X-MEN: First Class--A review
X-Men: First Class (3 Stars out of 5)
The prequel to the X-Men saga comes to the screen
In a previous X-Men film, we met a character who couldn't be stopped once he got some momentum going. The same thing seems to apply to the franchise. After eleven years and five films, the saga of those heroic mutants is still going strong, despite a few clunkers in the series. This latest installment is a prequel, taking us back to the early days of the super team's telepathic founder Charles Xavier and his magnetic friend Eric Lensher, before they become Professor X and Magneto. X-Men:First Class is not as good as the first two entries X-Men and X2: X-Men United, but it's far better than X-3: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Undoubtably, the best thing about X-Men: First Class is the casting of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Xavier and Eric. The characters were played by a pair of heavyweight talents in the previous films in the form Patrick Stewart (as Xavier) and Ian McKellen (Eric). McAvoy and Fassbender step effortlessly into these younger versions of the mutant activists, making the parts their own. McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement, the Last King of Scotland) is noble and nurturing as the brilliant and fatherly young scholar, who becomes the world's foremost expert on mutant genetics. Fassbender (The 300, Inglorious Basterds) is wonderfully intense as the tormented, enigmatic Eric. They have a great on-screen chemistry together. This film wouldn't be half as good without their presence.
The film opens with a re-shot version of the same scene that started the first X-Men film, where young Eric and his parents are in the WW2 concentration camp and Eric first reveals his powers. (A similar technique was used in the Superman franchise when a re-shot version of the opening scene of Superman: the Movie was used to begin Superman 2.) Eric becomes the lab-rat of a cruel scientist named Schmidt, who is later revealed to be an in-the-closet mutant named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw wants to form an army of mutants with young Eric as his first recruit. Meanwhile, little Charles Xavier, heir to a wealthy family fortune, befriends a shape-shifting, homeless thief named Raven, who will one day become Mystique (Played in the previous films by Rebecca Romijin-Stamos).
Cut to the swinging 60s (Which is when writer Stan Lee and Artist Jack Kirby first created the "X-Men" comic books, using mutants as a metaphor for the political unrest of the day) Where Xavier (McAvoy) is graduating with his PHD to become a Professor of Genetics, still accompanied by Raven (Now played by Jennifer Lawrence). Elsewhere, Eric (Fassbender) is grimly hunting down his former Nazi torturers, especially Shaw, who he hates most. Unbeknownst to Eric, Shaw has become the leader of the influential Hellfire Club, an elite group of rich mutants who use money and political influence to manipulate world events. Shaw's fellow club members include telepathic Emma Frost AKA "the White Queen" (January Jones), Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), and teleporter Azazel (Jason Flemming) who looks like a red version of Nightcrawler from X2.
Shaw is also being sought by the CIA because they know he is having dealings with the Soviets. Nipping at Shaw's heels is fledgling CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) who can't get her superiors to believe that the members of the Hellfire Club have super-powers. Their answer to her is that "girls don't belong in the CIA". McTaggart instead seeks help from Xavier, who is interested to learn what this secret mutant society is up to. With the aid of a mysterious government Man-In-Black (Oliver Platt), a mutant scientist named Hank "the Beast" McCoy (Played here by Nicholas Hoult. The character was played by Kelsey Grammer in X3) and Raven, they go hunting for Shaw. They run into Eric en route, who is immersed in his own personal vendetta. Eric joins the group, becoming good friends with Charles Xavier. Together they gather a young team of new mutants to help them in their task. The rookies include Sean "Banshee" Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones), Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Alex "Havoc" Summers (Lucas Till) and Angel--not the one from X3--who has butterfly wings. (Played by Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet). Shaw's shady deal with soviet agents leads directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis, bringing the world to the edge of nuclear Armageddon.
The comic book versions of Xavier and Eric were created to symbolize the divide in the civil rights struggle represented by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the 60s. The mutants represent persecuted minorities. The films have subtly used the fictitious mutants as a metaphor for the experience of homosexuals. Xavier talks about the mutants hiding their true nature in shame and fear. At one point, the outed McCoy says "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell". (As in "Don't ask, don't tell".) In a previous X-Men film, the mother of one of the mutants asks her son "Have you tried not being a mutant?" This film, as well as X3, touches upon the subject of whether mutants should be cured of their natural tendencies, which is similar to the debate in certain circles regarding whether homosexuals can be "cured".
