Wednesday, June 15, 2011
FILM REVIEW: X-Men: First Class
The best part of an X-Men film is meeting a new mutant, learning what their power is, and hearing about their struggle to fit in and survive. If you've seen the previous films, you know that Xavier (James McAvoy from Wanted) is a telepath, Magneto (Michael Fassbender from Inglorious Basterds) can move all metals, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter's Bone) can transform into anyone, and Beast (Nicholas Hoult from "Skins" and Clash of the Titans) is super strong, agile, and smart. In this film, you not only get to meet new mutants from the comic annals, but you also get to learn how these X-Men first met and the catalyst that drove them to become the people they were in the previous films.
This is when we get to see the rise of a villain. I've decided that this is my favorite kind of origin story. It's fun to watch as Spider-man learns to use his webs and Superman learns to fly, but it turns out it's actually way more fun to watch a villain pre-villainy, and witness as he goes from heartbroken victim to vicious serial killer. It's fun because it has you at odds with yourself. On the one hand, you want to root for this guy who was forced to watch his mother die, who survived a concentration camp, who has felt discrimination as both a mutant and a human, but at the same time you are human. You're supposed to be rooting for your own species. Siding with him would be like siding with Hitler. And so you're torn.
*Spoilers from this point on. But such a logic can seem enticing or attractive to an oppressed mutant—someone who has endured one too many days of feeling judged, and worst of all, at a young age, controlled. They want more than anything to be free, to feel accepted, and Magneto promised that. So Mystique was putty in his hands. Of all the young mutants, she had the best reason to want acceptance. Her natural form is a redheaded, scaly, blue chameleon. No girl, whether she's 10 or 20 wants to be seen as anything but pretty. No matter how smart or accomplished, they are conditioned since birth to believe that their beauty is directly proportionate to their worth. So imagine growing up having to use most of your energy to keep up a facade of blonde beauty so as not to scare off the small-minded humans. When we first met Mystique in 2000's X-Men, she seemed two-dimensional. She was just sexy, devious, and sadistic. But in this film, she was more complex, a tortured soul that found a kindred spirit in Magneto, the only person who believed she was beautiful in her natural form. So again, you could hate her, or you could sympathize with her struggle.
Speaking of Wolverine, the surprise cameos were inspired. Xavier and Magneto encountered him at a bar for like five seconds when they were recruiting. He, in great Wolverine fashion, blew them off. I think I also spotted a young, white-haired Storm in the cloudy plane of Cerebro's realm. And in an attempt to seduce Magneto, Mystique turned into her older form and we got a "sneak peek" of Rebecca Romijn-O'Connell. There were also verbal references to their future selves, like when Xavier refuses to shave his head in order to better use Cerebro.
But those cheap thrills weren't my fave parts of the film. No I loved Magneto's solo revenge missions that were very Bond-esque, the mutant training sessions, especially Banshee's (Caleb Landry Jones from The Last Exorcism), Magneto's choice of weapon against Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) that paid homage to his mom, and the slow motion scene where we get to watch Xavier's final transformation into Professor X, as a bullet compromises his spinal chord. Excruciating and poignant.