Jose Solís, TheCostaRicaNews.com
Lately in the movies, it’s all about going back to origins. Films have suddenly become obsessed with the idea of showing us how some of our favorite characters became who we first knew them as. Whether you choose to call it facile psychological diagnosis or fanboy fodder, this trend is here to stay.
The X-Men are the latest to join this trend; the mutant superheroes are back at the beginning in Matthew Vaughn’s retro extravaganza. Unlike most recent reboot films that literally try to erase any history of the previous entries in the saga (Christopher Nolan’s Batman comes to mind), X-Men: First Class begins with a quite respectful nod to Bryan Singer’s fantastic X-Men (which debuted eleven years ago). The film opens in a concentration camp in Poland, where the young Erik Lensherr sees the Nazis take his mother away. In a moment of rage he bends a metal gate using his mind; this calls the attention of the creepy Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a Mengele-like scientist who turns the young boy into his guinea pig.
Simultaneously we meet the young telepath Charles Xavier, who meets a blue-scaled shape shifter named Raven. Without much explanation he invites her to live with him and his family. Fast forward a decade or so and now Charles (played by James McAvoy) has become a prominent professor working on his thesis about mutations. Raven (the terrific Jennifer Lawrence) still as his loyal sidekick.
When Shaw begins to plot what would eventually become the Cuban Missile Crisis, a CIA agent (Rose Byrne), who has recently learned about mutants, recruits Charles and Raven to lead a team to stop him. As Charles begins to scout the world for mutants, he also runs into Erik (played with ferocious energy by Michael Fassbender) who has set on his own mission to kill Shaw.
Other mutants in his team include the beastly Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), supersonic flyer Banshee (Caleb Jones), energy absorber Havok (Lucas Till), evolution adaptor Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and the winged Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz).
As usual, and despite the plot’s whole idea of embracing diversity and encouraging tolerance, the mutants’ powers are the central attraction of the movie and the filmmakers have a blast displaying their abilities. Shaw’s team includes telepath and diamond-bodied Emma Frost (none other than the notoriously icy January Jones), the demon-like Azazel (Jason flemyng) and Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) who can create whirlwinds with his hands.
Faithful to the urgency and storytelling economy of a comic book, the film makes no effort in creating subtle transitions and soon enough we know who are the good guys and who are the villains. Even sooner than that Vaughn has been using them to stage spectacular action sequences and battles. The film’s aesthetic forgoes the darkness of the original X-Men trilogy, in favor of a softer, retro lighting. The cinematography recalls both James Bond movies and the iconic TV show Mad Men.
Like in those two reference points, X-men: First Class revels in the detail richness of its time period and at first might seem like a kitsch approach to the beloved mythology, but through the use of split screens Vaughn lets us know that he’s trying to recreate the experience of reading a 1960s comic book.
This is never more obvious than in the dialogues, which not only lack any sort of realism but feel as if they’re missing speech bubbles. “Mutant and proud” repeats Raven, who then goes by the name of Mystique, and soon the cheesiness of the lines and their “believe in yourself”-insistence become timely seeming as if they were written by Barack Obama and Lady Gaga.
The screenplay walks the extra mile to remind us that the X-Men were always meant to be a representation of oppression and the way in which society discriminates those who are different. Because of this, the film’s WWII opening turns into a larger metaphor about how those who don’t fit are often considered the enemy. Despite this subject matter, the film manages to remain as pure popcorn entertainment.
The cast is so good, that they overcome the film’s corniness without suggesting any better-than-thou ironic winks. McAvoy possesses a worldliness that makes him both fatherly and weirdly intimidating. The actor’s warmth is put to beautiful use in scenes where Charles trains the inexperienced mutants. Fassbender’s Erik is a wonderful contrast to McAvoy’s peaceful Charles. Fassbender infuses the soon to be Magneto, with a raw anger and overcoming screen presence. You simply cannot take your eyes away from him when he appears. Fassbender has great chemistry with McAvoy, and other than the unintentional homoerotic moments, they achieve heartbreaking melancholy as friends meant to become nemesis.
Continuing with her truly jaw-dropping streak of great characters, Jennifer Lawrence might give the film’s most memorable performance (give or take Jones, whose Emma is memorable for her delicious Bond girl attires and careless demeanor) Lawrence however goes deep into Raven’s skin and unlike her predecessor is able to turn Mystique into a fully recognizable human character. How she’s able to display such emotions covered in blue scales and yellow contact lenses is perhaps the film’s biggest mystery.
X-Men: First Class might not be discussed in any sociological conversations in the future, but its refreshing, almost irreverent (its historical revisionism might piss some people off), love for pop culture and pop art makes it a truly wonderful blockbuster.
X-MEN First Class in theatres in Costa Rica
Official Website: http://www.x-menfirstclassmovie.com/
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence