Friday, 10 June 2011

The X-Men Franchise Marches On

  The latest cinematic incarnation of the X-Men comic books came out this last week in X-Men: First Class.  As alluded to in the title, this film goes back to the origins of the X-Men we all know, the first class of the mutant academy lead by Prof. X.  This is a move back in time in the X-Men chronology but also a move to instill a new sense of pride over the franchise after the disappointing X-Men 3 and Wolverine.

  One of the most exciting parts of the original X-Men films was the flashback to a young boy in a Nazi concentration camp who, when separated from his parents, causes the metal gates enclosing them to buckle.  Well, this is the culmination of this excitement and it doesn't disappoint.  It's the ultimate in prequels as the established and well-known characters from the other films are explored in new ways.

  Filling the boots of Patrick Stewart and playing Professor X is James McAvoy, of Shameless and Last King of Scotland fame.  His role, a big part of the re-visioning of franchise, portrays the leader of the X-Men not as calm, controlled and serious but as a carefree, excitable and charming; controversial to some but nice in my eyes.  The way the character transforms throughout the film is beautifully done and you can really see how he will move on to become the wheelchair laden telepath in the future.

  For me, though, the star of the film is Michael Fassbender, known from Inglorious Basterds, taking the role of a young Magneto, to grow into the character played by Ian McKellen.  Fassbender takes the character seen in that scene in the concentration camp and plays the part of a repressed victim on a revenge mission very well.  The film is about the friendship between his character and Prof. X and it is that relationship that gives this film its charm.

A collection of the cast of First Class (
  The storyline is naturally great, already proven to work in the comic-world, and the powers which are so necessary to the X-Men world are created very well; from Magneto flinging huge anchors across the sky to Havok's energy attacks, it is all believable (as much as they can be!) and look great.  I loved the sequence where Prof. X and Magneto begin their search for mutants as the film-makers make a sort of comic-book tile montage, very pretty.  A mention for up-and-coming Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and Skins star Nicholas Hoult (Beast) who put in nice performances battling against their changing identities and also a quick cameo (best moment in the film!) for Hugh Jackman as the ageless Wolverine.

  I think it is the mixture of these supernatural elements with the history and geography of the real world which makes this super-hero franchise that bit more exciting than others, Prof. X lecturing in Oxford University, Magneto chasing ex-Nazi officers across the world, the inclusion of the Cuban Missile Crisis in this film.  The 60s era that First Class is set in is recreated stylistically and believably both from the conflict between the US and the USSR and the little things like fashion and technology.

McAvoy and Fassbender begin the chess that Stewart and McKellen
enjoyed in the earlier films. (
  The only disappointment possibly is the ending.  As the climax comes to an end, the film seems to feel it has to tie up the loose ends; how each mutant chooses sides, where Prof. X's wheelchair comes into things and the founding of the Mutant Academy.  In the overall scheme of things, though, this is not a problem and X-Men: First Class is a thoroughly enjoyable film for both fans of the franchise but also anyone ready for an action packed story of identity, morality and, ultimately, friendship.