Sunday, July 03, 2011
#152: X-Men: First Class
X-Men: First Class is the fifth in the series of X-Men movies that date back to 2000. 11 years after thrilling the world with their first offering, this year's X-Men: First Class is the the prequel to all the four movies that have came so far- the Genesis, if you like. It is obvious that the franchise has a loyal following and the studios want to leverage every bit of history that can be thought of. What the producers / studios have very smartly done in this case is that while individual origins of the key characters can continue ( Wolverine, Magneto...), a version that preceded everything would not only increase the fan base immensely but also reduce sequel attrition that is likely to hit the subsequent versions.
So this one is not about any specific character but about everyone who was around when the mutants had started their race on planet Earth in the early 1960s. The writers also place the story in the context of the Cuban Missile crisis thus very deftly integrating a universal theme with the main characters. The protagonist is the man after whom the term X-Men is coined, Professor Xavier, effectively portrayed by James McAvoy. James' Xavier, a sharp thinker and a man inscrutably above board, who believes that mutants and mortals can co-exist on earth. His best friend Magneto played by Michael Fassbender doesn't believe that the co-existence will ever be a reality. Even as they are brought together by the CIA to assist in the delicate missile crisis, where the CIA suspects mutants are involved, that difference of opinion between the two becomes a irreconcilable divisive point. Bad man Kevin Bacon never seemed sinister enough to destroy the world and yet he as Sebastian Shaw, is the man who is out to instigate a nuclear war between Russia and U.S. In terms of acting apart from McAvoy there's little else that's convincing. Fassbender's motive of revenge for his mother's death is a cliche that fails to cut ice and his lifeless expressions fail to evoke empathy.
But where the movie delivers is the gripping action between the divisive groups. The frenetic pace of the story is such that there are no dull moments. The sub-plot of Magneto's revenge is weak in concept but executed well. Similarly, the climax where U.S. and Russia are brought to within touching distance of a nuclear war is nail-biting stuff. As in all good superhero movies, the special effects are mind-boggling and in spite of being the fifth movie in the series, the novelty factor is still around to elicit for those 'wows'.
The best thing about X-Men First Class is the fact that anyone can watch it and believe, in spite of four other pre-existing movies, that this was the beginning. It was important thus for the filmmakers to make you buy into the concept of mutants and entice you enough to look forward to the future installments. Achieving one of those mandatories would've made it a good movie and achieving both would earn them a fan. Suffice to say, I've become a fan.