Saturday, June 4, 2011

Despite dicey plot, 'X-Men: First Class' is spectacular fun

By Steve Crum

It is about time, and I mean past and present when referencing superhero movies. We are aware, aren’t we, that at a given time in any such film franchise, there has to be a movie about the origin of said superhero. After three movies exploring the exploits of Dr. Xavier and his avenging band of mutant heroes, now is the right moment to release a prequel, explaining how it all began...when a flame thrower was merely an ember, and a mental condition did not yet elevate mountains. X-Men: First Class fills the sci-fi bill.

After all, two years ago, Star Trek fans were finally, after decades, given the lowdown on how Kirk, Spock and McCoy began the accent from their home planets into the universe in the prequel, Star Trek. Seeing a young cast in the Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley roles, framed in a story line befitting the legends they were portraying, was extremely entertaining. Knowing direction by J. J. Abrams undoubtedly helped the picture’s success.

Now, the heretofore independent director Matthew Vaughn grabs the reigns held by Bryan Singer and Brett Ratner in the previous three movies. Vaughn handles it very well, working the young cast through a troublesome script, concocted by a four-writer team. The core of their story, in addition to depicting how the future heroes and villains evolved, centers on an actual historical event of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is always dicey at best to mix historical fact with comic book fantasy, so the final product of X-M:FC bodes not so well.

In the 1960’s, DC Comics actually featured Superman in one issue, battling the Vietcong, well, a gigantic Vietcong soldier. Setting Superman in the jungles of Vietnam, during a current war, was a mistake. For one thing, Superman was there only to take care of essentially a super villain. Once the bad guy was captured, Superman then left the war in the hands of American soldiers. Incredibly, a weak explanation was given that Superman felt he should leave the matters of war between earthlings TO earthlings. In other words, Superman could have easily ended any war, actually, and anywhere on earth. Talk about an imbalance of power!

A similar dilemma occurs in X-M:FC. I do not want to be a story spoiler, so let us say there are some huge plot holes created when mixing the navies of the USA and USSR with super-mutants. Damn the true happenings during those terrifying JFK days, and full speed ahead to entertain 2011 audiences. Surely youngsters seeing X-M:FC will not be thoroughly misinformed with this much more entertaining history redux. It is scary to contemplate.

Then again, there is the origin of Erik Lensherr, who will eventually be Magneto, the X-Men’s supreme nemesis. X-M:FC repeats his beginnings, first told in X-Men (2000), wherein the young Erik is separated from his parents as they are incarcerated at a concentration camp, and violently reacts by using his mind/magnetic power to fight his Nazi captors. That sequence is then enlarged upon in this prequel to introduce a deliciously evil Kevin Bacon as Nazi interrogator Sebastian Shaw, who wants to use Erik’s powers. Fans of superhero movies realize that there has to be a strong adversary to make the movie work. Bacon is as rotten, conniving, and darkly brilliant as they come. It is his best work in years.

Then again, without being overly analytical, anyone possessing Erik’s powers could easily have defeated the Nazis and ended WWII. But that story possibility is quickly ignored. (Yeah, yeah, Erik had yet to fully realize his awesomeness, so there is a degree of credibility here after all.)

Now young adults, mentalist Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) have yet to assume their Professor X and Magneto monikers. They are friendly mutants just beginning to develop their powers. They befriend other mutants invited to live at Xavier’s home, as a psychological retreat if nothing else. We are eventually introduced, among others, to Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique, Alex Gonzalez’s Janos Quested/Riptide, Nicholas Hoult’s Hank/Beast, and January Jones’ glassy-gorgeous Emma Frost. Unless you are a comic book freak, you will need a score card to keep track of all the heroes, villains, and changing names. (By the way, I consider myself a one-time comic book freak, having collected and traded throughout my youth--decades ago.)

Sure, the X-Men: First Class revisionist history, plot device is troublesome, but the film's digital effects provide enough spectacular action and levitation eye candy to soothe any blue Beast.
GRADE on an A to F Scale: B
Meet the younger X-Men via this trailer:

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