Thursday, July 7, 2011

REVIEW: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender

This was a surprise to me, as superhero movies have been getting stagnant. I didn’t expect to have one actually pull me in that wasn’t a Christopher Nolan Batman movie in these modern times of CGI and special effects and 3D. But here we have the new X-Men movie, quite a pleasant surprise for sure, and I found myself very entertained here.

The reason this film works is that it actually does focus more on the characters and their various journeys than on some kind of superfluous need to tell a superhero story, even when there were no ideas. Director James Vaughn previously directed the excellent Kick-Ass, which was another superhero movie with great writing, relatable characters and a powerful, inviting sweep, and so you can see where he's coming from when you watch this movie. This is a superhero movie, but it’s one that takes the high road and doesn’t try to check off the various tropes of its genre before getting into the substance of the story first. First Class is a smart, snappy action movie that has enough drama to interest the more prudent among you, and enough comedy to make sure it doesn’t sink into a mire of modernist depression. It is well rounded and feels wholesome and complete.

The film focuses on Xavier, played by James McAvoy, who is a great actor and really pulls off the character with style and passion, making you care about what he says and what he’s doing. I was really impressed by this performance, as he pretty much turned one of the less interesting X-Men characters into someone I found very intriguing, and who I wanted to see win. Erik, or Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender, also puts out a great performance. The chemistry between the two of them on screen as friends was very believable and actually one of the best parts of the movie – I wanted to see more of it. They’re both hugely charismatic and enjoyable to watch.

The other main character is Mystique, or Raven as she was known, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who also starred in the superlative Winter’s Bone last year. In this film’s universe she met Xavier as a young child, and stayed with him all throughout his growing up. She’s uncomfortable with her mutant state and wants to look normal, although the film’s progression shows her slowly shedding those ideals and embracing opposite ones. She’s a very well done character and I enjoyed seeing her progression. A great performance on all counts.

So yeah, the film’s other characters aren’t quite as fleshed out, but they’re still cool. They introduce a few new X-Men not even from the comics. The film goes on a bit long, but it packs in a lot of great scenes like the early ones with all the kids together for the first time, and the several scenes in the middle where they're all training - very creative and fun. The ending battle scene is actually really awesome, which is refreshing, as a lot of movies like Thor and Iron Man really skimp out on having memorable finales. The movie’s main message is a coming of age one. These kids don’t know where they’ll end up yet, and although the viewer does, it doesn’t make the ride any less engaging, because of the strong acting and well told story. So go see this. It’s fun, effective and involving. Recommended.