There are enough fight scenes here to keep action-lovers satisfied. The effects are well done, such as when Eric lifts a submarine out of the ocean with his magnetism. The plot isn't exceptionally clever but it nicely works the Cuban Missile Crisis into the X-Men history. Comic book fans will have fun noting all the numerous X-characters who pop-up in the film, for a long or short period.
This is the first X-Men film not to star Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, (Except for a very brief cameo) and it's for the better, since Xavier and Eric have much more potential as protagonists than the over-rated Wolverine does. McAvoy and Fassbender are the heart and soul of this film and they make up for whatever shortcomings the script has. They gel so well together, you can easily imagine the two stars being teamed again on another project. They lift an otherwise average action film to a more artful level due to their performances.
I've added an old review for X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
X-MEN Origins: Wolverine. Given the enormous popularity of the 'X-Men' film franchise, its not a surprise that we have characters from that franchise getting their own spin-offs. Its also not a surprise that Wolverine, the (sort of) main character of the X-Films, (Played once again by Hugh Jackman) as well as the most popular character in the comics, would be the first to star in his own film. What is a surprise, however, is how bad this film is.
The popularity of Wolverine in the comics and in film is, quite frankly, a mystery. He is really a rather shallow character who sneers, spouts unfunny jokes and calls people 'Bub'. He seems neither witty nor wise yet fans seems to love his reckless nature and his 'I-don't-give-a-damn' attitude. He has an array of interesting powers, including heightened senses, metal claws and, best of all, the power to heal from any injury, no matter how severe. This last power makes Wolverine quite formidable, since he's basically impossible to kill, but this brings up the question of why the audience should get so invested in his battles. He can't be hurt. Whatever the reason, fans do seem to love the guy. And Hugh Jackson, an actor who can be quite good in the proper role, seems to be working on auto pilot here, playing Wolverine for the fourth time.
As you might guess from the title, the film gives us the lowdown on Wolverine's pre-amnesia, pre-X-Men life. He is born with the name Logan, we're told, in 1840 in the Canadian North West (Regardless of the fact that there was no Canada until 1867) and had a brother named Victor, who shares his unique gift. After leaving home, the brothers share a series of adventures, quickly growing up into Hugh Jackman and Liev Schrieber. (Strangely, they stop aging when they reach that point.) They fight together in the Civil War, although we never know what vested interest they have in it, except that they love a good fight.
Cut to the Vietnam War when Logan and Victor are part of a special unit commanded by the devious Stryker (Danny Houston) who wants to create an ultimate mutant, with the powers of all the others combined. (Brian Cox played an older version of Stryker in the second X-Men film.) Logan quits, sick of the violence and distrusting of Stryker, but we know it won't be that easy.
Logan settles down to a quiet life with his girl Kayla (Lynn Collins) but Victor--now called Sabertooth--comes looking for Wolverine and won't take 'No' for an answer, even if that means innocent casualties. Logan and Victor fight it out but Logan loses.
Soon, a vengeful Logan volunteers for the experiment that lines his bones with the indestructible element Adamantium. He goes hunting for Victor, along with his new ally Remy LeBeau (the popular character Gambit from the comics). They encounter the mammoth Fred Dukes, AKA the Blob, (Kevin Durrand in fat prosthetics) on the way. This all leads to the big finale with super mutant Wade (Ryan Reynolds) and the series of events that lead to Wolverine's amnesia.
Schreiber has the best role as the savage Saber-tooth, although his version of the character seems nothing like the earlier Tyler Mane interpretation from the first 'X-Men'. There's a big cast and lots of action, and Hugh Jackman is a serviceable action hero, but 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' comes across as just a series of barely related scenarios, designed to give our cast of super powered mutants a chance to fight it out and cause carnage. This film could have been so much better.