Monday, 23 March 2015

X-Men: First Class (2011)

The one problem that instantly popped out at me when this movie came about was the fact that it seemed way too soon after the original trilogy and 'Origins' for something that almost felt like a reboot. Yes it was a prequel to everything that had come before but with a new cast line up it all seemed like a new vision and game plan for the future, especially after 'Last Stand' and 'Origins' had disappointed. Was that it for the older cast members? were we destined for teenage X-Men movies? it did feel like a big risk at the time, I'm still surprised it worked out to be honest.

As I'm sure anyone can guess the plot revolves round the early days of both Magneto and Xavier and the creation of the brotherhood of mutants, the X-Men. We see how various characters meet, choose their names and eventually join forces against an evil mutant called Sebastian Shaw who wants to kick start world war III so mutant kind can ascend as the dominant race. So once again its the same spiel accept instead of Magneto trying his luck its Shaw with his little band of naughty spawns. Of course this being a prequel its all set way back in the 60's which plays heavily on the fear factor of a normal vanilla society against people that are viewed as different (spot the semi-hidden meaning).

The era of the movie does help greatly as it adds a fresh new flavour to the proceedings, a kind of old fashioned James Bond vibe. This is pretty evident in the way the main villain Shaw seems to be this smooth talking well dressed wealthy rogue that has his own luxurious submarine, oh and he has a sexy female and two freaky male henchmen in tow (Oddjob eat your heart out). But its the 60's setting that obviously gives that classic Connery Bond vibe and to be honest I think its being created well. Have to point out that the fact this submarine can receive a perfect black and white TV transmission seems pretty laughable, remember its the 60's. Hell TV reception was pretty crappy when I was a kid in the 80's!

Whilst it does make the characters look cheesy the costumes, general hair styles/facial hair and set designs are period perfect with plenty of detail. The later yellow outfits worn by the team are actually a decent retro hybrid of the classic comics and this movie adaptation, they work nicely giving a hint of the traditional colours and style fused with a more modern approach. That modern approach of course being the 1960's so quite a tricky little task but they pulled it off well.

On the whole the effects here are solid but still a tad rough around the edges, there is just something about these X-Men flicks that never looks  quite right. Everything looks a lot better than the previous movies sure but it doesn't look genuinely authentic, the X-Men's Blackbird jet looks obviously CGI and the entire action sequence at the end looks obviously CGI throughout. Everything still has that fake plastic look about it whilst the X-Men power effects range from semi-decent (some Magneto tricks) to down right tacky looking (all the young X-Men jiggery-pokery). Same could be said for the makeup and prosthetic work on characters, while some look proper and believable (the more regular looking characters), others do look kinda stupid. I love Azazel as a character but on film he just looks like an iffy makeup job (bit like Nightcrawler did), Beast is also a bit questionable but at least he still has animalistic qualities, Angel was just a crap CGI job and nothing more but I was impressed with Darwin's special touches and his death scene actually (why couldn't he adapt to whatever Shaw feeds him?).

In truth its the younger cast members that let the movie down at times, its sounds corny and cliched but the whole thing does have this Harry Potter-esque feel to it. Expected of course, I mean its a prequel, a prequel of the young X-Men so duh! but I just didn't really like the younger characters, I didn't in the previous movies. Bacon, Fassbender and McAvoy all add a much needed element of class to the film which is sorely lacking from the younger cast. These three main actors save the film with solid straight stoic performances which are believable, the various other character actors and teen stars just seem lost on their own, hence why one of the big stars is usually not far away.

Whilst the movie is a fun time I do have issues as it concluded, the side swapping bugged me. Why does Magneto suddenly decide to go against Xavier at the end? why does Mystique go with Magneto when she clearly loves Beast? why did Angel go with Shaw and betray her friends? and why at the end does almost everyone just go off with Magneto dumping Xavier? At the start when a very young Xavier discovers a very young Mystique in his home, he tells her she can live with him...but he's just a child, did his parents allow that? I also have to ask why Shaw wanted to start a world war when he and his mutant buddies can easily kill humans. Azazel killed a entire base full of armed soldiers single-handedly without getting tired sooooo...why don't they just carry on doing that? Kill all important leaders etc...sure its more work but I get the impression they would enjoy it, meh I guess its quicker with big bombs.

The first half hour is solid stuff with good character building, especially with Lehnsherr/Magneto, and there's a nice little recruitment montage with a neat cameo, always a winning move. The real key to this multilayered plot has to be the real emotion involved and the real interwoven era history which was well handled. Whilst Shaw is just a typical ice cool bad guy we get some proper emotion from Magneto and his crusade for revenge along with some real mutant struggles with Beast and Mystique. Sure we've had this type of thing before but this time it felt a lot more serious, less like an action extravaganza and more adult.

Considering what came before the outlook wasn't great for this...but Vaughn pulled it off. This isn't just some silly summer blockbuster laden with special effects and explosions to fuel the chocolate coated, popcorn stuffed, sugar rush of prepubescent kids. This movie actually has a lot of heart combined with some excellent action that hasn't just been tossed on the screen randomly. The movie is pretty much grounded in reality, the characters are mutants with powers but at the same time they are still vulnerable, still a degree. In short this isn't a simple merchandise machine for toys and this certainly isn't a kids movie, its an actual proper film...with superhero characters. Just don't expect this film to blend in seamlessly with the original trilogy and 'Origins' because the discontinuity from different directors is clear.