Archive for June 4th, 2011

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Watched Lately: X-Men: First Class…And The Outlook Of Superhero Movies

June 4, 2011

Once upon a time, I used to write about the new movies I’ve seen on this blog, especially when it comes to comic book adaptations. They’re sort of an…esoteric interest of mine. I’d make an effort to get out to the theater, bribe my husband who doesn’t give a whit about comics with cookies so he’ll come along with me, and we’d watch whatever superhero/antihero that comes to life that week on the big screen.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve written about those, and there are a couple reasons for that. One, there has been an explosion of comic book films coming out of Hollywood lately, and let’s face it — so much of it is just utter crap. I’ve had to get picky with my money and time (not to mention that I tire of baking cookies) so depending on the movie, sometimes I’ll just pass if it’s an adaptation of a title from DC, Image, or an independent publisher. However — I will always watch anything based on a Marvel title, no exceptions. Too much of a Marvel fangirl; so much that I’ll take both the good and the bad.

So when I first heard about X-Men: First Class, I just knew I had to watch it. Come on, not only is it Marvel, it’s also the X-Men.

But I was wary. At first, I thought it was going to be a complete reboot of the movie franchise — mirroring the idea of the X-Men: First Class limited comic series. When I found out that it was actually a “fifth installment” and a loose prequel to the existing X-Men films, I was disappointed. I wasn’t a big fan of the first couple of movies to begin with even though they were both highly acclaimed, though I believe it’s safe to say the third one was universally despised, and I’m still trying to forget that that travesty of a Wolverine spin-off ever even happened.

To Marvel Studio’s credit, they’ve been putting out more great stuff than bad for the last few years. Still, I’ve always felt there was something missing. There’s more to a good movie than just high production values — sometimes, even the most excellent of special effects, the flashiest of costumes, and the creamiest of the crop actors can only take you so far. I’ve always felt that most comic book movies today lack a good story, and by that, I mean a story that’s both memorable and meaningful.

I certainly don’t mean to go on a rant but then I’m sure some of my comics friends are already familiar with this particular gripe of mine. Take the Iron Man flicks, for example. Love the character, awesome movies, but ask me if I remember any specifics from them right now, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you (like, in the second one…something about a Stark Expo, War Machine, and Mickey Rourke looking like ten miles of bad road with electric whips?) Same deal with the recent Thor. Hey, great movie, but again, I don’t know how much of it will stick with me in another couple years. They’re all just so run-of-the-mill and formulaic. Sometimes I think Chris Nolan is the only guy with any original ideas left.

Plus, a movie titled “First Class” but without the original team of Professor X, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel and Beast just feels…I don’t know, wrong.

Still, after watching it last night, I’m forced to eat my words. Because I liked it. A lot. I liked it so much, I’m actually here on my blog, extolling and writing a post about a comic book movie again. A rather long one too.

Ironically, the fact it was set in the same “universe” as the other movies (albeit loosely) was actually one of the reasons that made it appeal to me so much. Yes, There are a lot of new faces, seemingly a result of the movie producers taking a handful of random yet familiar names from the comics, trying to hammer these poor mutants into the plot and making them fit — that said, continuity is a little wonky and in many situations you can completely disregard the canon. But a few of the core characters return, and it is partly because you know what will happen, or that you know exactly whom will ally with whom, that was what made this movie so engaging for me to watch.

X-Men: First Class isn’t perfect, but it was much more than I expected. Despite some cliches and a few downright cheesetastic moments, I was surprised at how intense it was, given some of the simplistic themes it had to work with. Kudos to whoever did the music for the soundtrack, but a lot of it also had to do with the story’s pacing. It took its time to unfold and define the key players, clearly laying out their motivations every step of the way, so that when they finally acted upon them it didn’t feel like their personalities were changing on a dime. Also, set before a historical back-drop with real-world conflicts, X-Men: First Class felt like a more eloquent movie than its predecessors.

Superhero movies can’t afford to be typical anymore; if the audiences are anything like me, they’ll need a lot more to be impressed these days. Picking some random name from a hero’s rogue’s gallery, labeling them “the main bad guy” and throw in some action, rinse and repeat — that all used to be fine, but just isn’t going to cut it anymore. But I suppose if they had to choose a villain for this movie, they made the right choice in Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club. From William Stryker to Cassandra Nova to Apocalypse, there have been some excellent villains in the X-Men line-up throughout the years, but I’ve always thought Shaw was one of the creepiest. They captured that nicely in the movie, and my hat’s off to Kevin Bacon, who played him.

For me, the highlight had to be the Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magneto relationship. Arguably, it was the whole point of the movie, but I thought it illustrated their story of friendship-turned-animosity and bromance/frenemy dynamic perfectly. As they say in the books — two men, two sides of the same coin. Both actors performed admirably, but I felt it was Michael Fassbender who stole the show with his incredible portrayal of Erik.

While some elements of the superhero genre have remained the same, so much more has evolved (no pun intended!) such as plot lines becoming more complex and the focus on emotion as much as action. I’m going to remember the story of X-Men: First Class for a long time, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies as of late, not just comic book adaptations. I guess if they must continue making X-Men films…at least I like the new direction in which things are going.

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