It is unusual indeed that Sand and I would venture forth from the trailer park to strap on the popcorn feed bag twice in one week, but we do take our jobs as Piker movie reviewers seriously, and having gotten to last week's premier of Kung Fu Panda 2 four days late, it was a mere three days before the premier of X-Men: First Class. Thus we found ourselves once again before the silver screen.
There is always a certain amount of tension when Hollywood messes around with something you liked and "reboots" it. Think back to when they tried to reboot the popular original Battlestar Galactica series (which I liked) with the abysmal Galactica 1980. Interestingly enough, I read that in this reboot, the original concept included the use by one of the characters of time travel technology employed to go back in Earth's history to influence events and thus create a better Earth, "better" here defined as more technologically advanced and therefore more capable of repelling a Cylon invasion. Network officials didn't like the idea, so it was written out but reworked into a different format that became the very successful Quantum Leap (which I really liked) starring Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell. Stockwell went on to star (as the thoroughly despicable John Cavil) in the wildly popular reboot of Battlestar Galactica (which I really, really liked), and Bakula went on to star as Captain Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise, which like Galactica 1980 proved that not everything rebooted is good. Of course another captain of another Enterprise was Patrick Stewart, who shepherded a rebooted crew to a very successful run in Star Trek: The Next Generation and then went on to establish the screen presence of Charles Xavier in X-Men, which I liked, which therefore in itself apparently, necessitated a reboot.
To this underlying tension was added another layer: this movie was cast with people I had never heard of, who, except for Kevin Bacon, weren't even born when Gerald Ford become President. How much confidence could I have when Kevin Bacon is supposed to bring the depth and experience to the cast that Gene Hackman did as Lex Luthor, or that Anthony Hopkins did as Hannibal Lector?
And finally, to make matters worse, not only was this a reboot, it was a prequel, the back-story to the movie and characters I liked. Any time you say prequel, I am immediately haunted with images from The Flintstone Kids.
Much to my surprise and delight, First Class turned out to be a first class movie. Why did it work? The filmmakers cleverly tapped into something totally unexpected from a comic book/sci-fi film -- they channeled James Bond. Here is a story set in the 1960's Cold War, with a technologically advanced villain who wants to take over the world. Who did we turn to back then to save us? 007, of course.
The first half of this movie looked and felt very much like a good Bond film. (Work with me here. I understand that "good" and "Bond film" may not be terms that necessarily fit together, but I ask you to imagine that Bond films were the only movies ever made and you therefore had no other frame of reference. Good films would then be films that starred Sean Connery, and bad films would star Roger Moore.) There were the gadgets, the pretty ladies, political intrigue, the exotic locations, and a very Bondish portrayal of the young Magneto by Michael Fassbender (who I think would make a better Bond than Daniel Craig ... just saying). Fassbender might have stolen the show completely if not for an equally convincing performance by James McAvoy as Professor Xavier. The two developed a nice chemistry on screen; one that you wished could go on into a sequel.
I will also give some kudos to the writers. They kept the story moving nicely, the humor was subtle but sharp, and there was sensitivity to continuity with the previous films that was very well done.
And of course, things got blowed up real good, this being, after all, a comic book super hero story.
All the elements are there for an enjoyable couple hours of diversion. If you're looking for a movie to go see, this one won't waste your money.
Months before I even knew there was going to be an X-Men prequel, Bernie made me watch a trailer for it. Although the initial shot of "young" Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr didn't seem like good casting to me (I mean really, after Patrick Steward and Ian McKellan?) within 30 seconds I was convinced and ready to see X-Men: First Class.
My positive preconception was not shattered. Indeed, if there was any part of any of the previously released X-Men movies that you liked, go see First Class.
Charles Xavier is a rich kid. Not only is he rich, he's brilliant. And he's a mutant, a powerful telepath. And he's a nice guy, in spite of the power of wealth and mind. He knows that mutants are starting to appear in the human population, and believes that ultimately, everyone will learn to accept their differences in looks and abilities.
As we all know, he is wrong. Out of the Nazi concentration camps come two more mutants: Erik Lehnsherr, whose power over metal makes him nearly unstoppable, and Sebastian Shaw, the monstrous manipulator who turned Erik from a sweet, sad boy into a vengeful assassin.
Charles, saving Erik's life, is able to turn him away from vengeance, and the two become close friends ... until evil Sebastian Shaw decides to provoke the USSR and the US into global nuclear war, and the ensuing battle forges Charles' and Erik's futures.
James McAvoy is a simply beautiful Charles Xavier, with all the confidence, acceptance and serenity that we came to expect with Patrick Stewart's portrayal of Charles in his later years. And Michael Fassbender provides a passionate portrait of Erik/Magneto that eerily echoes Ian McKellan's supervillain. I believe that nowadays (or perhaps it is already an outmoded term) that this film qualifies for the genre "bromance." Love is unabashedly what develops between Charles and Erik, in spite of their differing backgrounds and their divergent ideals.
We see origins of other mutant personalities: Mystique and Beast; we see Charles' first meeting with the mutant called Wolverine, too, and it is a perfect, perfect, perfect scene.
I loved this movie, and can't wait to see it again. In the meantime, I now want to watch all the X-Men movies on DVD, because with First Class in my mind, I think they'll all seem new to me.