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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday, April 17, 2014 - Edition No 893 

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X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

SYNOPSIS:
In the early 60s at the height of the Cold War, the world discovers the existence of mutants. Telepath Charles Xavier / Professor X (James McAvoy) and powerful mutant Erik Lehnsheer /Magneto (Michael Fassbender) become friends and work together to recruit other mutants. But Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) is intent on manipulating the superpowers and orchestrating a world-war.

Review by Louise Keller:
X-Men aficionados will mostly be pleased with the result of this highly anticipated prequel that in some ways recaptures the essence of what Bryan Singer created with the franchise in the first two films, X-Men (2000) and X-Men 2 (2003). Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) was a little stunt-heavy for some and Gavin Hood's X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) took the franchise down a different fork on a darker road.

So it is refreshing that Kick Ass director Michael Vaughn has taken a large scale approach to this latest film and the screenwriters have come up with a plausible scenario to satisfy our curiosity about the origins of the X-Men and most importantly the back-story of its two pivotal characters. Although the filmmakers have packed far too much into the storyline, there's first class action, superb special effects and a nice sprinkling of humour in a plot whose heart rests in the bond between Professor X and Magneto.

The filmmakers' challenge was the perfect casting of the two key roles that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen established in the films that were made earlier but precede this one in time. James McAvoy might seem an unlikely contender to play the young Charles Xavier, Oxford academic contemplating the best ways to use his telepathic powers. But McAvoy sculpts the role beautifully with a commanding presence and clear diction that is almost Stewart-esque.

It is Michael Fassbender, however who commandingly steals the film as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto, the troubled mutant with the ability to control magnetism. Charismatic and enigmatic, Fassbender is superb as Erik, who is driven by hatred and an insatiable appetite for revenge.

When the story begins in flashback in 1944 Poland, we witness Erik as a young boy in a concentration camp, resisting pressure to expose his powers - with tragic consequences. This shocking scene gives the sense of purpose for the whole film.

There could be no greater contrast when we meet the young Xavier in his life of privilege getting a late night snack in the kitchen of his family's mansion. He is interrupted by a ravenous intruder in the shape of Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), self conscious about her trademark blue textured skin and red hair of her alter ego Mystique. Their friendship is immediately sealed.

The film jumps wildly as the Cuban missile crisis and the related political scenario is introduced. Frankly we are more interested in the moment when Xavier meets Erik; the development of their friendship is nicely handled.

The CIA's involvement in the search for mutants is a little confusing but the scenes when the new recruits show off their unique talents is showy and fun. I like Nicholas Hoult as the brilliant scientist Hank McCoy (aka Beast), who tries to reassure Mystique that it's okay to be different. Rose Byrne is badly cast as Xavier's love interest Moira McTaggart but watch out for Hugh Jackman in a scene stealing cameo.

There is nothing confusing about Kevin Bacon, who makes a formidable villain as the callous Sebastian Shaw, with evil intentions to orchestrate the face-off between the superpowers. As his telepathic assistant, Jennifer Jones is a decorative distraction, covered in indestructible diamond-like skin. It is the changing relationship between Professor X and Magneto that is the key plot point and this is well executed.

The politicizing of this prequel changes its nature considerably, taking it from its roots of fantasy action to a political thriller set at the time of the Cuban missile crisis but with Bond-style overtones. This is good for a debate all by itself.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (M)
(US, 2011)

CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jason Flemyng, Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Bacon

PRODUCER: Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Gregory Goodman, Bryan Singer

DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn

SCRIPT: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman (story by Bryan Singer, Sheldon Turner)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Mathieson

EDITOR: Lee Smith, Eddie Hamilton

MUSIC: Henry Jackman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Seagers

RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 2, 2011







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