X-Men: Fist Class Review


X-Men: First Class
Rating: 8 out of 10
Review by: Joshua Starnes from ComingSoon.net

Cast:

James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier
Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr/Magneto
Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw
Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique
January Jones as Emma Frost
Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert
Nicholas Hoult as Dr. Henry ‘Hank’ McCoy/Beast
Zoë Kravitz as Angel Salvadore
Caleb Landry Jones as Sean Cassidy/Banshee
Lucas Till as Alex Summers/Havok
Edi Gathegi as Armando Muñoz/Darwin
Jason Flemyng as Azazel
Álex González as Janos Quested/Riptide
Oliver Platt as The Man in Black
Ray Wise as the Secretary of State
Michael Ironside as US Captain
Glenn Morshower as Colonel Hendry
Matt Craven as CIA Director McCone
James Remar as US General
Rade Serbedzija as Russian General


Review:

The short version is “X-Men: First Class” is an excellent return to form after several mis-steps, capturing everything that made the series great and jettisoning must of the unnecessary stuff. That’s all you really need to know, but if you need more, keep going.

The problem with prequels is a lot like the problem with sequels, in that you want to remind viewers that this new iteration is related to a previous story while at the same time charting your on course and not falling into the pit of simply repeating what audiences liked the first time around. Prequels have it even tougher because they’re endpoint is already known, leaving filmmakers to try and find an unlikely route to get there in order to create suspense.

“X-Men: First Class” then is a shining example of how to chart that course without giving up anything in the process. After a brief trip to the mid-40s to remind us of the vast differences in the upbringing of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in cushy upstate New York and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) in a Nazi concentration camp, we’re off to the Jet Age of the 1960s, where grown up Charles and Erik are about to be thrown together to stop the machinations of mutant mastermind Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).

Director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick Ass”) and his screenwriters, including original series mastermind Bryan Singer (“Superman Returns”) have returned to what made the series work in the first place, the interaction of the characters between each other and the world they live in and how that ultimately drives the plot. And they do that by getting rid of quite a bit which had worked before, but it’s not missed.

Considering how much the “X-Men” franchise has to date relied so heavily on Hugh Jackman and the Wolverine character in general as its centerpiece some people could be justifiably concerned in a film without that character driving it. But it turns out sending him off on his own is the best thing that could happen for the X-Men franchise.

Despite the best efforts of the various filmmakers involved in the series, including Singer himself, it’s always been a tough fit to squeeze the man-against-himself struggle of Wolverine into the societal discrimination allegory of the X-Men series. Without  him, the filmmakers have been able to focus on what is really the heart of the story, the choice between how to deal with discrimination in the form of Xavier and Lensherr’s own relationship. Given its own space to breathe, the relationship is finally allowed to come to the fore the way it always should, dramatizing the films central message with often poignant tragedy.

Vaughn and his writers have envisaged Xavier and Lensherr as near opposites of one another, as cast to suit, pinging of soft-spoken McAvoy against the tall, growling menace of Fassbender. While the acting is all around excellent in an “X-Men” film that is finally allowed to be a true ensemble, it’s Fassbender who holds things together and McAvoy often comes off somewhat less in their shared scenes. He embodies the Magneto-to-be in a way that outshines even Ian McKellan. He is the best kind of villain figure, the one who’s motivation and actions you can completely understand, even if you don’t agree with him.

Submitted to the cruelest torments as a boy by Sebastian Shaw’s Nazi puppets as part of his own quest to find fellow mutants with whom to rule the Earth, adult Erik just wants one thing: revenge. Revenge against everyone who ever allowed those awful things to happen, revenge against the normal humans who are terrified of him, and ultimately revenge against Shaw himself.

In one of those fatal meetings that Vaughn wisely resists the urge to over-dramatize; Erik’s quest to find Shaw leads him to the depth of the slippery kingpin’s Hellfire Club at the same time as Xavier and his foster-sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) lead beautiful CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to the same point. Though Erik could care less, MacTaggert and Xavier have discovered Shaw is at the heart of a plan to start a war between the USSR and America, wipe each other out, and leave the planet to the mutants. A plan that rests on installing nuclear missiles in Cuba.

