|X-Men: First Class|
The first is continuity. The director publicly stated that it was a prequel. At times it takes great pains to fit into the continuity of the original X-Men and Wolverine films. Hugh Jackman reprises his role as Wolverine for a brief but hilarious scene. Rebecca Romijn appears briefly as Mystique. We see Magneto acquire the helmet he wears in the original movies. But at other times it acts more like a reboot and flies in the face of previously established continuity. Xavier is paralyzed in 1962 when we see him walking in other films in 1979. Hank creates Cerebro when it has been previously demonstrated that Magneto and Professor X had. These moments are real head scratchers for the most ardent of fans. The shame of it is that they were ultimately avoidable.
The second self-inflected wound is character overload. The cast of mutant characters is quite large and two of the villains get turned into cardboard cutouts - Azazel and Riptide. In fact, I don't even think Riptide's name is said the entire movie. Darwin dies before we ever really get to know him as a person. We first see Havoc in prison but are never given a backstory on him (nor does he ever mention his brother, Cyclops). It's a shame because all of these characters have great potential and I hate to see them shortchanged on the screen.
But don't get me wrong - I loved First Class. Yes, it's not perfect. But what it did right it did right REALLY WELL.
Take characters, for example. The focal characters of Professor X, Magneto, and Mystque get the royal treatment. We see a young Charles Xavier befriend a young Mystique and they grow up almost like brother and sister. In his early 20's, Xavier uses his powers to woo women as he hangs out in pubs. We see Magneto as a youth suffering the consequences of his power stunt that opens the first X-Men film and is repeated here. The film is stuffed with character threads such as Mystique and Beast wrestling with their feelings about their mutations.
Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw makes a fantastic villain. First, he's just so evil you want to hate him. Second, he's just so cool and confident you almost think he'll succeed in his mad plan to destroy the world. In some regards, he is so similar to Magneto. You get the idea that Magneto would have gladly joined his side... if only Shaw hadn't killed his parents.
Perhaps the aspect of this movie I enjoy more than any other is the historical backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Seeing Shaw work both sides of the conflict into frothing attack dogs is mesmerizing. The climax of the film is so tense because you know that we really did come within a hair's breadth of global nuclear war in real life. Mutants don't just exist in a sanitary little mansion anymore - they are thrust into key events in history. What would be like if mutants were for real? We don't have to guess any longer.
The action in the first is top notch as well. Even familiar powers were given new presentations to make them seem fresh. Azazel is a great example of this. The sequence where he is teleporting into a CIA headquarters, grabbing a CIA agent, teleporting straight up half a mile or so and then dropping them one at a time is gruesome but fascinating. The rhythmic thumps of bodies falling illustrates how completely useless normal humans are against mutants.
Overall, First Class is first rate.
1LR REVIEW - 18 out of 20! It's a Solid Hit!