Saturday, 16 July 2011

X-Men: First Class

Despite being a science fiction and fantasy fan, I am not a reader of comic books. The only ones I do own (and indeed read) are of the Buffy variety. While it would doubtless be something that would interest me, I have just never summoned the enthusiasm necessary to start. This is very odd, because I enjoy the films, especially the X-Men films. I even liked Wolverine!

Purists might complain that this is rather like professing a love for the Harry Potter films without reading the books. Actually, they would be right. Unfortunately, I don't care.

I loved First Class. I thought it was the best of the lot. But funnily enough, I don't think I would have enjoyed it quite so much if I hadn't seen the earlier ones. This is a shame for the film makers, who have called it a 'reboot' to, I suppose, justify the continuity problems (more on that later). Because, although I'm sure newbies will like the film, they won't get this feeling: the indescribable satisfaction that comes from the knowledge that, yes, James McAvoy is a young Patrick Stewart; and, what is more, Michael Fassbender is a young Ian McKellen! They've achieved something which the fans of Star Wars believed was promised to them by the prequels, especially with that trailer, 'Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi', but was never...quite...delivered. (Don't get me wrong. I like the Star Wars prequels. I think they're on a par with the originals. But I was never a big fan of the originals anyway. But I understand that the 'original' fans were somewhat annoyed, and so my point remains.)

I will be honest. I've been a little bit in love with McAvoy ever since he played that dude with the horns and a nerdy scarf. But I can be objective, and say that yes, his portrayal of Xavier made me believe that Patrick Stewart is capable of using the word 'groovy'. It's also the simple Britishness of the man I love (question: what was his family doing living in America?). The scenes set in Oxford were gorgeous - although they just cut out my place of work (all right, it was on the other side of the road). This is a man who uses his knowledge of genetics as a chat up line; worries about disturbing his hair when he first uses Cerebro; but is also capable of a head-masterly seriousness, combined with an ability to bring out the absolute best in others, because he is, first and foremost, a teacher. In this regard McAvoy is following in the footsteps of Patrick Stewart - a wise move, since he got it dead right (Stewart should have been cast as Dumbledore, but Xavier is definitely cut from the same cloth. Can you just imagine Dumbledore actually stopping time in order to teach his wayward fire-obsessed pupils a lesson?). The 'training' scenes were an absolute joy to watch. Yes, they were cheesy, but not clich├ęd. The split screens were a throwback, but a clever one.

"Hit the target and not me, there's a good chap!"

Fassbender is, easily, my favourite character from Inglourious Basterds; he was brilliant with what little screen-time he had.

"Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don't mind if I go out speaking the King's."

It's funny that there's scenes in First Class that wouldn't have looked out of place in Inglourious Basterds, but without the grim humour Tarantino excels at. Both the bar and bank scenes were brilliantly done - all justified anger with undercurrents of almost disturbing menace. When you consider how Magneto is played by McKellan, it's astonishing that Fassbender gives the character such sympathy. Here is someone you can almost root for. Almost.

His scenes with McAvoy are, really, the whole point of the film, and they're beautifully done. Here are two people whose backgrounds could not be more different, but both have access to a remarkable power; who have to forge a friendship if they're to be the 'good guys' in this entirely new world.

"More tea, vicar?"

I think my favourite scenes were when they were tracking down all the 'mutants', mainly for a cameo which actually made me squeal with excitement; enough so that my objection at it did not seem to matter: namely, that someone who has lived in a concentration camp WOULD NOT have given up so easily, no matter how many 'Go fuck yourself!'s were growled at him. It's best, I think, not to go down the road of, 'But they could have made such a difference to his life!'

Quibbles are very, very minor. Angel, for example. I didn't really 'get' why she would have changed sides so very easily, especially after one of her friends is killed. I also don't quite understand Mystique. While she was played very, very well by Jennifer Lawrence, now making me even more excited for The Hunger Games, I don't really see why she has such a problem with who she is. She has probably the coolest power out there, and yes, her real appearance is a little on the bizarre side, but it's not like she's stuck with it, unlike some others. In fact, who's to say that is her 'real' appearance? Surely whichever skin she's most comfortable in (mentally as well as physically) should be the reality? While we're on the quibbles, let's mention the discrepancies: if that really is Storm during the excellent Cerebro scene, she'd be quite a bit older by the start of the first film than Halle Berry really looks. Also, I'm fairly sure Xavier wasn't in a wheelchair for the flashback at the start of X-3.

However, quibbles are not something I'll focus on. It's a great film, and I'm already looking forward to buyinthe DVD.