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X-Men: First Class

July 23, 2011

I think the best way to discuss X-Men: First Class is to talk about it in the context of “super hero movies.” One reason is that the super hero genre has become so prominent recently, that it really is time to separate it from the larger genre of “action” or “fantasy.” A greater reason, though – at least in my opinion – is that most super hero movies have certain tropes that are intrinsic to the genre and have to be dealt with in that context. For example, super hero movies are going to have origin stories. There’s really no getting around it. The problem is, many origin stories have similar elements and start to feel too familiar after a while. In the context of movies in general, this is a negative mark against super hero movies (and a reason why so few end up on my personal best rankings), but it really isn’t fair – they almost always have to be there. This also goes for the “bad guy” element. Every super hero has an enemy, and even when a film presents us with an interesting bad guy, it can still seem like a re-tread. Let’s face it, the super hero and the villain need to be larger than life, and whether it’s through supernatural powers or personality, it’s a common theme.

With this in mind, I feel X-Men: First Class is one of the better super hero films. On a scale of 1 – 10, with Spider-man 2 being a 10 and, oh, Ghost Rider being a 1, X-Men: First Class is probably an 8 or a 9. Again, there were a few things in the movie that bored me – such as the scene where some of the X-Men are showing each other their powers and coming up with their names, but these things have to be in there and must be forgiven to a certain degree. Where this movie rises above most others, though, is in its character development. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto may be the most interesting super hero character in years – at least since the first two installments of Peter Parker/ Spider-man. Certainly a lot of the credit goes to Fassbender, who is an excellent actor and brought his usual intensity to the role. I first saw him in the film Hunger and have been a big fan of his ever since. I also really enjoyed James McAvoy’s Professor X. The fact that there are two great actors with proven dramatic chops in the two lead roles is what sets this film above the others. Well, that, and the fact that the director, Matthew Vaughn, chose to make their relationship the center of the story. In fact, had there been less of the other mutants and more of the leads, this would have been a great movie period. This is a super-hero movie, though, and you had to have the others in the story, so it’s understandable.

A few other elements that make this a great “super hero” movie: Kevin Bacon as the villain. Did he steal the show? No, but he was as steady and sure as he always is (good grief, give this guy an Oscar already!). Also, huge credit goes to whoever choreographed the fight sequences. Attention other super hero movies! Take notice! This is how you film fight scenes! I knew exactly what was happening in every sequence, understood why it was happening, and never got lost in fancy camera-work, obnoxious CGI, or the lazy close-ups and quick cuts that seem to appear in every super hero film nowadays. Finally, I loved the score/soundtrack. It was period appropriate and it was fun – especially the montage scenes, which are usually pretty boring, but are common in super hero movies.

Speaking of period appropriate, I’m sure another X-Men movie is inevitable. If they’re smart, they’ll leave it in, or around, this time period. It’s different and it works. There’s plenty of material to play with, especially given the subtext that drives the X-Men universe. Can’t you imagine an X-Men movie set around the Civil Rights Movement? Or perhaps a story line that involves the beginning of the Vietnam War? The possibilities are endless. Regardless, though, this is a really good movie in general and a great “super hero” movie. Here’s hoping that the trend continues.

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