His threatening figure and cold-blooded stare give us a glimpse into the evil that will eventually lead him to becoming Magneto.
The success of the first X-Men movie in 2000 ushered in a deluge of comic book adaptations that has lasted for over a decade. Some of these have been good; most are bad. This mad rush for adaptations showed audiences that studios care less about the quality of their movies than they do about cashing in on the current trend. This summer alone will see no less than five movies based on comic books, including X-Men: First Class, the origin story of the team of mutants who started it all.
In the film, we meet a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), a brilliant geneticist and telepath who can read minds and manipulate thoughts. His oldest friend is Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl who he met by chance when they were young and who possesses the ability to shape shift into any person she sees. Suspecting they are the only two in the world who can do what they do, they develop a close relationship.
We also meet a young Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) who, as a child, was forced to experience the horrors of the Holocaust. As a grown man, Erik has been circling the globe looking for the sadistic doctor who exploited his power, the ability to control any metal, and who stole his childhood and killed his mother. As a stark contrast to Charles, Eric is angry, violent, and focused only on revenge.
To give away any more would ruin the fun of the movie. And believe me, it is lots of fun to watch. Director Matthew Vaughn has given the film, set in the 1960s, the retro look of the era and has channeled the great Sean Connery Bond films as a model. The costumes and sets are wonderfully vivid without being too distracting. Vaughn, whose films include Layer Cake and last year’s Kick Ass, does a terrific job of not letting the action sequences detract from the story he is trying to tell.
McAvoy and Fassbender are absolutely perfect in their roles. This is quite an achievement considering the iconic performances by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in the original X-Men trilogy. McAvoy balances young Charles’ brilliance with his egotism and occasional immaturity. As an actor, McAvoy can play comedy extremely well when it’s needed, but can quickly switch into being serious with little trouble.
However the show, as always, belongs to Fassbender. As one of the most talented actors working today, his performance is the one that you want to see in every scene. His threatening figure and cold-blooded stare give us a glimpse into the evil that will eventually lead him to becoming Magneto.
Vaughn and his team of screenwriters succeed in their work because they place the story above all else and manage to make it a character driven film instead of a mindless action extravaganza. First Class explores the roots of the mutants that many of us have been familiar with for a long time, but the filmmakers never force the relationships in order to set up later developments. Essentially, the X-Men have once again set the bar high for comic book adaptations. | Matthew Newlin