X-Men: First Class (2011)

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X-Men: First Class (2011)

Post  BoG on Mon Nov 10, 2014 8:42 pm

In many ways - and in the most important ways - this X-Men film is the most impressive and accomplished of the lot.  It didn't do quite the box office business of the previous films because it had a new, untested cast; some fans of the X franchise were not compelled to seek this one out because fan favorites like Wolverine were missing (though he does show up in a cameo in one scene). There's also the timeline factor: it's a prequel which mostly takes place in 1962 and such regressions in film franchises do not do well historically. Even more, a film which takes place in the far past, even including footage of President Kennedy and an ancient political climate (The Cold War), just doesn't seem as exciting as the near future. But, the plot and structure of this film were carefully thought out and results in a very slick, smooth minor epic of a super-hero film, with a great cast of interesting characters, even if there was some forced retconning to facilitate all this (Xavier's deep friendship with Mystique since childhood).
The main hook of this one is an answer to the question many fans have had since they saw the very first film in the franchise, X-Men (2000). In that first film, it was strongly suggested that Professor Xavier and Magneto, though adversarial, had been friends in the past. This 2011 film finally reveals how that mythical friendship began and soon unraveled. Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto a.k.a. Erik (Michael Fassbender) are the two protagonists in this one, the much younger versions of the two famous mutants. We're shown glimpses of their childhood in the first act; Xavier meets the equally adolescent Mystique a.k.a. Raven. In Erik's case, we see a repeat of his first scene from X-Men (2000), in a Nazi prison camp. Only, this extends to reveal the grand villain of the story - Dr. Klaus Schmidt, later known as Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). He too is a mutant, responsible for killing Erik's mother, but also functioning as Magneto's predecessor; as the story goes on, it becomes obvious that Magneto will pattern much of his actions on Shaw in his future incarnation (as Ian McKellen), as was seen in the previous films.
The bulk of the film focuses on the two as young men, but their personal stories become entwined with the large scale events of that pivotal year - namely the Cuban Missile Crisis.  As addressed in this film, the whole crisis was actually manipulated into being by Shaw, who envisions a post-nuclear war planet of mostly mutants. But, the main impetus of the film, as indicated by the title, was to show an early version of the X-Men team, the first version. This comes about through the efforts of CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne - and also a character in The Last Stand, played by another actress and where she resembled the character in the comics).  She and a high-ranking CIA chief (Oliver Platt) start up a special division within the CIA after they become aware of such mutants, with Xavier, Erik, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) & young scientist employee Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), who was secretly a mutant until this point, as the initial members who seek out young recruits throughout the world - youngsters such as Banshee and Havok (Lucas Till). It all begins as very hopeful and even benign, as the new team, though immature, seems well geared for classic super-heroics. But, it all goes to hell abruptly when Shaw attacks their CIA facility with his murderous mutant team, effortlessly killing most of the CIA agents and one of the new team. Xavier determines that it's... time to train!
So then we have the origins of Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters - his family mansion. It's not really a school at this point, just a training ground to prepare for the inevitable battle with Shaw's team, but it lays the groundwork. This culminates with the awaited battle between the two sets of mutants, with the blockade near Cuba forming the backdrop. This also presents a familiar pattern with Magneto, who always seems to have his own agenda and can be expected to do the unexpected. The smooth aspect to this film is the presentation and development of all the characters. Even the smaller roles are well done and contribute something to the film. It's all very well balanced. Fassbender is the standout, but McAvoy, Lawrence and all the rest are also excellent. Bacon supplies the flamboyant, powerful and easily hated foe. It's not perfect - at one point Shaw mentions that mutants killing each other is a no-no, but he has no problem suddenly killing one of the young mutants at the CIA facility, on a whim. Though this lessens his character, making him 2-dimensional for that moment, most of the film is quite intelligent and adult for such fare.  BoG's Score: 8 out of 10
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