Monday, May 23, 2016

I didn't want to enjoy 'X-Men: First Class' but … (flashback review)

CCC is all about the letter "X" lately — X, as in X-Men. As in, Cary's Comics Craze is getting ready for "X-Men: Apocalypse" coming to theaters in just a couple days!

So without further ado, here's a tweaked, longer version of my 2011 review of "X-Men: First Class," which has become the first of the second "X-Men" film trilogy. …

I didn’t want to like “X-Men: First Class” — mostly because I was upset about James McAvoy being cast as Charles Xavier.

McAvoy's casting just didn't feel right. But as I say in this 2011 op-ed (written shortly after this same review!), McAvoy truly helped me change my mind, giving Xavier much more humanity and making him more personable and fallible than I'd ever expected.

Also I wasn't pleased that this supposed reboot/prequel didn’t match the continuity with the “X-Men” trilogy and that the "First Class" creators didn’t choose to actually use Xavier’s first class of mutants: Cyclops, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Beast, Iceman and Angel. It's certain that 20th Century Fox is trying to make the X-Men's cinematic chronology just as complicated as their comic-book history!

But I’ve gotta say I enjoyed myself. “First Class” is an enjoyable movie-going experience. Here’s a rundown on some of my observations on why:

Xavier and Raven grew up together. Not only does it deepen their relationship, having them grow up as brother and adopted sister shows that Xavier would be someone willing to teach someone to master their mutant abilities. After all, he’s grown up with a young woman worried about what others would think of her if they saw her in her natural blue skin. Maybe growing up with Raven inspired him to study human mutations.

McAvoy's Xavier and Jennifer Lawrence's Raven have an easy chemistry. This makes it easy to believe they've grown up as family. Xavier is the protective older brother and Raven bristles at his overprotectiveness.

Raven ultimately chooses to side with Magneto. This is no surprise, given that she's Magneto's majordomo in the original "X-Men" trilogy, but the circumstances are.

GIF courtesy of
From the first time Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) meets Raven, he sincerely encourages her to embrace her true, blue-skinned self and not hide behind it. Erik wants Raven to embrace her mutant heritage, not be ashamed of it.

This creates more tension between the revenge-driven Erik and the more accepting and peaceful Xavier, who ironically can't reconcile Raven's newfound desire to be "mutant proud."

The irony here is that as a children, once Raven reveals her true self while stealing some food from the kitchen, Xavier heartily welcomes him into this home. (Wouldn't you think Xavier's maid-dependent mother might have more than a few issues with bringing a girl off the street into their privileged home?) But as young adults, it bothers him when his sister decides to embrace her mutant looks.

Raven has been dedicated to Xavier, so when Magneto opens her mind that she's wasting a lot of her natural talent spending half of her energy and concentration to look human, it’s — I don’t know — poignant is the only word I can come up with — that she chooses to side with Magneto. That's an especially interesting choice since Raven has been on the side of angels until that time.

Raven is very likable. But then again, she's being played by Jennifer Lawrence, a down-to-earth celebrity if there ever was one! So that's also not a surprise.

Xavier has established pick-up lines with women in bars. While I understand the writers are trying to show Xavier is a different person before he became a professor, it bothered me at first he comes off as a horny cad.
GIF courtesy of All Around GIFs on Tumblr

On the other hand, it’s funny how Xavier’s “game” is using scientific babble about women’s mutations — all while trying to make it sound sexy and alluring. And just like any sister, Raven is more than happy to call her adopted brother on his crap and spoil his pick-up mojo!

We learn how Magneto gets his helmet. I like how it is tied to Sebastian Shaw, who used the government's gift to block Xavier from being able to track him through mental probes.

The Shaw/Magento helmet symbolism is ripe. By using Shaw's helmet, Magneto keeps Xavier from being able to read his thoughts, thus avoiding the chance for Xavier to be his voice of conscience. Again!

But yet, that same helmet is symbolic of the man determined to start World War III (Shaw), not unlike the chaos Magneto causes later in his life to fulfill his warped vendetta. He partially is inspired by Shaw, who manipulated young Erik to use his mutant powers through rage and anger. Magneto — who discovered his abilities during WWII — could be like Xavier and bring reconciliation between homo sapiens and homo superiors, but instead he chooses the path of war and friction.

Kevin Bacon is a slimey Sebastian Shaw. I was pleasantly surprised; I didn't think nice-guy Bacon had it in him.

Bacon really chews up some scenery, making Shaw very nasty. And he could have gone much bigger, but his pulled-back performance in fact makes Shaw that much more detestable.

Hank McCoy lets his geek-flag fly. The man later called the Beast created Cerebro, Blackbird and the X-Men’s costumes. Love it! And special kudos to the "First Class" special effects team in creating the Beast's blue fur.

Moira MacTaggert is a CIA operative. This is quite a difference from the comics, but makes it more interesting for her to be associated with Xavier — not to mention making it more plausible for Xavier to be involved with the government tracking down Shaw and his Hellfire Club. Also, since Xavier and Magneto later jump ship from their loose association with the CIA, it's not surprising government officials don't trust mutants.

The twists on Angel and Nightcrawler are an odd and unnecessary homage. Why didn’t the producers use established mutants instead of introducing little-known ones from the comics: Angel Salvador, the stripper who resembles a butterfly more than an angel (aka Tempest in the comics); Darwin and the villain who can create typhoons (Riptide) — not to mention the evil looking, red-skinned villain who teleports just like his comic-book son, Nightcrawler (Azazel)?

What a great Hugh Jackman cameo as Wolverine! It doesn’t fit too well with the “X-Men” trilogy and “First Class” continuities, but who cares? (That is until, Bryan Singer makes the chaotic X-Men universe a bit more cohesive in the far superior "X-Men: Days of Future Past.") Sadly, someone posted a link about it — with his name in the darn headline! — on Facebook before I saw “First Class.”

Equally enjoyable is Rebecca Romijn’s blink-and-you-miss-it cameo as Raven. 

Xavier’s loss of the use of his legs is tragic. I love how MacTaggert saves the day by shooting at Magneto, who of course instinctively deflects the bullets — only to have a stray one hit Xavier at the base of his spine. Tragic. Poignant … great cinema!

Raven: “Now that we’re with the CIA, we need code names.” And that line makes it all the more natural for MacTaggert, a CIA G-man, to call Xavier's students "X-Men" and the man himself "Professor X." Well played, writers, well played!

Fassbender’s Magneto is a loose cannon — big surprise there. He’s quite a bit more bloodthirsty than the comics version. However, the “First Class” version matches the intensity of Sir Ian McKellum’s portrayal in the original trilogy and the comic book version. What we learn about Erik Lehnsherr -- seeing the good man we know he can be when he's not fueled by revenge -- makes his decision that humans and mutants can't live together peacefully all the more tragic.

January Jones as Emma Frost. Hmmm. Grade: B+ January Jones in the Emma Frost lingerie: A- (Not enough trunk in the trunk for my tastes — Just sayin’!)

But let's be honest, her curves and looks are the only reason she was cast. She's a terrible actress. Again, just sayin'…

Oh — and what grade would I give the film? A solid B.

Luckily, this is the "first class" for these X-Men and the franchise producers knew the best and most interesting onscreen incarnation of the mutants is one helmed by Singer, the man who successfully brought the X-Men to the big screen the first time, 11 years earlier.

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