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Published on June 2nd, 2011 | by simeon


X-Men: First Class

When the “X-Men:The Last Stand” failed to score big with critics and audiences in 2006, many fans began to wonder if they would ever see their favorite mutant superhero team on screen anytime soon. Despite mixed reviews, 2009’s standalone film “Wolverine“, did sufficient box office numbers to warrant a sequel which is currently in development, indicating that the likely future of the series was with standalone character films.

Then 20th Century Fox decided to tell a team-based origin story that focuses on the early days of the X-Men and how they became the team that they are today. This is a bit of a controversial move as it involves recasting several roles to play younger versions of beloved characters.

The result is X-Men: First Class which stars Scottish actor James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, a brilliant young academic who hides his unique and amazing telepathic gifts from the world. When a chance encounter proves to Charles that there are others in the world who share his gifts he dedicates his studies to unlocking the mysteries of genetic mutations and their possibilities.

At the same time a young man named Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), has embarked on a path of destruction and revenge against those who wronged and tormented him and his family during the Nazi occupation of their native Poland. Eric’s main target is man who now calls himself Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who has surrounded himself with a team of skilled mutants and is manipulating US and Russia to the brink of nuclear war, for his own evil purposes.

When CIA Agent MacTaggart (Rose Byrne), learns of Shaw’s plans, she recruits Xavier, not knowing that he and his friend Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) are mutants themselves, with the hopes of understanding their new enemy and mounting a proper defense.

When the truth of his true nature is revealed, Charles teems with MacTaggart and scientist Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), to locate and recruit other gifted individuals to their cause. Fate steps in when Erik and Charles meet and eventually become friends over there mutual pursuit of Shaw. Despite a great deal of understanding between the two individuals, Eric is intent upon killing Shaw. He warns his new friend not to trust humans, as his time under Nazi control taught him that it’s only a matter of time until he and his fellow mutants are targeted for extinction by the world. Despite this the Eric and Charles recruit and train a team to prepare to face Shaw and his followers, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

The film starts off well and it was very enjoyable to see a deeper side of the characters. From young Charles hitting on women in bars and making jokes about losing his full head of hair to the deadly side of Eric and his abilities as well as the early relationship between the iconic characters. Somewhere along the way the film loses its initial momentum as the plot of the film takes a while to get going. As good as the cast is, they need something to do and after numerous debates and a few training and recruitment segments the film became somewhat boring. There simply was not a lot of action to sustain the plot.

Kevin Bacon was an interesting choice for the villain. He did a good job, although watching him strut around I kept expecting him to break into dance at any moment. Another issue I had was that some of the supporting characters were basically throwaway as I cared little about their stories and outcomes. Only the characters of Raven, Eric, and Charles held any real interest for me and watching their interplay with one another was one of the strong points of the film.

As the film move toward the finale there were several things about it that did not work for me starting with the makeup for The Beast. Complete with spectacles it was almost a laughable look that brought to mind Jason Bateman in “Teen Wolf 2“. The fact that the character was annoying as well did very little to help.

The biggest issue I had with the film was that after all this buildup the finale was actually very ho-hum and while it did contain some visually nice moments, I do not feel the action balanced with the storytelling, certainly not to the extent that audiences expect from nor require of a summer blockbuster.

There are a couple of moments in the film that will certainly be questioned by fans of the series as well as scenes which conflict with information from the earlier films in the series. It seems certain elements of continuity have been omitted for creative license. I will not spoil those here but suffice it to say that if my wife, who is a casual fan of the series, was able to note conflicts and discrepancies between this film and a previous film, then certainly hard-core fans may have some real issues.

The film does a good job with explaining the origin and nature of the characters, but fails to provide an adventure worthy of the effort and instead plays out in a very underwhelming fashion. Director Matthew Vaughn proved himself highly adept with adventure films when he produced “Kick Ass“, and other action-oriented films. He is clearly a fan of comics and action and I would love to have seen what could’ve resulted had he been given carte blanche with the film.

In the end, “X-Men: First Class“, for me was more entertaining than the previous ensemble films, but fails to live up to its potential and severely lacks enough action to sustain the early momentum of the film.

3 stars out of 5

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