Originally Reviewed – 7/26/2011
Even been asked, “Sooo…what’s your story?”
It’s a hard question, isn’t it.
Where do you start? What do you include? More interestingly, what do you omit? Some may think to start at the very beginning but then the story goes on forever, boring the listener to tears. Maybe you include just the important details, the events that impacted you most directly but you then run the risk of sounding like a blowhard, never betraying the missteps that also shaped your psyche. Everything from personal triumphs to momentary setbacks to the minutia that makes us, “us”, all of our stories are much more complex then we realize.
Now imagine answering that same question to a theatre full of five hundred people. Some in attendance have never heard of you, some know bits and pieces of your tale, and some have been following your story your entire life. Who do you target? Your long time followers have their own interpretation of your life, bringing a head full of demands as to what you should include. Do you cater to fan service? What about those who know a bit about you and simply need you to fill in the blanks while staying true to what they know. And let’s not forget the newbies who need everything re-explained, much to the chagrin of the veterans of your story. How do you satisfy that entire theatre? How do you keep everybody happy.
That is the primary challenge facing director Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass) in the origins story / franchise reboot X-Men: First Class and while the movie has some issues with character development, plot structure and pacing, the end result is a satisfying first chapter in the long running superhero story.
Right off the bat, this review has to assume you, the reader, are a member of the X-Men newbie club, so forgive me if I’m reluctant to give away what most people already know. X-Men: First Class is essentially a tale of two friends, one by the name of Charles Xavier, a professor of mutation with telepathic powers (James McAvoy) and the other a Holocaust survivor with the ability to manipulate metal, played by Michael Fassbender. These two unlikely friends, in conjunction with a team young mutants and a special division of the CIA, look to take down the nefarious Dr. Schmitt (Kevin Bacon), an energy absorbing mutant whose end game is to take the Cold War to a whole new level. Much like Captain America, X-Men: First Class is based in revisionist history and while the new take on events like the Cuban Missile Crisis works as a device to push the story, I couldn’t help but laugh at the generous leaps the film takes to make it all work. The plot is contrived, silly and fairly ridiculous but luckily it knows it, doing its best to stay out of the way.
Luckily, like I said at the outset, this is really a film about the relationship between McAvoy and Fassbender and in that respect, the two leads do a great job. McAvoy plays the part with a surprising amount of charm mixed with the empathy comic fans expect from the long standing character. Despite his mutation, Dr Xavier has a strong sense of the human condition and wants nothing more than to co-exist with the dominant species, a drive that is portrayed perfectly by McAvoy. Fassbender, on the other hand, brilliantly balances his desire for revenge with his burgeoning friendship with Xavier. Both McAvoy and Fassbender are fine actors and it’s good to see them in a high profile role that allows them to really get entrenched in some quality characters.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Kevin Bacon is fine as the evil doctor but the rest of the young mutants play the parts to type. In this film, we get introduced to many of the classic characters, but rather than examining each story, the film does it all montage style, convenient for time purposes but bad for character development. As a result, these kids, while well acted by the youngsters involved, never rise above their powers, creating characters that are a little difficult to connect with. Luckily, Vaughn, who I thought did a relatively poor job with Kick Ass, directs with a confidence and focus that I haven’t seen in his previous work. While there are characters that just exist for the sake of the action and scenes that look as though half got left on the cutting room floor, Vaughn does the best he can with the script he was given. Although I can’t help but think a more seasoned director could have given the movie a more even flow, Vaughn does an admirable job with the sheer amount of material presented.
X-Men: First Class is an enjoyable yet uneven ride that is complimented with fine action, entertaining set pieces and two great performances by the leads. Fassbender and McAvoy both have chops to spare and propel the film past the breakneck pacing, giving the audience something interesting to latch onto. As I mentioned earlier, films of this type are innately difficult, especially given the popularity of the source material. While it could be easy to nitpick the ludicrous story, critique the scenes that end unexpectedly and laugh at the awfulness of the Beast costume (seriously, what the heck was that), the goal of the film was to cement the relationship between the stars of the franchise and tell us how the team got together. To that end, X-Men: First Class is a genuine success, even if it ends up being the ultimate compromise: when you attempt to please everybody, nobody is fully satisfied. An easy film to pick apart but a hard one to provide any insight on how it could have been better, X-Men: First Class is am enjoyable introduction to the world of mutants and men.
Score – 70%