Thursday, June 09, 2011

‘X-Men: First Class’ – First class story telling for a first class film!

How do you reboot a stagnant franchise? You go back to the beginning and start over of course! Director Matthew Vaughn does just that and in grand fashion with a stable of unknown, energetic stars with ‘X-Men: First Class’.

After the sloppy and disjointed ‘X-Men: Last Stand’ and the very disappointing ‘Wolverine’, Vaughn has reignited the excitement and interest in the series, he has given the story and the characters themselves direction, a point from which to boldly leap from and sustain over many sequels yet to come (one can hope). As written and directed by Vaughn, ‘X-Men: First Class’ is crammed with back-story and sub-plots, but you never feel confused or rushed or even lost in the Marvel Comics mythology; every point, every character is dropped in with skill and flair. The pace of the movie is brisk, fresh and exciting; so much so that we devour each moment and character with glee.

Key to the fantastic reboot of the series is the little to unknown actors filling the roles of the merry mutants. Michael Fassbender channels the elder Ian McKellen as a young Magneto (future leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants), his dark brooding and conflict of emotions are played to perfection. James McAvoy is equally as talented as the young Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the School for Gifted Youngsters or X-Men. There are a few names of note; Kevin Bacon is in fully scum glory as the evil Sebastian Shaw and the always favorite Oliver Platt does a small turn as a CIA agent who befriends the mutants.

The X-Men mythology has always been rooted in moral plays of bigotry, genocide and discrimination; none more telling than in the opening scene in which we are told the story of Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, who is forced into using his powers by an evil Nazi (Sebastian Shaw) in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Erik is forced to watch the execution of his mother, the anger causing his powers to bloom. We come to realize that the mutants follow two very different paths (as does society); those like Professor Xavier wish to live with the humans as equals and those like Sebastian Shaw yearn to rule humans.

Throughout the series (and the comics) Xavier is the very picture of equality and social justice; the father figure of mutant-kind. In this reboot, we see him as a younger, more dashing cad; using his intellect and powers to pick up coeds. It is inevitable that he will quickly team with Erik to fight the forces of Shaw and because of Erik’s haunted past; Erik will eventually turn on his friend. What I really appreciate and perhaps only loyal fans of the X-Men comic series would realize this, in Vaughn’s reboot, Magneto is less of a monster and more of a tortured, misguided soul, as he was in the comic series but not as he was in the first three X-Men films.

Vaughn’s story wisely takes place during the 1940’s and 1960’s, during a time where racial profiling, communist hysteria and distrust of anything ‘un-American’ was rampant. This sets up the future of the X-Men franchise nicely, the back-story, the history is now there – the foundation of a solid story that can last for quite a long time is now set.

Can this save the franchise? I believe it can. ‘X-Men: First Class’ has, in my estimation, reinvigorated the series nicely and if the format is followed, should provide us with solid films yet to come. This is a 4 star effort worth multiple viewings on the big screen! The best summer has offered us yet!

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