Well, the summer of comic book themed movies is rolling full steam ahead. Thor was the real start to things. (See my review posted May 17th) Sorry guys, can’t really credit Priest or Dylan Dog with much right now as they died very quick deaths at the box office. I bet they will do well on disc though. X-Men Fist Class was pretty much exactly what I was expecting, given the amazing amount of clips and trailers that were made available online leading up to the release. I think for the purposes of this writing, I will do something more akin to focus points on the areas that most fanboys and film fans would be looking for in this film.
1. The story ties neatly in with political events of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which gives the film a realistic backdrop and a solid story foundation. Matthew Vaughn does a nice job of making the two events merge believably without too much effort. Had it felt at all forced, the basic premise of the film would have fallen apart. The casting works for the most part, particularly in the leads. The young Charles Xavier played by James McAvoy is a surprise. He is a bit of an arrogant, even smarmy ladies man at first. Not a direction heavily supported by the comic, but it works well for this film, making the person you really root for Erik Lennsherr, played perfectly by Micheal Fassbender. Believable and sympathetic, he is the person in the film that most viewers will identify with or at least feel is the most like them. The supporting cast gets the short end of the stick as in most of these kinds of movies. The one getting the best chance to shine is Mystique. Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence fills the character out wonderfully, making the role her own. There is a grace and vulnerability she carries with a style that is quiet and very effective. The triangle romance developed between her Beast and the future Magneto is the best and most fully developed subplot. Another actor here that does a lot with very little, and to be fair, a lot of his role is special effects, is Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee. Never liked Banshee really, and maybe that is why he was so much fun here. He just works well and provides some of the lighter moments. Rose Byrne and January Jones also shine here, but like most of the cast just are not given all that much to do.
2. Why THESE X-Men? I know there will be a fair share of fans that gripe that this group is not even a little faithful to the original comic book from the 60’s, with only Beast represented here from Uncanny X-Men #1. Well, we can blame Bryan Singer for that. As good as his X-Men films are, they thoroughly bent the myth over and rogered it. For good or ill, this movie has to work with the most logical of what is left. For the most part, I think this movie is the better for it. While I don’t much like the connection created here between Xavier and Mystique, they at least manage to make it work in the context of the film franchise. The rest of the additions really only serve as filler material so there are young team members to shape. From a fan perspective these films have always been a bit galling as much as they were a thrill to see these characters come to life. With the other films in the pile, there are successes and failures. I really don’t buy Moira MacTaggert as a CIA agent. And the creation of two new members of the team is really a waste, both for the audience and for the actors, both of whom could have made something interesting of them. On the successful side, the slight tweaking of Magneto’s origin (keeping it in line with the previous films) fleshed him out beautifully. Missing some of the original team works for this movie, but only serves to remind comic fans of the ways that this franchise has done wrong by them. I have enjoyed all five films so far, even the miss fire that was the Wolverine movie, and I fully accept that most of these changes made the material work better for a movie. But the fanboy in me that grew up reading about these guys is still a little bummed. That said, this is easily the most satisfying of the films since the first two. It is a stronger character study than I would have though possible in this type of product, but it works on far more levels than it fails on. It even manages to not contradict the earlier films, that of course take place after this one.
3. And now the all important “fan service” category. There really is not all that much of it. I was amazed at how the look and feel of this movie is so 1960’s without feeling like a bad, romanticized and silly version, as so many today end up doing. There were parts of this film that looked and even felt like a classic Bond film that even the wife noticed and she is not a Bond fan. Self reference is what I was afraid of here, and except for the tip of the hat to the first film, there was nothing too glaring. There are two cameos that I will not spoil. The internet spoiled one of them for me, but it was still fun. And the second really worked well here, giving a nice connection to the other films. Speaking of cameos, am I the only one that missed Stan Lee, or was he really not there? In any event, the other fun bits of fan service are the costumes from the old Kirby-drawn books and the appearances of characters that could be described as D-List at best. Azazel, who is a regrettable addition to the comics from a few years back when the books kinds stunk up the place. The few fans that read those books will recall that he is Nightcrawler’s father. And there is Riptide, who is not named in the film, just the credits. Honestly, the powers are kind of messed up here and Riptide has made only a very small number of appearances in the books, but seeing him here was a bit of a treat. The single best bit of fan service will be lost on any fans not familiar with Magneto’s first appearance. It closes out the film, and is the most effective tip of the hat to the comics, and works perfectly in the film, thanks to the great period depiction the film gives.
Go see this. It is one of the better comics to film translations of the last 10 years at least. If you liked the earlier films, this will please you. If you can turn off the fanboy indignation enough to realize that the film is not the comic and that the comic would make a lousy film, you will enjoy this smart-ish, fun action film.
UPDATE: After about a week in release, the domestic box office total for the film is $81.5 million, with that likely to go to right about 90 mil by the end of the weekend. If it can lose less than 40% in gross this weekend, the total looks to be fairly decent, topping out domestically at $175 million, would be my guess. Combined with the overseas markets, this should be a success. Hopefully enough of one to see a sequel.