Movie Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

It is undoubtedly a tune of excitement, or at least curiosity, for fans of the X-Men characters to see what turns the movie franchise takes with origin stories. As expected, massive liberties are taken with every mutant and while some are clever and others contrived, a few are reworked from the ground up to the point that they're recognizable only by name to their comic book counterparts. It may be admirable to blend mutant lore into world history to fabricate realism, but is battling Nazis and contending with the Cuban Missile Crisis the best way to do so? Perhaps it's preferable to create more plausible explanations for certain character traits (having an angry space alien crush Professor X's legs might not be palatable for today's audiences), but tampering with historical events is always a little difficult to accept. Even excusing all such alterations in the space-time continuum, the oftentimes explosive action sequences can't mask the silliness and pointlessness of many of the newly introduced mutants. We're talking to you, dragonfly girl and sonar boy.

A prequel to both X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the original X-Men trilogy, First Class explores the beginnings of telepathic genius Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and metal-manipulating mutant Erik Lehnscherr (Michael Fassbender) and their ascension to becoming founders of the X-Men. When the CIA calls upon Xavier to aid in stopping the machinations of madman Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), Erik joins his cause with vengeful motives of his own. When the two begin recruiting new mutants to train for the eventual confrontation with Shaw and his band of superhuman cohorts, a rift in ideals develops that will give rise to the creation of Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants.

X-Men: First Class does an outstanding job of setting into motion all of the events and themes that frequent the original movie trilogy. It should be noted that failure to have watched the first three movies, or at least acquiring a basic knowledge of the X-Men history, will come as a great disadvantage, as this origins movie is poignantly and humorously taking advantage of all the elements previously defined in films taking place chronologically in the future. With the large number of mutants both old and new, it's surprising how well everything ties together (save for a training montage involving gene manipulation and research, the creation of technologically advanced mechanisms, and honing mental serenity, stated to have taken a mere week). Unfortunately, as so much of the screenplay focuses on introductions and designs to match a separate movie, the entertainment value relies almost entirely on those connections, a few intense scenes of destruction and special effects, and the strained relationship between Xavier and Lehnsherr.

Superheroes are generally enjoyable to watch, especially when they're called upon to unleash their mighty powers on irredeemable evildoers. In this instance, some of the fun is muddied when so many mutants are presented. Magneto, Professor X and even Mystique are amusing, but several of the lesser-known Marvel entities should have been left on the cutting room floor. Angel Salvadore is particularly silly, with little more than the ability to fly with dainty dragonfly wings; Hank McCoy is adorned with oversized feet, and even when making the full transformation into Beast, barely displays increased strength; and worst of all is Banshee, who must utilize a winged costume to haphazardly soar across the sky, careful to scream at the right frequency to gain lift. Although they're all youngsters training to harness their destructive powers, why couldn't Xavier recruit some more experienced, serious, older mutants with just an ounce more discipline?

One of the biggest questions surrounding X-Men: First Class is whether or not it could survive without Wolverine, the undisputedly most popular character from the comics. While the movie is still occasionally diverting, most notably with the sincerely moving friendship between eventual archenemies Professor X and Magneto, the insertion into history without drastic alterations in outcome, and action-packed fight sequences, ultimately, fans might be disappointed to see a strong antihero absent from the picture. It's likely that stronger outrage will stem from the comparison of supernatural mutation to homosexuality, however, as outing nonhuman creatures (or mutated to the point of fiction) is lightly laughed off.

- The Massie Twins (http://GoneWithTheTwins.com)

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