If some of that sounds historically familiar, it also reveals the other realization that makes “First Class” go. The filmmakers have planned “First Class” out less like a standard superhero fantasy (though there is plenty of that by the end) and more of a classic 60s spy romp. Just that instead of gadgets, James Bond has super powers. The story zips along quickly from Geneva to Las Vegas to Oxford to Moscow, unraveling the secret world of mutants and the length of Shaw’s reach with its fair share of spies, underground lairs and submarines popping out of yachts. But with mind reading and shape shifting. And Bacon as it turns out makes a great villain; completely controlled and resisting any urges to chew up the scenery.

As to be expected from a good spy romp, “First Class” lives in ambiguity. While there are heroes, they’re relationships with the villains are complex and not entirely negative. The closer Erik gets to Shaw the more he realizes how alike they are and despite hating the fact he accepts it. Mystique, his future right hand woman, has grown up her whole life with Xavier and truly loves him and it’s heartbreaking to watch him unknowingly drive her away as much as Magneto draws her in. Tragedy is the name of the prequel game here and Vaughn takes full advantage of it.

Or as full as he can. For all the good it does, “First Class” can’t seem to escape some of the franchise recurring weaknesses, the mutants themselves. Someone somewhere along the line decided long ago that what the “X-Men” movies were really about where people with superpower using them, and that’s fair enough. But that point of view has frequently been taken to absurd lengths, to the point where some of the installments have been burdened with nameless, faceless characters whose only point is to represent a character from the books and use a superpower but who could be removed entirely from the film and not be missed. It’s a point of view which ruined “The Last Stand” and the franchise still refuses to part with it.

Once Xavier and Erik realize what Shaw is up to they begin to gather their own team, but outside of young Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) most of the teenagers they’ve gathered do nothing but serve as the grounding for the effects creating their powers. They get a few moments here in there to define themselves, but not much. They’re better off than Shaw’s henchmen, however, who do nothing but stand around and look menacing. All except for literal ice queen Emma Frost (January Jones) who is so wooden she’s the only one of the supporting characters you wish would just stand in the background.

That said, what “First Class” does, it does well; juggling drama and pathos with humor and fun. Despite the depths it plumbs and the complex character relationships that don’t always work out much of it is just a fun ride. And when the first team of X-Men finally does don their classic blue and yellow suits and fly out to try and stop the Cuban missile crisis before it gets going the effect is ultimately joyful in the way a summer adventure film should be.

After giving in to its worst instincts, the return of Singer and the addition of a director with a real eye for character and performance have created the shot in the arm the “X- Men” franchise really needed. Maybe one day they’ll let them remake “The Last Stand.”

 

Cobie Smulders to be in Marvel Movies

by Travis Starnes, CMRO Editor

How I Met Your Mother co-star Cobie Smulders, who plays the character of Robin on the show, has signed on to an 8 picture deal with Marvel Studios.  She will join several other actors making appearances in Marvel Products as prickly and somewhat difficult Agent Maria Hill of SHIELD. 

Announcing the news on a podcast dedicated to her current TV role she revealed that she was going to be in the Avengers as well as having signed on for an extended commitment. In the interview she clarified her announcement by saying, “This doesn’t mean I’m doing seven films.  Just means if they like me, then they’ll have me on more.” 

There have also been hints from released footage and a notation in her IMDB file that the Skrulls might be making an appearance in the movies soon, and she could possibly be one of them.  On IMDB she is credited in the role as being “Maria Hill/Anelle“, giving hints towards this direction.

An encouraging footnote to the announcement, even though she was not offered a trainer for the film because of limited action scenes for her character, she went out and hired one of her own.  Talking about her why she hired a trainer she said that even thought she doesn’t “do a ton of fighting in the movie, which is why I wasn’t offered a trainer, I wanted to look like I had the ability to.”

Looking Back: Fabels #1 Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Fables: Legends in Exile

Issue #1

Written by Bill Willingham, Art by Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, and Craig Hamilton

Bill Willingham’s first issue of Fables has a lot going for it, both in concept and in the actual execution. Revolving around a selection of folk lore characters who have been reimagined as members of a secretive community of “fables” in modern times, the series kicks off with the words “once upon a time, in a fictional land called New York City,” setting the tone for the rest of the issue as a unique blend of bleak reality and mythology.

The first issue reads like a mash-up of Cinderella and CSI, with our main protagonists being the no-nonsense deputy mayor Snow White and the grizzled sheriff Bigby Wolf. Some clever visual cues and snappy dialogue let Willingham get across lots of world-building and exposition fairly fluidly. There are references galore to various mythologies, both in the detailed artwork and the brief cameos that make this issue so much fun for the reader who actually recognizes them.

As readers, we think we know these characters, but when they are released into a realistic world, it forces our expectations to change. A large part of the appeal of this series is in seeing how these well-known characters adapt to the gritty world of New York politics and crime, how their very presence blurs the lines between realism and fantasy. It’s this contrast that makes the otherwise typical detective story that follows more interesting than it might have been otherwise.

Willingham is clearly tapping into the idea that comic books are modern mythologies. Fables works both as a detective story and as a “modern” fairy tale, one that has a broader appeal to both comic book fans and fans of storytelling in general. This first issue is well-paced, well-written, and well worth anyone’s time.

Daredevil #4 (2011) Review

by Nick Walden, CMRO Contributing Writer

Here Comes … Daredevil

Issue #4

Written by Mark Waid, Art by Marcos Martin

After roaming the country in the miniseries Daredevil: Reborn, Matt Murdock has returned to New York. He once again travels the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen in this newly launched story of a classic Marvel hero. I fell in love with Daredevil for many reasons. Overcoming adversity, defending the helpless, and tremendous martial arts prowess are some of the storyline staples that always kept me and countless other fans entertained over the years.

The series has been retooled a little with less dark more vibrant storyboards with rich colors. Marcos Martin has a crisp style that renders the city and surroundings as more realistic and less fantastic. His depictions of both Murdock and his Daredevil alter ego are closer to the every man and not a fantastic specimen of unrealistic physical proportion.

Some of the darkness is now gone along with the constant underlying tone of depression and loss that has riddled previous storylines. Mark Waid has brought a new purpose with this series; one that shows Murdock as more hopeful and embracing in his role. But the anger and violence remain, a brutal response to those who dare do wrong in Hell’s Kitchen awaits those who cross the path of Daredevil.

This story follows the flow of the classic stories by staying true to the heart of the character. I am happy to see the Daredevil series get back more to its roots while keeping the memory of some of his modern stories, and could recommend both the series and this issue. Matt Murdock is back in town and helping those he can by using the law and punishing those the law can’t with his horned alter-ego.

Dead World: Slaughterhouse #1 Review

by Brandon St. Denis, CMRO Contributing Writer

Dead World: Slaughterhouse

Issue #1

Written by Gary Reed, Art by Sami Makkonen

 

I’ve always held a certain soft and squishy part of my heart for the living dead.  The comic book series Dead World has always seemed to get that about the reader and gears it toward us magnificently.  This particular series has it all in my opinion; the living, the dead, a supernatural element that gives things a certain sense of suspense, and excellent characterization of both sides.

The story thus far is almost always summed up in the first page or two of the issue, so that most readers can pick it up and jump right in regardless of what issue they’re holding.  The writing is pretty much on-par with the standard comic book style, giving the reader a certain amount of exposition and character development per page.  The vocabulary however is what readers such as myself may be attracted to most about this series.  The wording of the narration itself dares you to read it in the voice of Vincent Price, and every piece of “small talk” dialogue seems like the kind of thing your average guy would say in such an event.

The art is where the comic begins to stumble however.  It’s done entirely in black and white, lending it a certain sense of macabre but losing out on scenery and character design.  I personally think that the trade off wasn’t worth it.  Overall however, I’d recommend Dead World: Slaughterhouse #1 to anyone who thinks they know zombies, supernatural or otherwise.

CMRO Update (09/25/2011)

Updated

  • Moved Fantastic Four #48 – #50 to directly follow #47.  The inhumans story leads directly into the Galactus story line, and is all one continuous event for the FF.

Added