Film review: X-Men: First Class (2011), directed by Matthew Vaughn
Not being a comic book geek by any means, the world of X-Men and the likes have passed me by rather well. And then I married one. We went to see X-Men 3: The Last Stand at the cinema, but I still haven’t seen the first two. We also saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a bunch of other based-on-a-comic films that haven’t been reviewed because I didn’t blog at the time (except for Iron Man 2, which I just never got around to write about), and now the X-Men prequel.
Knowing absolutely nothing about the origins of any of the characters (okay, aside from Wolverine), I had no idea Magneto, or Erik Lehnsherr as his real name is (Michael Fassbender), started out as a Jewish boy in a concentration camp. Now there’s an opening that will stay with you for quite some time. He is being taken from his mother upon arrival and manages to bend the iron gates with his mind. He’s taken to a creepy doctor (Kevin Bacon) who wants him to move a coin.
Meanwhile in a big castle/mansion type place somewhere in the US (?), young and privileged Brit Charles Xavier comes across a strange, blue girl trying to raid his fridge: a young Raven (Mystique as she’ll later be known), whom he tells she never has to steal food ever again. Finally, he’s found someone like him, another person with special gifts.
Roll on a number of years; we’re now in the early 1960s. Erik is a grown man, whose skills have been honed by years of training with the doctor, but he’s now looking for revenge. Charles (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) are at university in Oxford, passing themselves off as brother and sister. Charles has presented a thesis on genetic mutation and the CIA are in need of an expert – agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) saw some very peculiar things when she tried infiltrating a casino, and no one is willing to believe her … no one except Charles Xavier, that is.
Having proved to the suits at CIA that there is such a thing as genetic mutation, the two mutants and their new-found friend Moira come across Erik, then go to a research facility and eventually end up tracking down a bunch of other mutants to join their special team. In the real world, the the Cold War is raging. Could this have something to do with some bad-guy mutants, or is it totally unconnected? Well, gee, take a wild stab at a guess.
I’m not going to go into the details of everything, because that would spoil the movie too much. I like how they’ve taken actual historical events and fitted them into the mutant universe. There is also talk about being who you really are and not be worried about what others think about your appearance, and about how these mutations are perfectly normal and the next step in evolution. Interesting, gives you plenty of things to think about.
It won’t be a spoiler to say that Erik turns to the Dark Side, because if you’ve seen any of the X-Men movies, you already know that Magneto is the big baddie and Professor X (Charles Xavier, that is) is his goodie counterpart. You’ll also be aware of the mutant training academy thingy, which is founded in this movie.
A couple of actors not mentioned above are Oliver Platt, who plays “Man in Black Suit”, a CIA guy, and Nicholas Hoult, who plays Hank McCoy, better known as Beast. I quite like Oliver Platt, for some reason, even though he’s played a fair share of bastards. Still, I suppose he was quite dashing in The Three Musketeers, and it’s sort of stuck with me. I thought I recognised Hank, and I wasn’t surprised when he turned out to be Beast (the big, hairy, blue smartypants). Not until I came home and looked him up, I realised that I had heard him being interviewed on the radio a few days before, where it was mentioned he was in Skins (not the latest series, which is the only one I’ve seen) and About A Boy (which is a very good film that I have seen). Nice to see him all grown up!
Still, when it comes to grown-ups, Michael Fassbender wins. A man, not a boy. I don’t know what the age difference between him and James McAvoy is, but McAvoy definitely looks more boyish. Can’t wait for Jane Eyre to be released so I can see Fassbender as Rochester, because it seems it could be quite hot! What I found less hot, though, was Rose Byrne in her underwear. She’s a stunningly gorgeous woman (I loved her in My Mother Frank and that Australian teen TV show that’s not listed on her IMDb profile for some reason), but in her underwear, all I could think of was “OMG, someone needs to feed that poor, starving woman!” because her ribs were sticking out. “Size zero” is not an ideal, it’s sick.
People have said this movie is a bit like a classical James Bond, you know, the old ones. It’s set in the 1960s and everything, which I found myself forgetting quite often. Not sure why. Maybe because it felt more modern retro than genuinely 1960s? The biggest “are you from the past?” moments were they were watching TV. The funniest thing was when they were watching TV in the submarine – because you can read the title of the books on the right hand side of it, and it’s a set of Nordisk Familjebok (Nordic Family Book, an old encyclopaedia … from Sweden). Why on earth would this be on that particular submarine?! Beats me, but I found it hilarious, nonetheless.
Trying to reach some sort of conclusion of this review, it’s a good film. It hasn’t blown me away, and in parts I thought it was a bit slow, but it was very enjoyable. Perhaps more so if you like this genre of movie, but I think it works even if you haven’t seen X-Men before. It was made even more enjoyable because the last of the previews before it started was for Captain America, and seeing AND hearing Richard Armitage on a big cinema screen made me temporarily forget the headache I had carried around all day.
In fact, when we were walking back to the car, the Squeeze said, “So the reason you want to see Captain America is because Guy of Gisborne’s in it?” My response was simply, “Duuuh?!” Can’t believe it’s taken him this long to figure that one out. Not as if I’m a comic book nerd who can’t wait to see a drawing come to life. With comic book movies, I’m afraid I’m terribly shallow. Captain America has Richard Armitage, X-Men Origins: Wolverine has Hugh Jackman, Iron Man has Robert Downey Jr., and X-Men: First Class has Michael Fassbender. That’s good enough for me. Pointed out, in a faint hope that it would make him more enthusiastic when I drag him to see Jane Eyre in September, that Magneto is playing Mr. Rochester. I think I’m more chirpy about that fact than he is. Such is life.
4 out of 5 nuclear wars.