Monday, June 06, 2011

And Then There Were the Mutants

The X-Men are a particular breed of superhero.

As we know from three previous, non-origins X movies, the likes of Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine & Co. are tremendous and especially tortured folk because they are, in fact, special.

Their powers or abilities, actually (I don’t know...that just kinda sounds better) are noteworthy because they aren’t the result of intergalactic provenance or a chance encounter with a extraordinary specimen.

No, their abilities are the result of evolution – of, yep, biology – and their struggle to achieve acceptance among regular humans is quite mighty.

With the historically revisionist X-Men: First Class, directed with panache by Layer Cake and Kick-Ass helmer Matthew Vaughn, we get to see how Professor X and Magneto first met each other, and thus, exactly when and where and how their struggle got its start.

The movie has a retro-cool thing going on that’s pretty irresistible, as is its cast led by James McAvoy, who plays a young, slightly arrogant Charles Xavier, and the fantastic Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre), who’s becoming a leading man right before out eyes. The latter plays the role of revenge-minded Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. the young Holocaust survivor who turns into Magneto.

Kevin Bacon and January Jones co-star, as the villainous Sebastian Shaw and the icy Emma Frost, as do Jennifer Lawrence (as young Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (as young Beast), and Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids), as a company woman (read into that one, folks) who’s very much on the mutants’ side, among others.

The movie, a prequel/reboot hybrid of the first order, is set at the very height of the Cold War (there’s a prologue of sorts that further illuminates a character’s pain-stricken past).

Plot-wise, it sees our mutant friends (some of whom will eventually splinter off and become formidable foes) acting as allies to the United States as they play a key role in the Cuban missile crisis, aiding to avert nuclear disaster. It is a clever device that serves its purpose nicely, for it adds a layer of urgency to the movie that another more outlandish one may not have otherwise provided, y’ know what I mean.

As a whole, the movie grabs and keeps the audience’s interest.

It looks pretty nifty and it’s well acted.

The weakest link, by far, is Jones, who reaches into subzero levels of coldness to play her part, which in turns renders her completely inaccessible (girl, warm your shtick up).

Thank goodness for McAvoy, Fassbender, and a compelling Lawrence, all of whom carry the core of the conflict with aplomb, and for Vaughn, who breathes new, stylish life into a once-celebrated-cum-maligned franchise I wouldn’t mind see go on from this point on into the future.

My Rating ***1/2

Photo: 20th Century Fox.

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