Film Friday: ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘Midnight in Paris’

by W. Andrew Powell

The cast of X-Men: First Class, including Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy

The cast of X-Men: First Class, including Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy

Opening in a theatre near you this weekend: James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender star in the comic book reboot, X-Men: First Class; Owen Wilson stars in Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy, Midnight in Paris; plus a look at the dramedy, Submarine.

X-Men: First Class
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence
Director: Matthew Vaughn

Rated: 8/10

Comic book adaptations have come a long way since Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie debuted in 2000, and while there have been a lot of great comic book movies since then, if I’m going to be honest I would have to admit that X2: X-Men United is by far my favorite comic book movie, based primarily on the fact that Singer knew how to tell a story about vivid characters.

The X-Men franchise hit a snag though with the release of the third film, which was sub-par to say the least, so nothing short of a reboot was really going to revive the franchise. Thankfully, as a long-time fan of the X-Men comic books, Matthew Vaughn has created a reboot that has it all: action, sex appeal, and laughs.

Starting out exactly like the first X-Men film, with a reshot opening set in 1944, we meet a young Erik Lehnsherr who is being held at a concentration camp where one man, Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon, is forcing the boy to use his powers by threatening Erik’s mother.

From there, we float back and forth between Erik’s hunt for Shaw to meeting CIA agent Dr. Moira MacTaggert, played by Rose Byrne, who is investigating the Hellfire Club, where Emma Frost, played by January Jones, is currently playing host to a United States general and Shaw, who is essentially trying to start a nuclear war for his own gains. As Moira sneaks into the club, she inadvertently witnesses a display of mutant powers, sending her off to find an expert who can help her prove to the CIA that mutants exist.

That search leads her to Professor Charles Xavier, played by the über talented James McAvoy. As a boy Charles discovered he had the power to read minds, which led him to become a professor of genetics so he could better understand his own condition. By Charles’ side is the beautiful Raven, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who has a secret of her own–she’s a shapeshifter who can make herself look like anyone, and she’s been the professor’s best friend since they were children.

Joining with Moira when Charles realizes that there are dangerous mutants in the world, the trio gathers a team of mutant cohorts as they meet the head of Division X, played by Oliver Platt, where they also join forces with Erik.

Using the intrigue of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the sixties as a backdrop, X-Men: First Class is stylish, witty, and funny, and features a number of cameos, including a brief glimpse of Rebecca Romijn as Mystique, not to mention an equally quick moment with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Vaughn’s film hits all the right points to not only be a fun summer blockbuster, but also a film that fans can appreciate since it very, very faithfully recreates the characters from the original comic books, all the way down to the costumes, and even Beast’s transformation from a brilliant scientist with ape-like feet to a big, blue creature.

Most importantly though, Vaughn has put together a fantastic team of actors, with some of the best casting I could imagine for these characters. McAvoy and Fassbender in particular are the perfect duo to lead the film, and Kevin Bacon plays, at times, a scenery-chewing villain worthy of being a big-screen nemesis. I also loved Lawrence as Mystique, and Jones plays a good Emma Frost, despite the fact that her role is more about looks than acting.

The only major complaint with the film is that the overall script is weak, with a plot that needed to be tightened up, especially in the second half, and the film feels ragged as we jump between story lines. X-Men: First Class is still a fantastic first film in this new trilogy, one that is in fact better than the original X-Men, but I hope the sequels have tighter writing and storylines.

Looking at where the film ends, my guess is that X-Men fans can perhaps expect the sequel to follow the X-Tinction Agenda storyline from the comic books, but that’s just a guess. All I can say is that if you appreciated Bryan Singer’s X-Men films, you need to see Vaughn’s prequel.

Midnight in Paris
Starring: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni, Adrien Brody
Director: Woody Allen

In Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy, Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter travelling in Paris and looking to find inspiration for a novel, which his friends don’t believe he’s capable of writing.

Walking off on his own one night, and leaving behind his fiancée, Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, Gil finds himself somehow walking the streets of Paris in the 1920s where he meets icons of the past, including Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dalí, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Pablo Picasso.

As Gil searches the streets for insight for his novel, he discovers more about himself while also learning a few things that might help him with his relationship with Inez.

Earning glowing reviews from critics, Midnight in Paris looks like your best bet this weekend if you want something just a little more intelligent than rampaging mutants.

As Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post wrote, “Midnight in Paris finds Allen in a larky, slightly tart and altogether bountiful mood, giving filmgoers a movie that, while unabashedly funny and playful, provides a profiterole or two for thought.”

A.O. Scott also wrote for the New York Times, “It is marvelously romantic, even though–or precisely because–it acknowledges the disappointment that shadows every genuine expression of romanticism.”

Starring: Craig Roberts, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, Yasmin Paige, Darren Evans
Director: Richard Ayoade

From director Richard Ayoade comes this dramedy about Oliver Tate, a young boy played by Craig Roberts who is trying to save his parents’ marriage with a plan that involves love letters and a dimmer switch. At the same time, Oliver is trying to impress his pyromaniac classmate, Jordanna, played by Yasmin Paige, who he hopes will take his virginity before his next birthday.

Although Submarine hasn’t received as many positive reviews, the film has a solid reputation as it opens this weekend, and Kyle Smith wrote for the New York Post, “The excruciating and the hilarious mingle nearly to perfection in this marvelously visualized and deeply felt British film…”

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