X-Men: First Class [2011]

A decent kickoff to both the X-Men saga and the summer movie season.  Still, it can’t compare to the quality of other comic-book adaptations such as The Dark Knight or Wanted, also starring James McAvoy. Stylish film takes the cool 60’s look and sound and uses it as a backdrop for exciting action sequences and a compelling origin story.  Erik Lensherr’s (Michael Fassbender) motivation is having lost his mother during the Holocaust at the orders of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). That’s an affecting situation and one that gives First Class the adequate dramatic heft. However, yet another subplot, one involving the Cuban Missile Crisis, is unnecessary and needlessly confusing. Besides the drama among the mutants, their imminent debacle against humans would’ve been enough material for a film.

For a big-budget flick like this ($160 million), the visual effects and makeup are pretty bad. Even by 2011, CGI technologies haven’t yet allowed characters like “Azazel” or “Emma Frost” to look believable. When it comes to the cast, James McAvoy is the obvious star of the film, rendering a smart and most importantly charismatic “Charles Xavier”, very different from what Patrick Stewart did in the previous trilogy. Among the youngsters, Nicolas Hoult of About a Boy and A Single Man fame stands out, and the Oscar-nominated Jennifer Lawrence of The Burning Plain and Winter’s Bone is sadly, nowhere to be found. Bill Millner, as a young Lensherr is terrible and effectively ruins a scene that could’ve been much more powerful. Kevin Bacon’s performance and Sebastian Shaw, the character he portrays, are weak, boring and ridiculous. This is a guy who can absorb any form of energy, even from bombs and bullets, and still come off as unmenacing. After being bogged down by cliché dialog and shots, minor plot holes and an overall lack of agility, X-Men: First Class’ climactic scene is a breathtaking display of both serious drama and riveting action that helps end the film on a great note.