Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Better Men

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, Fox’s fourth X-Men movie, is a good international adventure masquerading as a superhero movie. It’s also overstuffed with plot (a ridiculous six screenwriters are credited) and anonymous characters.

The studio saved money by hiring little-known young performers and skilled character actors, but not having recognizable faces means it can be difficult to keep track of the interchangeable youngsters and their powers. While Michael Fassbender (HUNGER) and James McAvoy (ATONEMENT) are very fine actors, they lack the star charisma a large-scale action picture like FIRST CLASS needs. It could also have used a more mature director than Matthew Vaughn (KICK-ASS), who sets the film in 1962, but has little to no idea what life in 1962 was like. Sorry, you six (!) writers, but teens weren’t saying “groovy” or “whatever” in 1962.

Judging from what’s here, however, Vaughn demonstrates a technical proficiency that would make him a reasonable candidate to direct a James Bond movie. FIRST CLASS leaps easily from one continent to another, though most of it was filmed in England (and Pinewood Studios), and imagines an unusual men-on-a-mission scenario in which a team of talented but raw soldiers take on a megalomaniac on the verge of starting World War III.

Kevin Bacon is excellent as a Nazi named Sebastian Shaw (nee Kurt Schmidt), who assembles a squad of evil mutants to engineer the Cuban Missile Crisis and start World War III. Opposing Shaw are best friends Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (McAvoy), mutants themselves who recruit their own mutants and train them to harness their powers for the forces of good. For Erik, the mission is a personal one to get back at Shaw for murdering his mother in a concentration camp.

Like earlier X-MEN outings, FIRST CLASS bears down heavily on themes of tolerance and comfort within one’s skin, even if it’s blue or made of fur. Jennifer Lawrence, an Oscar nominee for WINTER’S BONE, gives the best performance among the younger actors. January Jones (MAD MEN), who took her role as ice queen Emma Frost as an excuse to appear immobile, is by far the worst, though Vaughn tries to make up for it by clothing her in as little material as possible.

Sets, costumes, and John Dykstra’s visual effects are first-rate—a sure sign that Vaughn knows the value of a budget. The film’s highlight is its beach-set finale, an ambitious action sequence with submarines, missiles, jet planes, and a surprisingly rich dramatic climax for a comic book movie.


Brandon L. Summers said...

The Magneto scenes are great, lots of style, flavor, and Fassbender gives a great performance. One of the best in Comic Book Films, I'd say. I also like that it's much more in spirit of the comics (I'm a fan), including the multitude of characters. But, the story doesn't hold up. He nukes the world and all mutants make him king? Etc. I thought the effects average out to be better than not. That also describes the movie as a whole, I'd argue.

The PAC Squad said...

yeah, I thought Fassbender has more than enough charisma to carry the film. And it tried (and more or less succeeded) to be a little different, which puts it miles above the forgettable CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR movies.

Poor Darwin, the token black, got killed pretty quick; you think in this day and age they'd be a little more politically correct. Ah, but I guess it was set in 1962

Joe Kenney said...

I have to say, this film in its own way represented everything I hate about modern movies.

The Twilight effect in full effect -- "Hey, let's cater to the ultra-important Twilight/PG-13 tweener market by getting rid of our adult actors and replacing them with young ones!"

The cliched German who smacks his lips when he eats chocolate -- Not sure when this cliche came into effect, but it appears that ALL movie Germans (whether Nazis or just plain evil) enjoy smacking their lips when eating chocolate.

Action scenes more preposterous than a Michael Bay film -- 'nuff said.

A neutered '60s where no one smokes and everyone acts like it's 2010, only with early '60s clothing.

A funny experiment I tried on this film...I had to leave while my in-laws were watching it because I couldn't handle the stupidty any longer. But I could still HEAR the movie...and let me tell you, it even SOUNDED stupid! Just close your eyes next time and check it out...nothing but bombastic music, "special effects sounds," bad German accents, and people screaming "Nooooo!"