Welcome back readers of Robbins Realm Blog. I apologize that there hasn’t been any new material for the past several weeks; I was away. During my travels I managed to catch one new film which is the subject of this week’s blog and that was the movie X-Men: First Class, which is currently playing in theaters nationwide.
It’s an ensemble action movie directed and co-written by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) which despite its opening weekend gross of approximately $55,000,000, the lowest of any of the movies in the X-Men franchise, in this blogger’s opinion, it is the best in the series. First Class is first rate thanks to spot on directing, a cast that delivered with great ease and nearly flawless execution, and a well thought out script written in part, as previously mentioned, by director Vaughn along with Jane Goldman, Ashley Miller, and Zack Stentz. Stylistically, the movie is a departure from others in the series which were darker in tone, parallel to that of the blockbuster film The Dark Knight from the Batman franchise. In this installment, Vaughn opted to visualize his X-Men universe with a brighter palette. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t contain violence. While it is true that hardly a drop of blood is shed, there is violence, so parents should be cautioned.
The film harkens back to the 1960’s to the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which thanks to some creative re-writing that unabashedly plays with historical accuracy, the X-men and their adversaries were prominently involved in the outcome of the crisis.
One of the things the film focuses on is to chronicle the first meeting between Eric Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier. Moviegoers familiar with the previous films in the series, or fans of the comic books that the movies are based on, know that these two mutant powerhouses will evolve into Magneto and Professor X, respectively.
James McAvoy (Wanted) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) are taking on roles previously acted by Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring), two veteran actors of stage and screen. Taking on the challenge of playing a role, in this case roles, made iconic by other actors is a daunting task, especially when an actor or actress is asked to bring to life the character’s younger self. It is not, however, altogether impossible, as Oscar winning actor Robert DeNiro proved with his incomparable performance of the younger version of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II.
Separately both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were great, but their shared scenes are simply cinematic gold. The natural rapport the two have onscreen excellently conveys the brotherly relationship the characters once shared in the comics.
Another important aspect about having younger versions of the characters of Xavier and Magneto is that they are able to take part in a great deal more of the physical action, whereas in previous films their characters were relegated to much more cerebral activities. It comes in handy in this particular entry into the series because Kevin Bacon’s character of Sebastian Shaw, a Nazi at the start of the film, who later becomes a global terrorist, is more of a threat by himself than the entire collective team of the X-Men. Unlike the deep emotional and psychological wounds that Fassbender’s character is living with, which I will get to in a second, there is no confliction on the part of Bacon’s character of Shaw…he’s evil incarnate.
Fassbender’s character of Lehnsherr is a tragic figure to say the least; having watched his parents herded into a concentration camp like cattle at the beginning of the film, and subsequently forced to watch his mother shot in front of his eyes at the hands of the soulless Nazi played by Bacon. Not only does Fassbender’s character, Eric Lehnsherr, see his mother murdered in cold blood, but he is then forced to work for the individuals responsible or risk certain death himself. While an unrelenting desire for justifiable revenge could have no doubt turned Fassbender’s role into a one-note character, there’s a great deal more simmering under the surface as he not only deals with his past, but learns that there are others like him in the world.
Alongside the two leads are a cast of actors and actresses delivering very solid performances. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) plays the shape shifting Mystique. As Mystique, we watch Lawrence battle with ideas of image and how her own negative self-image keeps her from getting close to anyone, with the exception of Xavier, who regards her more as a sister even though she desires more of a romantic relationship. Mystique, known earlier in the film as Raven, meets Xavier while she is, of all things, breaking into his parents’ sprawling mansion. Raven is homeless and scrounging for food in the refrigerator when a child version of Xavier discovers her, even though she cleverly shifts into looking like Xavier’s mother, he sees through it, and she reveals her true self to him. The two, develop a close kinship from that moment on, and Raven is adopted into Xavier’s family. In addition, other notable cast members include January Jones (Mad Men) in an icy turn as the villainous Emma Frost and Nicholas Hoult (Clash of the Titans) as the beast with brains, aptly called Beast.
Leaving aside the action that takes place in the film, which was plentiful, in X-Men: First Class Matthew Vaughn didn’t just succeed at bringing X-Men’s former glory back to the series; he exceeded all expectations to create the best in the series. It is a film which is highly engrossing in terms of its entertainment value, but at the same time very compelling, due to the portrayal of relatable human behavior that is being showcased by characters who in the strictest sense are not humans, even though they might look to be based upon their outward appearance.
In this blogger’s opinion, the primary reason the film succeeds is because the special effects that are shown throughout the movie are not the central concern. The film attempts to deal, and successfully does deal, with the mutants coming to grips with what their role in the world truly is. Bacon’s character of Shaw is under the assumption that humans and mutants cannot coexist harmoniously (a philosophy shared by Magneto in other series’ installments) and since his special power is the ability to absorb energy, he attempts to bring about nuclear war between the worlds two greatest super-powers. It is a war that will kill unthinkable numbers of human beings, but at the same time, when it is all over, it will allow Shaw to rise up to be the supreme ruler of what is left. The screenwriters are to be commended for using the Cuban Missile Crisis as a backdrop because it presents a parallel that shines a light on what are sadly the vast difficulties that sometimes come into play when it comes to the implementation of coexistence among groups of disparate people.
I highly recommend this film not just for the lovers of comic books, superhero films, and those who crave escapism on a grand scale, but for those of you who enjoy their cinema a lot more when it centers on a poignant plot that reaches the zenith level of effectiveness.