Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: X-Men: First Class (2011) TH

The X-Men in groovy training pants

Marvel Comics and its embodiments have been rearranging and manipulating the past and present to include how super-heroes would have done it differently since the golden days of Captain America punching the lights out of Hitler. Fast forward to the early '60s and we get revisionism of the Cold War by splicing fantasy and realism to include a look at where "mutants"--super-humans with odd mutations in their DNA giving them special abilities--fit in to society. Is the world ready to accept these flukes of nature even if it's to save the Kennedy/communist era world from nuclear war on the brink? Well, at the center of the story involves two men who look at the dilemma quite differently: an idealist junior professor from a handed down wealthy background and another man who survived from the ground up in the bleak Nazi concentration camps.

The beginning of X-Men: before distinct suits and names, before mutants collectively showed their ugly or beautiful side--however you want to look at it--for fear of ridicule, misunderstandings and unequal treatment. Think back to when glasses, fat kids and braces got the giggles and swirlies in the john, except the characters here instead transform certain flawed characteristics into epic super powers that would cause the normal person to stand still in their tracks and not quite possibly believe their eyes. Professor X: a telepath with persuasion; Riptide: wind control; Banshee: voice projection; Azazel: instant teleportation. These are just some of the select super heroes and villains before they knew everything about what it is to truly being one.

Where there are specially gifted spread out, they all have something in common and the story brings them closer together to either destroy or save humanity. Some mutants still find it in them to do good, others say the heck with the regulars who won't except them for who they are, and then, of course, there are the true villains who exploit their powers for gain. As a boy Erik (Michael Fassbender) was introduced to Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) due to being sighted as talented in the dreary concentration camps of Poland in 1944. Erik's powers of controlling metal objects only came out with extreme rage, so Shaw being the nice Nazi he is callously disposes of someone to see this come out. This creates a tormented vendetta against the man who unlocked his hidden abilities but also took something that can't be given back. By now Shaw is a little harder to get ahold of with a strong group of mutants behind him. He uses them to press a political agenda to pit Russia and the United States against each other, while he reaps the reward of the fallout.

What made "X-Men: First Class" work was there was a layered story that was dramatic while not missing out on a constantly moving adventurous side. Since this squeezes numerous characters, frequent location and language changes, not to mention two battling nations in one reasonably lengthened movie, some things do fall a little too in place to benefiting the story all coming together in one big related catastrophe at the same time. Some complex inventions and training sessions came a little too conveniently, but when are they ever realistically shown? While the mutants are at the forefront, the regular humans miss out on depth and range. Their personalities go from completely wooden to just tentatively going along for the ride to nail it home that they're utterly closed-minded to push a definitive persecution tone without question.

This is an entertaining experience that's both for comic book fans and regular cinema goers as it takes it all a little more seriously than other massive budget popcorn pictures by measuring out fantasy and injecting realism--including violence and people that "actually" die in a comic book story--to make one's imagination crack wide open and put in the direct moment. That is till someone has to go back to the day-to-day grind where they might daydream of stopping that bully, taking out that robber and if there was a power to give themselves a raise at work, I'm sure they'd do that to.

Director: Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass)
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne