Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Mutant Fan And Proud!

It’s been eleven years since the first X-Men film, and therefore eleven years since the last decent one was seen on the big screen. Thankfully, First Class gives a breath of fresh air to a franchise that has seriously deteriorated since the start.

First Class is a prequel set in 1962 telling us the story of the origins of the X-Men, back when Charles Xavier (still with hair and the ability to walk!) was a charming post-graduate from Oxford and Erik Lehnsherr was a Bond-esque assassin intent on getting revenge on the man who killed his mother and experimented on him as a child in a concentration camp. They meet and discover what at first appears to be a kindred spirit in one another, becoming fast friends and uncovering a common enemy in the psychopathic and sadistic Sebastian Shaw, the man Erik had been seeking all his adult life. Gathering a group of young mutants, they set out with the government to stop Shaw and his Hellfire Club from starting World War Three during the Cuban Missile Crisis and killing pretty much every human alive in the process.

Firstly, it has to be said that the acting in this film is unmatched in any of the previous films. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan were Charles and Erik until James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender came along and made them look awful by comparison. McAvoy is incredible as the young Charles who makes the most of his telepathy to seduce women, going through life being quite smug about his ability. He is far cry from the asexual, consistently serious and borderline dull Charles we know from the first three films; in this he is much more fun to start off with, and then we begin to see McAvoy portray his serious side whilst remaining charming and interesting at the same time. McAvoy’s performance makes me laugh, admire, and even cry at one point (really, I did. You’ll understand when you see it, I won’t ruin anything), and I honestly didn’t believe that I could respect him as an actor more than I already did, but I certainly do after seeing this.

Fassbender also is excellent, playing the tortured soul, both physically and mentally, hellbent on seeking revenge on Shaw. He brings a vulnerability to Erik not seen in previous films, as he is still adjusting and developing his power and we see the real torment of his childhood only hinted at in the original film. Like McAvoy, Fassbender portrays Erik in an entirely different way to what we have already seen, not the calm but sinister Magneto in the original series but an angry man just determined to get revenge on those who hurt him as a child. He also, however, brings traces of the later series to his performance as the film progresses; towards the end, we can see some of the mindset that Magneto has in the first films, rather than just the personal vendetta that occupies his character for most of the film.

The other successful performance in this is the one by Kevin Bacon, because you absolutely hate his character, Shaw, from the very start. From experimenting on a young child prisoner to influencing the government to start a war with Russia, he is incredibly sinister from the outset, with no reasoning other that to ensure that only the more worthy mutants exist on earth. However, he completely steals every scene he is in by exuding such calm power over other characters.

Not a lot can be said for anyone else really. Other characters aren’t really that developed, which I suppose is a flaw in the film, though with strong rumours aplenty circulating about another two prequel-sequels after this then I am not too worried about this. I stated in a previous post that I was unsure about the female casting in the film, and this opinion didn’t really change a lot. However, despite what some critics are saying, I thought that January Jones was quite good as the cool Emma Frost/White Queen, the perfect sidekick I thought for Bacon’s Shaw. I actually look forward to seeing more of her in the next films. Jennifer Lawrence and Rose Byrne still failed to impress though. Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique just seemed moody and jealous of Charles’ relationships with others, and any romantic interest in Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy/Beast completely disintegrates relatively quickly. Her one line that appears to be becoming a catchphrase (which I do not approve of) "Mutant and Proud" (see the blog title!) even gets annoying after a while because of the fact it's overused so much. The way she ended the film also annoyed me, but again I won’t ruin it by saying why – all I will say is that the audience won’t relate to her as a character and her motives aren’t really explained, which is frustrating at the end. Byrne, playing the only human main character, Moira McTaggart, seemed to spend most of the time being in awe of the mutants she is working with, and her romantic interest in Charles seems very unnecessary in the film. I know fans of the franchise would be disappointed that she is not Scottish as she is portrayed in the comic books and will miss that international aspect, but that really isn’t important when she isn’t really necessary in the film except for establishing a link between the mutants and the government. With so many other bigger characters in the mutants, she seems to be overshadowed and doesn’t really have a lot to do.

Other performances were acceptable. Nicholas Hoult, playing Beast, was very sweet, up until he completely insulted Raven, and then the audience kind of lose a bit of respect for him. However, his acting throughout is very good, and up until he makes that faux pas, we do feel quite sorry for him, being the one who is picked on all the time for his mutation. The other mutants, like I said, weren’t really explored very much and so there was quite limited screen time for them to prove themselves as worthy characters to the audience. However, most of what I saw I did like. Lucas Till’s Alex Summers/Havok and Caleb Landry-Jones’ Sean Cassidy/Banshee look like they could have a bromance going on in the next films, and their screen time together in certain scenes during the climactic battle are quite good – they seem to have good chemistry going on there.

The cameos in the film have to be applauded. Though they only last for a couple of seconds each, fans of the series will get a kick out of seeing them. Hugh Jackman’s seven seconds on screen was better acted than I have seen in the first four films of the series, and it genuinely made me laugh. He is also the first person to drop the F-bomb in the series, which was also amusing. Rebecca Romaijn also appears briefly, as Mystique tries to seduce Erik and, after being rejected for being too young, shape-shifts into her older self. No, their appearances didn’t bring anything to the story and their sole purpose was to give fans a kick, but they were definitely still worth having in there. The only thing I missed was Stan Lee’s signature cameo as some random member of the public, which we didn’t get this time and was therefore a little disappointing.

I honestly can’t write this review without mentioning the accents of the characters. It seemed like more than half of them were using a different accent to their normal one, which I didn’t mind for the most part – I doubt I would have even picked up on them if I didn’t already know about them. McAvoy did his posh British accent wonderfully, and Hoult was actually quite impressive in his American role. However, I have to comment on Michael Fassbender. He started off so well, quite convincing as a… European, I guess. I don’t really know what accent he’s meant to have, but Ian McKellan uses a British one despite Erik’s German origins, so we’ll go with that. However, it seemed that two-thirds of the way through he just gave up on trying to maintain it, which I really don’t understand. Surely they didn’t film it in chronological order, so I don’t understand why it appears on some days he could do an accent well, and on others he just casually reverted back to his natural Irish accent. Even in the trailers you can hear it, which I’m sure they would have wanted to avoid. What I also don’t understand is how no-one in the whole production seemed to notice and correct him. I have to say though, that instead of being annoying or distracting, it was actually rather amusing, as it seemed to come out during important, serious scenes. And actually, it was rather distracting, but it was thoroughly entertaining, so he is forgiven. Saying all that, I have to credit him for his multilingual skills – he speaks fluently in German and French several times – which he showed off during the film.

The special effects and action sequences are to be applauded too. There is some pretty impressive stuff, from Erik pulling a submarine from the ocean using his powers and Mystique changing her appearance regularly to Emma Frost transforming into diamond form and Azazel (a member of the Hellfire Club who happens to be red. And an alien, so therefore not really a mutant) teleporting rapidly whilst killing soldiers. The climactic battle is very well done, though with everyone fighting each other – it does get a little confusing, with mutants against humans, humans against mutants and mutants against mutants… - it’s a little too chaotic. One of the very few things that actually really got on my nerves though, was Beast after he changes into Beast form. With all the special effects which are very convincing, I couldn’t understand why Nicholas Hoult looked like he was wearing a child’s rubber Halloween mask and costume. It was thoroughly disappointing, and you would think that with all the money they put into special effects in this film they would be able to improve it a little, but no. I didn’t think I’d have to say this, but in this respect The Last Stand actually beats this, insofar as Kelsey Grammer’s Beast was a lot more realistic.

Basically, to sum up, despite it’s teeny tiny flaws, the film is brilliant, and it’s absolutely refreshing to see an X-Men film that is actually worth watching, repeatedly. The new cast and director (Matthew Vaughn, Stardust, Kick-Ass) are exactly what the franchise needed to pick itself up after the shambles of The Last Stand and the hideous Wolverine prequel. This earns my first five star review.