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Remember when the “X-Men” franchise dished out a good flick? For my money it went wrong after “X2”, and it’s been trying to recapture something long lost ever since.
I imagine that’s the preconceived notion at work with “X-Men: First Class”, the origin story of the mutant superhero team. Yet director, Matthew Vaughn, crafts a superhero film the genre is capable of with intellectual depth and narrative complexity. It’s not of the same high praise as “The Dark Knight”, but it’s close, and it definitely serves as an exciting kickstart to a new series.
For the avid “X-Men” fan, “First Class” is a chronological disaster. It’s the 1960s and the Cuban Missile Crisis is upon us. It’s set around 40 years before the events of the original franchise, and don’t get me started on the placement of “Wolverine” in this timeline mess.
Vaughn largely discards continuity in an attempt to take the franchise back to its roots: a metaphorical story about racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism set during a nationally disjointed time.
Of course the political aspect is overshadowed by the sci-fi glamour of a world where mutants exist, but the subtext is still biting.
This is the beginning for Magneto and Professor X, back when Magneto, who learned how to control metal, and Professor X to read people’s minds. Magneto or Erik Lehnsherr is played by (Michael Fassbender), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy).
Through CIA agent Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), Erik and Charles stumble upon each other and create an elite team of mutants to take on the Hellfire Club, led by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who’s a rather energetic (literally) fellow.
The fun of the “X-Men” franchise is the large amount of super-powered characters to pull from, and “First Class” doesn’t disappoint.
January Jones (Betty in “Mad Men”) takes on the role of Emma Frost, or the White Queen, a sexy telepath who can create a diamond exterior.
Fresh off her Best Actress nomination for “Winter’s Bone”, Jennifer Lawrence replaces Rebecca Romjin as a Raven, eventually known as the shapeshifting temptress, Mystique (far less sexualized here).
Nicholas Hoult proved his acting chops on the BBC show, “Skins”, and he takes on Beast, that furry blue dude from “The Last Stand” (wonderfully played by Kelsey Grammer).
Along for the ride, we also meet Cyclops’ older brother, Alex Summers/Havock (Lucas Hill), Armando Muñoz/Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) and Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), who has quite the falsetto.
Remember the blue devil, Nightcrawler, with his teleportation skills in “X2”?
Well, meet Azazel (Jason Flemyng), the red devil with the skills and tail to match (in the comics, Mystique and he are actually Nightcrawler’s parents…see the family resemblance?), but with twice the enjoyment of killing.
Lastly we’ve got Riptide (Álex González), who knows how to have a good time with a tornado or two and doesn’t say much.
Sure, the number of characters might appear overwhelming, but events unfold organically. Each character gets an appropriate amount of screen time, while the film favors Charles, Erik, Sebastian and Raven. In short, the film doesn’t pull a “Wolverine” here.
I must say though, that by the end, everything feels like a tease, and I’m definitely anxious for more. If they don’t do another film with this stellar cast, disappointment will become the only appropriate response.
This is the most comic book-esque “X-Men” film in the franchise. Rather than taming the sensational costumes of the characters, we’ve got superheroes running around in yellow and blue outfits and villains reminiscent of James Bond flicks.
If they keep this up, we might just get back to what was once fantastic about these characters.
Sadly, it’ll probably take more than this film to regain public trust in a storyline that went from awe to blah so quickly.
Vaughn isn’t new to the superhero genre – he was originally attached to “X-Men: The Last Stand”.
I’m convinced he would’ve made both projects far more successful if he brought the same level of commitment, the strong action sequences, character development and delving into the comic book world.
“X-Men: First Class” is the restart of something great. Just as “Fast Five” proved that a sequel (or prequel in this case) can finally click after four previous attempts, these characters have new life.
It might not make as much money as “Pirates” and other mediocre endeavors, but this is the diamond in the blockbuster rough of summer.
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