Tuesday, June 07, 2011

It takes two

There's something about a great guy duo that generates more power than even the most electric romantic pair. Maybe it's the intensity from the interplay between 2 male egos, or the comedic possibilities of a double dose of testosterone-- whatever the reason, it's why buddy flicks tend to do so well at the box office, and why we see even the most macho of audiences embracing the fairly recent phenomenon of the "bromance".

While X-Men: First Class shies away from a full-blown bromance between its two male protagonists, it is fueled and propelled by the terrific chemistry between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Magnus Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), better known as Professor X and Magneto, respectively. The movie tells the dramatic albeit inaccurate (purist comic geeks around the world are probably apoplectic with rage) back story of how the mutant superhero group the X-Men got started, centering on
Charles and Erik's friendship and their eventual parting of ways. McAvoy and Fassbender inhabit their roles with an admirable commitment, almost an unnecessary solemnity, and infuse them with both pathos and humor. It also doesn't hurt that they're both easy on the eyes, and look awfully good decked out in suits, strutting around the country recruiting their fellow mutants. Any X-Men fan worth his salt could tell you Professor X and Magneto have always had a special relationship, always delicately teetering between comradeship and conflict, but firmly grounded on mutual respect and fondness. McAvoy and Fassbender successfully bring this interesting dynamic to life, and it is the most enjoyable aspect of an otherwise so-so film adaptation.

The screenplay is the biggest disappointment: the plot is overly ambitious yet underdeveloped (the X-Men averted the Cuban missile crisis, really?!?), the dialogue often felt stilted, there are too many lame cliches for comfort, and there is little material for tremendous acting talents like McAvoy and Fassbender to work with. The weak writing is most evident when delivered by equally weak actors, especially the vapid January Jones (whom I actually preferred in Emma Frost's diamond form so I wouldn't have to see her gorgeous but frustratingly vacant face). Actually the writing does work for someone: the wonderful Kevin Bacon, thoroughly having a blast playing the baddie and evidently relishing each trite one-liner his character, Sebastian Shaw/Schmidt, utters. What can I say, Bacon and cheese really do go together. All puns aside, Bacon makes a convincing villain, and makes the bad script work for him. He's THAT good.

Unfortunately the same can't be said of the rest of the cast. T
he actors who play the motley group of young mutants assembled by Charles and Erik are forgettable, and even Oscar-nominated Jennifer Lawrence is surprisingly blah as Mystique. Rose Byrne is a letdown as Moira MacTaggert-- not only is there no effort to essay a Scottish accent, she is totally not credible as a tough CIA agent. Moreover, there are no sparks between her and James McAvoy (c'mon, how hard can it be to look smitten by someone who looks like James McAvoy?), and more than once I found myself wishing they had either cast someone else, or done away with the character completely. I willingly overlooked the poor supporting cast though, not only due to the McAvoy-Fassbender tandem, but also because there are a couple of smartly placed cameos (no spoilers here) that more than made up for it.

As far as prequels go, X-Men: First Class does an adequate job of setting up the premise for the previous 3 X-Men films, although it fails to surpass them in terms of entertainment value (well, maybe not the third X-Men movie, that kinda sucked). But it's really the Charles and Erik show, and while I will stop short of saying McAvoy and Fassbender are better than the formidable combination of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, they certainly make an impressively powerful-- and damn good-looking-- pair.


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