Sunday, June 05, 2011

Best Summer Superhero Movie Yet

For a movie that was made within six months, X-Men: First Class surprisingly exceeded my expectations. Maybe it was the lack of marketing, or the fact that when they did market the movie, it seemed as though they passed the job on to amateur, failing design school students (take a look at them here). Either way, it left my expectations for the movie really low. That was probably the biggest reason why the quality of the movie shocked me (in a very positive way).

The Good

Considering that the film was initially planned to be "X-Men Origins: Magneto", much akin to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (watching it was like forcing myself to eat a packet of already-cold fries - soggy, unsavory and ultimately disappointing), it stayed true to its original idea with a strong focus on Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto and his relationship with Charles Xavier/Professor X. The Hellfire Club also finally gets its long awaited exposure to the mainstream crowd, though the choice of characters that made up the club (as well as some of the ones in the X-Men) was questionable, but more on that later.

I think it was genius of the writers to tie the film's storyline with true historical events. What if mutants were realy involved with the Cold War? Imagine that! The 1960s setting also allowed the actors to be decked in stunning, colorful 60s fashion, which is a nice change from the black leather costumes (BORING) that everybody donned in the first trilogy.

Michael Fassbender made the portrayal of Magneto his own with a strategic balance of irascibility and delicacy, a sharp contrast to Sir Ian McKellan's hard and jaded depiction in the original trilogy. James McAvoy's Charles Xavier is equally commendable for the combination of youthful charm with a wizened disposition. The two of them created truly memorable versions of the classic duo, and showed that superhero movies could have a softer side (never have I seen two grown men cry so much on screen). Aside from the two leads, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult as Sebastian Shaw/Black King, Raven Darkhölme/Mystique and Hank McCoy/Beast respectively, gave stellar performances.

Kudos to the producers for putting so many easter eggs in the movie! [SPOILERS: YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ AHEAD IF YOU'RE A FANBOY/FANGIRL AND HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE YET. JUST SAYING. BUT I KNOW MOST OF YOU WILL READ IT ANYWAY SO... MEH. HIGHLIGHT THE BLACK SPACE BELOW TO TO SEE IT.] I had several fanboy moments gasping at the reference to Lockheed (Kitty Pryde's pet dragon) when Moira was staking out in the car outside the Hellfire Club, the appearance of William Stryker (as one of the heads at the CIA lololol wtf), the blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of little Ororo Munroe during the Cerebro sequence, the surprise cameo of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (in a Japanese bar, perhaps a reference to the next Wolverine movie?) who provided the best single use of the f-bomb allowed for PG-13 movies, and an even more surprising cameo by Rebecca Romjin (the fan-favorite Mystique from the original movies).

The Blah

For a movie that gave us great male leads, it severely fell short in that aspect for the female actresses. Rose Byrne had three main expressions as Moira MacTaggert: shock, anger, disbelief. Also, WHY WAS MOIRA MACTAGGERT PORTRAYED AS AN AMERICAN? She was one of the few Scottish characters in the comics that really stood out and made an impact in the X-verse (even in her most recent appearance as one of the multiple personalities of Legion - refer to Age of X).

However, that wasn't the worst decision made about the movie. The worst idea was casting January Jones as Emma Frost. After the horrifying association of Emma Frost with Silverfox (as the latter's sister) in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the producers decided to f*ck with the character even more by giving Jones the leeway to ruin the classic White Queen with her bad acting. Yes, Emma Frost may be a big-tittied blonde in the comics, but she is also the HBIC of all HBICs. She's one of the most manipulative characters in Marvel history and has risen to such high prominence in the past decade that any other depiction would be a giant slap in the faces of everyone who has read any X-Men comic in recent years. And what a slap in the face January Jones was. Aside from her ditzy, dumb-blonde speaking style (which is completely uncharacteristic of the Emma Frost all fanboys know and love), Jones was completely one dimensional in her acting. All she gave was pretty while delivering her lines monotonously with a blank stare. Even Barbie from Toy Story 3 was more believable, AND SHE WAS CGI. If there is to be a sequel to First Class, they'd better get another actress who can give more than just cleavage and mug.

As a huge fan of the comics, I felt that some of the other characters could have been chosen more carefully. The inclusion of Azazel and Riptide in the Hellfire Club was baffling; it felt like they were there for the sake of their skill sets (yay, more special effects!), namely teleportation and whirlwind manipulation. Azazel's introduction to the comics in 2003 was widely panned while Riptide has only been fodder. Angel Salvatore and Darwin didn't do anything for the movie either. Again, they were most probably chosen because of the characters' potential for the excessive usage of special effects.


Other than the minor problems presented by certain character portrayals, the movie was generally very satisfying with a strong focus on Erik and Charles' relationship while introducing lesser known characters to the mainstream, non-comic book reading folks. Comic book fans will be satisfied with the various easter eggs littered throughout the movie while everybody else will enjoy the story and the new perspective it provides to some of the better-known characters.

I dare say that this is the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight. The studio was confident enough in the X-Men brand to not shoot the movie in 3D (like most blockbuster movies since the 3D craze), so you won't be facing the choice of "should I spend/waste another $3 on top of the already incredulous price tag for a movie ticket". Go ahead and watch the film. I guarantee you won't regret it.

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