Movie Preview: X-Men First Class

By Michael Vass | May 29, 2011

Hollywood is nothing if not consistent. A hit movie, or series, will spawn ever more sequels and prequels. Which is not necessarilly a bad thing, but a fan of one movie must be willing to ignore certain things for all the subsequent movies. This is never more true than when Hollywood makes a comic ook inspired movie or pre/sequel.

X-Men: First Class is a prequel to the entire movie series. It reintroduces several old characters, as well as more fully discussing characters only glimpsed at in other X movies (the X-Men series and/or the horrible Wolverine film). The goal is to give a bit of background on how the fight among mutants started, and what motivates the leaders (who are friends) of each faction.

We meet:

  • Beast (Hank McCoy, before his final change into the blue furred version seen in X-Men: ) – who is mostly true to his comic origin
  • Emma Frost – a somewhat retconned version of the comic book character, and altered from the version in Wolverine. She is supposed to be a powerful telepath, but now she is a woman that can turn her skin to diamond hardness. See Helfire Club.
  • Havoc – Massive retcon (revisioning) for this character. He is supposed to be the younger brother of Cyclops, he is now the older. He is supposed to be able to use his power omni-directionally, but now must use a machine to channel his power.
  • Banshee – somewhat the same as the comic book origin of the character, though younger (more appealing to target audiences). The big difference is the removal of his Irish origin, because he is not an American.
  • Mystique – Massive retcon, though the changes are more in line with the history established in prior movies.

    Of course Professor X and Magneto are featured. By the way, showing Xavier being able to walk is not a retcon.

    We are also introduced in this film to an organization that has a long history in the X-Men universe, the Hellfire Club. The members of this highly exclusive club are wealthy and successful bussiness men and women (often aided by their mutant abilities) whose rank is known by their chess piece designation (ie Sebastian Shaw is the Black King, Emma Frost is the White Queen). Again this is mostly accurate, though the ages of everyone is wrong, their powers are all somewhat altered, and the nature of the meeting between Xavier, Magneto, and the Hellfire Club is a complete revisioning of what has been established in the canon.

    Given this background and the differences, can even hardcore fans enjoy this movie? Mostly yes.

    While there are wild inconsistencies in this and all the movies – such as the fact that Xavier and Magneto are supposed to be about the same age, fought together in the 67 war, and thus around 65 -70 in modern day yet in this film are at least 10 years younger than they should be. Also Emma Frost was 15 in the Wolverine film, now she is a woman of 25 – 35. Anyyway, if you don’t pay attention to details the story is intriguing.

    Aside from plot holes and errors about characters, the acting may be the most important part of the film. The special effects may say actor X can do whatever, but if the acting is bad you will never believe it. Thankfully we can see that for the most part the acytors in this film play into their roles. You can believe that they believe the abilities they have.

    Magneto is played very woodenly by Michael Fassbender. Far to rigid and not nearly as confidently as one might expect for a character with an ego as large as it is. Conversely though, James McAvoy does an excellent job of being a optimistic, supportive teacher/guide that defines Xavier. Often it is the acting of McAvoy that helps to sell scenes that aren’t quite to par.

    Kevin Bacon, who has been a bit unseen of late in films, pops up as Sebastian Shaw. His portrayal is right on the edge of going over the top, yet he doesn’t quite go over. It’s an interesting balancing act as he is pompous and charismatic at the same time. It makes for a unique version of the character.

    January Jones, as Emma Frost, is more bland than anything else.

    But the real stand out of the film appears to be Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. She gives the retconned character a touch of purity and sweetness, yet has the hard-edge of the character. She brings to life the guarded, mistrustful, and yet wishing to be accepted quality that is the character.

    Of course there is the obligatory and mostly useless Black/Hispanic charcter of Darwin, played by Edi Gathegi, who does as much as can be expected with a role that is of a tertiary character that is only on screen to show that the film is PC compliant.

    The special effcects will be the big sell of this film though. Younger audiences are coming just to see the flashes and dazzle, maybe a bit of the romance, as they imagine themselves as one or more of the characters. The special effects will live up to expectations, and the standads of the entire series.

    What else might you want to know about this film? everything else will be on par with what you expect for a summer film. You will be enbtertained. It will be worth the time, if not a bit silly. If you don’t think about it, it will make sense and you will look forward to the sequel, that is inevitiable.

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