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Friday, June 10, 2011

X-Men: First Class (Release Date: 6-3-2011)

        Who would have thought it would be X-Men? Though many might point to the 1978 Superman movie, Bryan Singer's X-Men could be more accurately viewed as the beginning of the Superhero movie onslaught that we are currently in the middle of. Opening in 2000, the film was met with strong reviews and even stronger Box Office numbers, paving the way for the first Spider-Man movie to break every opening weekend record known to man, not to mention spawning an even more successful sequel Three years later (X2: X-Men United). Since then, we've seen the hugely profitable and largely disliked X-Men: The Last Stand, One forgettable try to reboot a popular character (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and now X-Men: First Class, an attempt to take all of the characters back to their beginnings. With Five entries, the X-Men series is only one movie shy of the most dedicated to any costumed hero (Batman has Six), and is one up on Superman, and Two up on Spidey. So we know that people will turn out for X-Men-involving movies in droves, but after Two straight clunkers, what we're not so sure of is if they should.

        X-Men: First Class begins much the same way as the first X-Men film, with young Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, being dragged around a Nazi Concentration Camp before activating his powers through pain and frustration. Cut to baby Charles Xavier, living in an enormous mansion and apparently having already harnessed his powers by the time that he meets and befriends the child version of Raven, aka Mystique. They all grow, Lahnsherr into a tormented yet devilishly charming Michael Fassbender on a revenge mission, Xavier becoming a smooth talking, mutation and lady-crazy James McAvoy, and Raven into an eager and neurotic Jennifer Lawrence. The Two men become friends, and with the help of the government, locate and assemble a handful of other mutants for the purpose of stopping One Sebastian Shaw (a gaudily and deliciously evil Kevin Bacon), a man who we, 'learn,' was almost single-handedly responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and who also happens to be in charge of a crew of mutants of his own.

        There's no denying that First Class is a better movie than either The Last Stand or Wolverine, but it's up to the individual to decide if that justifies the film's existence. Much has been made of the likeness to old James Bond movies that Director Matthew Vaughn has fashioned the film with, and while it absolutely energizes the on-goings in a mostly fun way, there are times when the visuals and stylings seem a bit confused as to what exactly they're trying to do. What's more, the screenplay, whose Four credited names would suggest a re-write or Two, is often sloppy and over-the-top, relying on quick montages to explain many more time-intensive events, and frequently leaning on unnatural dialogue. It would likely be a deal breaker if it weren't for the Two monumental performances at the film's center.

        McAvoy and Fassbender are both endlessly charming and watchable, genuinely believable as friends, geniuses, and the Two most powerful figureheads on the debate as to what the mutants ought to do next. They deliver what are probably Two of the Three finest performances dedicated to a superhero flick since The Dark Knight (can't forget Jackie Earle Haley in Watchmen), but as bold and brilliant as they are, it often feels like their casting is the only real artistic justification for creating a Fifth X-Men movie. I suppose there's some fun to be had with the integration of real-world events into the X-Men universe, but the last few X-Flicks had a bit of that as well. As a matter of fact, pretty much every flavor that First Class has to offer is One that we've already tasted. If you simply like X-Men or Superhero movies in general, there are much, much worse watches than this, and as the McAvoy and Fassbander show, the thing is not without its appeal. Much like the summer's addition to the Pirates series, it's not necessarily a bad movie, but rather a story, both visual and narrative, that I feel like I've simply seen enough times and am ready to put down. Can't wait for the sequel to the second prequel!

Grade: B-

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