Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - X-Men: First Class

Directed by: Matthew Vaughan

Produced by: Gregory Goodman
Simon Kinberg
Lauren Shuler Donner
Bryan Singer

Screenplay by: Ashley Edward Miller
Zack Stentz
Jane Goldman
Matthew Vaughan

Story by: Sheldon Turner
Bryan Singer

Based on: Characters by
Stan Lee
Jack Kirby
Chris Claremont

Starring: James McAvoy
Michael Fassbender
Rose Byrne
January Jones
Jennifer Lawrence
Oliver Platt
Kevin Bacon

Music by: Henry Jackson

Cinematography by: John Mathieson

Editing by: Eddie Hamilton
Lee Smith

Studio: Marvel Entertainment
Dune Entertainment
Bad Hat Harry Productions
Donners' Company

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): June 1, 2011 (United Kingdom)
June 3, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 132 minutes

Country: United States
United Kingdom

Budget: $140-$160 million

Gross revenue: $289, 378, 043

Updates once again on the movie watching front! I have now seen Green Lantern and Bad Teacher, with reviews for both coming in soon. Also, on another note, I have been a fan of Laurel and Hardy for many years, but honestly, they make most of the so-called 'comedians' of today look horrible. I re-watched A Chump At Oxford last night: I haven't laughed this much at any of the comedies I have seen all year. Take note young comics, these guys could tell you a thing or two about how to make people laugh. No doubt Way Out West tonight will be as much fun!

The movie up for analysis today is X-Men: First Class. To be frank, it does suffer from the problem of 'is there any need to make this film?' After all, we already have X-Men, X2 (both of which I bought together for £4) and X-Men: The Last Strand as a trilogy, plus X-Men Origins: Wolverine as a stand-alone film. The idea of making a prequel to set up something already established seems superfluous. However, despite not caring for Layer Cake, after last year's Kick-Ass, I was enthused about Matthew Vaughan's switch from superhero parody/tribute to legitimate superhero franchise. In this film, set around the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and foster-sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), are drafted by the CIA on the basis of their knowledge of mutants to install nuclear missiles in Turkey. The man behind this plot is Sebastian Shaw, formerly known as 'Dr. Schmidt' (Kevin Bacon), who conducted cruel experiments in a German concentration camp in Poland on a young man named Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), who seeks revenge on Shaw. Xavier, seeing the power of Lensherr, drafts him in to help bring down their mutual enemy.

To start off with the goods, the X-Men series has always been known for having a good cast, and this film is no exception. James McAvoy plays a rather charming, intelligent, if occasionally rash young Charles Xavier. In a part that could have been very much the boring lead that ends up being dwarfed by his supporting cast, McAvoy makes us believe legitimately in this character and his playing it. Although having perhaps not as hard a job to do as McAvoy, Michael Fassbender is also great as Lensherr. His chameleonic abilities are displayed his skill as an actor to use dialogue (and languages) to throw as many powerful punches as any bullet in an action scene. The single-minded revenge plot and gradually unravelling future leader is a fascinating watch. Jennifer Lawrence, who got saddled with an unfortunately small part in The Beaver, gets a great role to play in Raven. This character has always been of a smaller proportion in the big picture, so it is nice to get Raven a good arc and an actress who is primed and ready to play it to the best of her abilities. Finally on the acting front, Kevin Bacon is wonderful as ever playing Sebastian Shaw/Dr. Schmidt. He makes a potentially boring villain a pleasure to watch. There are other good aspects about X-Men: First Class excepting the acting. Director Matthew Vaughan really has come into his own with this picture. His personal stamp is clearly all over First Class, and could be seen as a companion piece to Kick-Ass. He steps up his A-game and handles a difficult project with finesse and a love for the material. I personally feel that this is his best work yet and that only greater things will come. First Class has some excellent production design which is of worthy note. Some of the set's in the film, such as The War Room, which I gather is a reference to Dr. Strangelove, are magnificent and a pleasure to behold. Jane Goldman's contributions to the script inject a sense of personality and humour to what could be cold proceedings. Despite dark topic matter, it is at heart a warm film.

X-Men: First Class is a very fine film, however, to argue that it is a flawless film would be an out-and-out lie. Fundamentally, the X-Men as a franchise has always had problems in balancing out it's characters onscreen. As film is a medium which inevitably has more editing by default than a multi-decade long comic-book source material, there is a lot of stuff that ends up for the chop. As such, some of the characters in this film, particularly Shaw's cronies, some of the young mutants that Xavier finds and the CIA agents end up coming across as two-dimensional filler and not fully-fleshed characters. This is the type of film in which these characters are not well written have performances which correspond to this quality, or lack thereof. As a result, too many characters are involved in the film, move in and out of the plot and it ends up becoming, for lack of a better word, a bit of a clusterfuck.

Despite these problems, annoying as they are, X-Men: First Class is a great movie, the first I have come across in 2011. It may have too many characters, pretty messy and performances which correspond with the weaker characters, but it is the best origin story/stand-alone superhero film (excepting Hellboy II: The Golden Army) to emerge in the post-Batman Begins era of superhero films. It is handled well, efficiently and admirably by Matthew Vaughan. I have already mentioned a Dr. Strangelove reference, but the opening scene in the concentration camp is a shot-for-shot remake of the opening scene in Bryan Singer's X-Men, showing a real love and respect for those who came before him. McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Bacon give some great performances, and Jane Goldman's contributions give the script a real sense of personality. This is a very fine film and deserves to be seen more than some of the shoddier summer far we have on offer.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pleased (I am about to watch Way Out West after all!)

P.S. Great to see Bill Milner, Michael Ironside and a certain fantastic cameo appearance

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