Friday, July 1, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Unless Harry Potter is in the title, by the time a movie franchise reaches its 5th installment, it is as stale as last week’s bread.  Fortunately the X-Men movies have provided a great way to stay fresh.  The first two movies were pretty darn good, even for those of us that didn’t read the comics.  The third film wasn’t as good but it wasn’t terrible.  As this film wrapped up some storylines and characters, it looked as if that was going to be the last of the series.  Luckily, Twentieth Century Fox decides to do some prequels.  They produced a couple of films focusing on the back stories of some of our favorite characters.  First, Wolverine’s history was detailed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and it was followed up by this latest offering, X-Men: First Class.

First Class gives a look at the beginnings of the arch-enemies, Magneto and Charles Xavier.  The story starts by introducing us to the youthful leading characters during World War II.  After this brief prelude, we jump right into the thick of things and into the early 1960’s.  With the back drop of internationally tense Cuban Missile Crisis, we see how these two go from friends to stalwarts on opposite philosophical sides.  The plot moves along quickly and the action is brisk.  It was very satisfying in the fact that First Class was very thorough and detailed in filling in holes and doling out information about the lead characters and their histories.

Many other favorites are included in the storyline, including Mystic and Beast.  These and other characters are introduced and Director Matthew Vaughn shows us how opposing sides were chosen.  Did you know Charles Xavier and Mystic were childhood friends?  I didn’t and it was a great little twist for me. 

In a surprising cast move, Kevin Bacon portrays the villain, Sebastian Shaw, and he does so with enthusiasm.  Shaw is most definitely evil and villainous but Bacon is almost gleeful in the role, obviously enjoying being an unequivocal bad guy.  Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) is subtle but gripping as Mystic.  I am becoming a fan of Lawrence’s.   The versatile James McAvoy is Xavier and the little known Michael Fassbender is Magneto.  Fassbender may not be known by many but with 8 more projects in some stage of production,  he should be more recognizable very soon.  I found no fault in the casting and they performed admirably.

Just like the first four movies in this series, I enjoyed First Class immensely.  The movie earns its PG-13 rating and it has a couple of disturbing scenes but they are not graphic.  Most older pre-teen kids should be all right watching this film.  The X-Men franchise shows that sequels can be good if enough care is shown.   I only hope there are at least a couple more in the Hollywood pipeline because after 5 films in 11 years, the X-Men series is still surprisingly fresh.

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