Monday, June 13, 2011

Movie with Abe: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Released June 3, 2011

Rebooting superhero franchises, it seems, is all the rage these days. Two years ago, the world of “Star Trek” was redefined with young actors playing all the parts and a return to the beginning of the story. Batman and Superman both got jump-started again several years ago, and a new “Spider-Man” is coming up soon, as all of the other Marvel characters also get their own origin stories as the “Avengers” film looms ever closer. This new take on the X-Men throws away most of what filmgoers – and certainly fans of the original comic book series – know about the team of mutant heroes.

Starting fresh is paramount in “X-Men: First Class,” as the team of young misfits consists of entirely different members than were seen in the first movie version from 2000. It’s a bold, risky effort, and it doesn’t entirely pay off. While a return to the 1960s and an exploration of the friendship between a hair-sporting, walking Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr does read truer to the actual 1963 comic book debut, little about the other characters is familiar. Instead of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, and Angel, a not-yet-blue Beast is joined by Angel Salvadore (Tempest in the comic books – not just a female version of Warren Worthington), Darwin, Mystique, Banshee, and Havok. Those first two, as well as one of the major villains, didn’t even appear in the comic series until this past decade, and the others definitely weren’t around when the team was founded.

Like “Star Trek,” this film imagines a universe not too different from the one fans might be familiar with, changing just a few small events and relationships, keeping the broader picture the same. Yet building towards a recognizable ending with different blocks can feel disjointed, and that’s the case here. There are far too many references to Xavier’s eventual baldness, and plenty of other in-jokes – only a few of them truly clever – referencing what those who have seen the other films know to be true. This can’t be considered much of a departure if those involved are only half willing to break free.

Aside from those expectations set for this specific set of characters, the film doesn’t stand up entirely on its own. There are several moments of exciting action, but they come far too infrequently. The film’s brightest moments come when its young heroes learn and practice how to harness their abilities, evolving from innocent teenagers into mature and powerful adults. The rest of the time, however, these super-powered kids simply stand around and watch as others around them fall, helpless to do anything about it. Ideally, casting two of the most talented international actors of this generation as the leads is a smart idea, but James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, good as they usually are, can’t hold a candle to Shakespearean actors like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. In terms of both the actors and the film, the idea is the same: it can only be so satisfying to ride a bike with training wheels once you’ve experienced the real thing.


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