At the Movies: *X-Men: First Class*

Action/adventure drama, 2011
20th Century Fox / Marvel
Plot summary, via IMDb:

“Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-MEN.”

It’s been a while since I’ve done a movie post here; it’s been a while since I’ve had all that much to say about a movie, but here’s one worth breaking my silence for.
My Husband the Fanboy has been geeking out, in more ways than one, over the wealth of movies inspired by classic comic books due out this summer: Thor (saw it; enjoyable but not especially memorable, and therefore not warranting a post), Green Lantern (opening this month), Captain America (July, during Comic-Con weekend)…and this, another X-Men “prequel.” I tend to be more reserved about these projects than he is, and was initially befuddled by the whole prospect of another X-Men prequel, having not been overly impressed by X-Men Origins: Wolverine two years ago. However, sometimes trailers actually work to build enthusiasm for a movie, and over the course of the several released prior to First Class‘ opening, they did that work on me. By the time it opened last weekend I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, and by the time it was over I was looking forward to seeing it again. I’m not sure that comparisons to The Dark Knight are fully warranted – that particular comic-book superhero movie is in a class by itself – but the strong cast and consistently engrossing story do set it apart.
The X-Men have always been, by definition, an ensemble, but some have stood out from the group – and they wouldn’t have been a group at all without telepath Charles Xavier and metal-bender Erik Lensherr. The original X-Men trilogy established that the conflict between these two men – better known by then as Professor X and Magneto – was rooted in their differing views about mutants in human society. Erik, a survivor of the WWII concentration camps, has first-hand understanding of persecution and a drive to turn the tables on the persecutors; Charles, with his background as a scientist, believes that humans can learn to value mutants through working with them on the same side. However, the conflict itself is conflicted, complicated by the fact that Charles and Erik were once on the same side, as friends and allies. And the conflict itself has always been part of a metaphor about how society addresses those who don’t fit its norms.
But I don’t want to get too heavy-handed and analytical here. Set against a backdrop of the early Cold War years and culminating with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, X-Men: First Class has no shortage of compelling, fast-moving action; its 2-hour-plus running time goes quickly. Serious X-Men fans may find issues with continuity and consistency as this movie relates to the series as a whole; as a more casual viewer, I was able to make connections to the story I already know without being overly bothered about elements that didn’t entirely match up. My biggest nitpick was with something outside the story: in 1962, it was the “USSR” or the “Soviet Union,” not “Russia” (even though we did still call its people “Russians”…yeah, there’s consistency).
The cast is a mix of relatively unknown and familiar faces, and identifying them is part of the fun. Nearly everyone in this movie now qualifies as being within one degree of Kevin Bacon. January Jones’ diamond-hard telepath Emma Frost is more of an ice queen than Betty Draper ever dreamed of being. And Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Mystique made me a little less apprehensive about what she’ll do with Katniss.
I doubt this will be my favorite movie of the summer of 2011 (I will be very surprised if that’s not Deathly Hallows Part 2), but I think that, for me, X-Men: First Class will be the comic-book movie to beat, and it’s the best X-Men film since X2: X-Men United (2003). Green Lantern, Captain America, and those Cowboys and Aliens guys have their work cut out for them.

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