“X‑Men: First Class”

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270798/]

In a sum­mer where comics-based movies are com­ing out almost every cou­ple of weeks, its takes a lot to stand out. But could a movie build­ing on the rep­u­ta­tion of a movie series, act­ing as a pre­quel to them, com­pete with the rest of the comics movies?

Yes, I believe it does.

“X‑Men: First Class” is the sto­ry about Charles Xavier and Eric Lehn­sh­err, mutants, who would even­tu­al­ly become staunch rivals. But here, they’re allies against anoth­er mutant, Sebas­t­ian Shaw, who has a pre­vi­ous con­nec­tion with Eric. Its also about the found­ing of the X‑Men and the cause of the rival­ry between Charles and Eric. Its why Charles is wheel-chair bound and where Eric got the trade­mark met­al hel­met. Its about the first steps toward col­lect­ing mutants and train­ing them for the even­tu­al bat­tle between two philoso­phies: one where humans and mutants can co-exist, one where one must dom­i­nate the other.

And some­where in there, there’s the Cuban Mis­sile Crisis.

Eric’s life was filled with pain. Sebas­t­ian Shaw, as the head of the Hell­fire Club, is using his pow­er and influ­ence to start World War III, an atom­ic war that would dev­as­tate the Earth and engen­der more mutants (“Chil­dren of the Atom”) to be his army. Shaw, as a doc­tor in the prison camp that held Eric as a child, sought to unleash Eric’s mag­net­ic pow­ers and killed his moth­er as a way to unlock his pow­ers through rage. As an adult, Eric was on a quest for vengeance.

Charles’ life, on the oth­er hand, was filled with accom­plish­ments, even if his pick-up tech­nique left some­thing to be desired. He is approached by CIA agent Moira McTag­gart who knows that mutants exist and that they’re not on the side of the US. With her con­nec­tions he is able to locate oth­er mutants and form the basis of what would even­tu­al­ly become the X‑Men, but that’s not quite yet.

Com­men­tary: With two telepaths (Charles and Emma Frost, who was aid­ing Shaw) in the movie, there def­i­nite­ly was sev­er­al times when they used their telepa­thy, and tele­path­ic mind con­trol one or more of those times, and both do so. Emma uses her telepa­thy to con­vince a Russ­ian gen­er­al he’s enjoy­ing a romp with illu­sion­ary self, and Charles uses his telepa­thy to change a few minds and to cause amne­sia, so its hard to see who is the more manipulative.

Adden­da: I have to give the direc­tor cred­it for the unan­nounced cameo appears by Hugh Jack­man, who Xavier and Lehn­sh­err try to recruit and he tells them to get lost. (Actu­al­ly he says some­thing a lit­tle more coarse.) And it has one of my all time favorite actors, Michael Iron­side, as the com­man­der of the US inter­dic­tion fleet. How­ev­er, there was­n’t the req­ui­site cameo appear­ance of Stan Lee, nor was there any­thing shown after the final cred­its. (The final scene with Eric would have worked nice­ly for that.)

The set design also deserves cred­it: the movie, espe­cial­ly Shaw’s sub­ma­rine, looks like it came from an ear­ly Bond film. In fact, I could eas­i­ly imag­ine Goldfin­ger or Blofeld sit­ting in the con­trol room instead of Shaw.

Rec­om­men­da­tion: Yes, def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend­ed. The rela­tion­ship between Charles and Eric is what shapes the sto­ry and we get to see enough of their pasts to make their friend­ship and their rival­ry all the more believ­able: excel­lent per­for­mances by both actors here. Mys­tique and Beast also get some good char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and their rela­tion­ship is an inter­est­ing coun­ter­point to that of Charles and Eric. Plus Emma is not just eye can­dy here. Even some of new­er mem­bers of the two teams, like Angel, Ban­shee and Havok, get their chance to con­tribute to the fun. Cur­rent­ly it is get­ting very good reviews at places like IMDb and Rot­ten Toma­toes so it is like­ly to stay around a while.

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