Saturday, June 30, 2012

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS



Here's my first movie review on this brand spanking new blog of mine and irony of ironies, it's not for an old movie. It's for a new movie, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS which came out last summer.

I missed this one in the theaters so when I found a cheap used copy at Half Price Books this morning, I popped on it. The film, set in 1962, retcons the Marvel X-Universe and tells the origins of both Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magento. At first, the two are united against a common foe, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) but by the end of the film, the two men go their separate ways, one to lead the X-Men, the other to command the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

James McAvoy makes a solid Xavier but it's Michael Fassbender as Magento who steals the show. I enjoyed his performance both here and in this summer's PROMETHEUS and should Daniel Craig ever give up the role of James Bond, Fassbender would make a nice choice as a replacement. Bacon is a good villain, January Jones is a smoking hot Emma Frost and the other mutants (good and bad) are well-cast and well-played. The obligatory new guy, Darwin, gets killed early and the new girl (and the first X-Man code-named Angel) turns to the dark side, leaving us with a line-up of Xavier, Hank McCoy/Beast (who becomes blue-furred for the first time here), Havok and Banshee.

This reboot/origin story gets things more right than wrong, however, no one in 1962 used the word "groovy" and Moira McTaggart wears short skirts that didn't come into vogue until later in the decade. The film definitely has a '60s spy film vibe to it, with nods to James Bond, the Avengers (the British televsion series) and DR. STRANGELOVE. Terrific special effects, a spectacular finale and a wickedly funny Wolverine cameo make this one a winner. Great final "reveal" scene. Thumbs up.

I started reading the X-MEN comic book in September, 1966. By that time, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had already worked their magic on the title over the course of the first dozen or so issues. By the time I came onboard, the creative teams were writers Arnold Drake and Roy Thomas with art by Werner Roth (what ever happened to him?). I bought most of the back issues over time and read reprints of the stuff I didn't have, so I was pretty well versed on the team of young mutants.

The first line-up remains my favorite (and the best). Xavier led a team composed of Scott Summers/Cyclops, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Hank McCoy/Beast, Bobby Drake/Iceman and Warren Worthington/Angel. The title had it's ups and downs over the years but I fondly recall some issues with art by Don Heck (one of my favorites), a very young Barry Smith (swiping Jack Kirby until the cows came home), some outstanding covers by the brilliant Jim Steranko and the optic nerve blast, retina searing debut of the "pencilling wizardry" of one Neal Adams. The team of Roy Thomas, Neal Adams and Tom Palmer produced the best books of the series but it was too little, too late.

The book was eventually cancelled and then brought back as an all-reprint title. When the new X-Men debuted in the mid-'70s, I was onboard and enjoyed the work of writer Chris Claremont and artists Dave Cockrum and John Byrne. However, with the advent of THE NEW MUTANTS title the Marvel X-Universe suddenly got a little bit too big and too crowded for my tastes and the subsequent proliferation of X-books, an army of mutant characters (good and bad) and the over-exposure of Wolverine, caused me to abandon the books completely. I know they sold well and many a fan of the younger generation cut their teeth on these books, but they just didn't appeal to me.

Give me that old time Marvel magic from 1966 to 1969 any day and I'll be happy. 'nuff said!

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