the newest entry in the X-MEN series rank?

I watched X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) on 5.19.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

The X:MEN film series has undergone an odd mutation over the course of its run. In 1999, Bryan Singer ushered in the modern era of the grand comic book movie with his very solid X-MEN. The second film, X2, also was a Singer project and many feel it is better than the first. Next, the series initial trilogy would be taken over by Brett Ratner and botched entirely as they tried to squeeze every character ever invented into a very short X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. In an effort to go even lower, they created X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, one of the worst-looking big-budget films of the 21st century.

So, two years after that fiasco, a reboot of sorts happens with the reigns being turned over to Matthew Vaughn who effectively directed three films prior (LAYER CAKE, STARDUST, and KICK-ASS). Only Bryan Singer came on to executive produce this new X-MEN, and they lifted the opening Magneto scene right from the first movie to reuse here, a brilliant decision. The repeated scene effectively ties this new X-MEN film, which takes place in the 60s as Xavier and Magneto meet and become friends, to the rest of the universe. Honestly, I haven’t seen number three in so long that I don’t know if they bothered to acknowledge its existence for FIRST CLASS (I vow to get to it at some point for these pages so I can itemize its failures). So, as we get into the meat of this movie, just know that it stands alongside the other films in the series, even as all of the characters who reappear have been replaced (understandably) by younger actors.

And these actors are pretty good. James McAvoy brings a little arrogance to Xavier, who has not yet had the crippling accident which would leave him wheelchair bound. Michael Fassbender, shooting this at a time when his career was about to erupt, meshes well with McAvoy, even as we can see it will never work out between them. Jennifer Lawrence, in between her Oscar-nominated performance in WINTER’S BONE and her star-making turn in HUNGER GAMES, brings a depth to Mystique that hasn’t been there in previous X-MEN films. The best casting, however, has to be the choice to make Kevin Bacon the big bad. In a film filled with minor stars, his is the biggest name which appears. His swagger and joy in taking on the evil Sebastian Shaw makes him an extremely solid villain.

The story has to do with the CIA reluctantly pulling together some newly discovered mutants to take on Shaw. There is certainly decent within the organization as to whether or not the mutants can be trusted, and this clash ultimately leads to a marginalization of the X-Men which is the catalyst for the split between friends Xavier and Magneto. The plot is not bad, it has to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it is really just one large MacGuffin as the real point is just to find out why these characters ultimately turn out the way they do. It is a structurally interesting film, as the team building and training aspects are usually the first act and the beginning of the second act of a film. Here, the team-building stuff is the entire second act. It makes for a unique sort of film.

In many comic book films the threat of death trumps actual danger. Here, with some minor characters appearing, you really don’t know who will live or die. Oh, if you are a human and you appear here, you have a 50-50 shot of surviving. The mutant villains kill hundreds of humans, but mutants are not necessarily safe either. I like that aspect of the script, but the script is not perfect. While everything else seems to well prepare the series to lead into the already produced Singer films, the character of Mystique is very different. I just don’t see that person turning into the merciless woman who tries to assassinate Xavier in the 1999 film. I suppose a lot can happen to a person (or a mutant) in 30 years, but I didn’t buy it. Also, the naming of the mutants as handled by FIRST CLASS is among the clunkiest choices in recent comic book movie history. I mean the whole thing is about trying to make it feel seamless, right? That’s the challenge. These movies, for the most part, try to create a reality in which these world is recognizable to us, but mutants or super heroes, or Gods, happen to live alongside us. So when people make choices to call themselves silly names and dress up in tights, there has to be some sort of justification for it. I love the way the original X-MEN films handled this challenge, but FIRST CLASS can’t be bothered with trying to be creative about it.

When this movie ended, my feeling was that it was pretty good, and it was worth seeing. It certainly brought the series back from whichever circle of hell that terrible WOLVERINE film had regulated it to. However, I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as the first to films. But this new team has a heck of a lot of promise, and if Vaughn is going to continue on in order to sustain some sense of cohesion, then I’ll stick around to watch.






~ by johnlink00 on May 20, 2012.

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