Friday, 24 June 2011

“We have it in us to be the better man.”

X-Men: First Class: directed by Matthew Vaughn; written by Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz
                 
I imagine that one of the reasons reboots of franchises, superhero and otherwise, are so common is because as people we’re a bit enamoured with the way it all began. We like knowing how Bruce Wayne became the dark knight, or how Clark Kent became Superman and so on and so on. X-Men: First Class takes us to the beginning of our mutants’ existence as heroes and the narrative it explores is quite simple. The cold war between Russia and the United States is at its height and amidst this already problematic environment the existence of mutants is unearthed by some CIA operatives hoping to prevent what could be the outbreak of World War III.
The first act comprises a double narrative as Erik Lensherr (soon to be Magneto) and Charles Xavier (soon to be Professor X) hone their powers on different sides of the globe. Eric is avenging his family’s death and Charles is working on his mutation thesis. The two storylines intersect when they both try to perform a hit on the big bad Kevin Bacon. One of the biggest credits of X-Men: First Class is how quickly the two hours fly. Vaughn has a strong eye for the visual and it consists one visual spectacle after another. But, what makes it potentially better than other films of its kind is his ability to dole out a visual spectacle without being unnecessarily grandiose. Less is more is about clichéd an adage as there, but Vaughn manages to make X-Men: First Class work both in the bigger and smaller action sequences.
Of course, that sort of becomes a problem because the action sequences are so extraordinary that the emotional bits functioning as bridges between seem more and more superfluous. Sure, there’s a great amount of chemistry at work – Fassbender and McAvoy are both indispensable to the film managing to forge a rapport on which the film is balanced. It’s impossible to deny that the ease with which the two coexist amounts for a significant portion of the films appeal. Vaughn realises that brilliant special effects don’t demand mediocre and thespians and James and Michael are both naturally charming enough to ensure that even if the film’s dramatic narratives are questionable we remain interested. And Kevin Bacon is a worthy adversary for both managing to make his villain extravagant without being happy. But, everything else feels a tad bit lopsided around those three. With the exception of Rose Byrne, who comes off as oddly perfunctory in her role, everyone seems credible in their roles, but it’s difficult for them to standout. I’d wager that January Jones could have been a great deal more interesting if her character seemed to be treated so uncaringly, and Oliver Platt manages to much more than you might have expected with his throwaway character.
Does X-Men: First Class have its dubious issues? Surely. For a film that’s to conceivably take place in the sixties I wish it would have used a great percentage of its budget on ensuring that its production design and costume were actually period appropriate and there’s a reverberation of complacency that seems to ring through most when Vaughn and company realise that the actors are naturally charismatic to make even the most hokey situations work. Still, ultimately a film is about more than just the sum of the parts. It’s about a complete whole that entertains, edifies or both. It’s not anything wholly new or conversant, but it’s more than entertaining.
          
B-

1 comment:

Robert said...

Great review! I actually thought Rose Byrne was really interesting in the role (though it could just be me channeling my Damages love through this movie? haha). I really liked Jennifer Lawrence as well.

(oh and I'm holding off on reading your reaction to the Tara finale because I haven't watched it yet! I promise I will soon I've just been terribly busy)