Michael Moran has been to see X-Men: First Class and is going to tell you all what he thought of it:
The Cold War seems to be pretty hot right now. There are excited mutterings around Hollywood of an Atom Age Fantastic Four reboot. Meanwhile Call Of Duty:Black Ops is introducing that period to the videogame audience better than a historian ever could. Television watchers can get in on the era of the snappy suit and sexy frock too. And not just with Mad Men; rumour has it there’s an early Sixties prequel to Dynasty in the works.
It’s groovy. Check it out.
Most importantly for us though, Fox’s ‘timely’ reboot of the X-Men series revolves around the most dangerous month in Mankind’s history, October 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis.
You don’t go to the movies for a history lesson though. And you don’t necessarily read movie reviews for plot spoilers. With a film as densely plotted as X-Men:First Class it’s difficult to say much without revealing the odd key story element so I’ll just say this before going on. It’s a very good film. There is none of that “we need an action beat before minute 5” nonsense. The movie builds slowly but pleasingly to a long sustained action climax. Plus there are some laughs. See it.
There was talk a little while back of a standalone Magneto film as well as an X-Men prequel. First Class is, I think, both of those films. We get a longer more detailed look at the Auschwitz scene from the first X-Men movie. We get a good look at how that trauma shapes Magneto’s life. We also see the formation of Professor X’s first mutant team.
I’ve read that this movie is part of the continuity of the Bryan Singer films. Despite the presence of Bryan Singer’s name among the writing credits I don’t think that’s quite the case. The team that forms over the course of this film is neither the Wein/Claremont-influenced group from the Singer movies nor a faithful rendition of the original X-men from the comics.
Not that that matters much. Comic book continuity is a pretty elastic thing.
In this movie we get Angel, sure, but not Warren Worthington. Instead it’s Angel Salvadore (AKA Tempest) who gets the air cover role. There’s no Cyclops, and instead we get Havok. He is Scott Summers’s brother in the funnybooks, but clearly the relationship has been flipped for the purposes of this movie. Beast is around too, although rather than in action scenes it’s as the X-Men’s resident scientific genius that he really shines. As a mutant he’s the very embodiment of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”.
The powerhouse of the team, and the powerhouse of the movie, is Magneto. His physical journey takes him across the world as a sort of superpowered Simon Wiesenthal. His emotional arc is the most interesting aspect of the film, rivalled only by Mystique’s parallel journey.
Michael Fassbender looks great in the role too – variously James Bond, Don Draper and of course the helmeted mutant extremist we know and love. There’s a great backstory for the helmet by the way. That’s one of a dozen great little touches that prefigure events and personalities in the wider X-Men story.
Genre favourite Michael Ironside’s around for all of five minutes. I’d imagine him to be a little too big for the part he’s in: Sequel material?
James McAvoy is good as Professor Xavier, but the script doesn’t give him too much to work with. Unlike his magnetic counterpart, Xavier’s character and outlook are virtually unchanged by the tumultuous events portrayed in the film. He does unexpectedly turn out to be something of a ladies’ man though.
Rose Byrne plays a character called Moira MacTaggert: she doesn’t have much in common with the comics character of the same name, but it’s an interesting, fun part and she pulls it off like a cashmere sweater. Smooth and lovable.
Kevin Bacon is the movie’s primary antagonist. He doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time but whenever he’s around, he’s never more than six degrees away from devilishly brilliant.
The casts’s other big highlight is January Jones. Playing a villainous Emma Frost as part of Kevin Bacon’s Hellfire Club she gets to wear all the best clothes. She’s a hell of a lot sexier than her slightly brittle persona in Mad Men might suggest. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to speculate that she may well figure substantially in any X-Men: Sophomore Year movie.
Period superhero movies are pretty rare. Sure, Captain America’s just around the corner but apart from him, The Rocketeer and Doc Savage there really aren’t many. Unless you want to bring up League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and frankly Alan Moore would prefer it if you didn’t.
In fact the only period superhero flick in recent memory is Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. Watchmen looked luscious and was rammed, in fact some might say over-egged, with antique props and wardrobe.
By contrast the look of X-Men First Class is pretty, but pretty subtle stuff. The designer did have a bit of fun with The Hellfire Club. I kept expecting Woody Allen to wander through shot. There’s a brilliant Strangelove-era War Room and the interior of Sebastian Shaw’s submarine is delicious.
Most importantly though we do get to see the original and best Blackbird. And the first incarnation of Cerebro. If you’re the kind of comic book fan who actually remembers that Silver Age stuff the first time around there’s a lot to enjoy. It’s just not as ‘in your face’ as Watchmen.
If you have fond memories of the Richard Donner Superman films there’s a kryptonian memory-wipe smooch to look forward to as well.
All in , First Class is a damn fine superhero movie. More geared, I would suggest, to the more mature fanboy as opposed to some of the aspartame-crazed comic book capers that tend to pop up on the boxes of Happy Meals.
I think he’s trying to make us feel old.
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