X-Men: First Class – Movie Review

Ever since the first X-Men movie was released more than a decade ago, I was fascinated by the saga and the upcoming sequels did not deter me from still liking it.

X-Men: First Class is both literally and figuratively a return to basics. It is both the prologue to all X-Men movies that were released before it and it is also a return to form of a series that kinda lost its way with trying to build too much history and subplot.

Erik Lehnsherr is a teenage boy, imprisoned in German Nazi concentration camps. When Dr. Schmidt sees him move a metal gate as his parents are taken away from him, he summons Erik and asks him to move a metal coin. Erik fails, with devastating consequences that lead to great anger, launching Erik’s powers of controlling metal and killing two guards on the spot.

Fast forward twenty years and Erik (Michael Fassbender) is on a mission to find Dr. Schmidt and kill him in revenge. On the other hand, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is seeking a PhD in Genetics with his research about the upcoming mutations in the human species. Charles, along with shape-shifter Raven (later known as Mystique and played by the awesome Jennifer Lawrence *insert fanboy hearts*) are trying to find other people of their kind and help them accept their condition. That’s when they are recruited by the CIA in order to prevent a nuclear war between the US and Russia, a war that is spearheaded by the present form of Dr. Schmidt, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant whose power is deadly and his group of mutants who will do their best to bring destruction.

James McAvoy, as young Dr. Charles Xavier, is in a role he was born to play. I couldn’t imagine a better actor in this role simply because McAvoy embodies the serenity that Xavier has in the previous movies, set in the future compared to this one, perfectly. He is wise, calm and intelligent, exactly as the future Dr. X is.

On the other hand, Fassbender is as great in portraying Erik, later known as Magneto. He sets the tone for the character we all know later on amazingly well: the many layers that shape this man and his beliefs. And he does so perfectly.

Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays a younger Mystique, is absolutely stunning both literally and figuratively in that portrayal. Mystique (or as she is known in this movie: Raven) controls her powers really well. But her weakness is acceptance. She hates her blue-scaled look and seeks out a much more “acceptable” form as a human. Her path in the movie is first and foremost one towards self-acceptance, with which she will also help Henry McCoy (later known as Beast) to accept his mutation as well.

X-Men: First Class is fueled by the directing chops of Matthew Vaughn, whose latest offering was Kick Ass, a very interesting movie if you haven’t seen it. And you need to give lots of props to this director for taking what was, according to many (I still enjoyed the movies), a sagging franchise and breathed new life into it by reinvigorating its past and reminding everyone how it all started.

Why is it that Dr. Xavier is paralyzed? How did Magneto get that weird helmet he wears to prevent Dr. X from accessing his mind? How did the term X-Men originate? How did both sides of the battle (call them good and evil) originate? X-Men: First Class answers all these questions and more. It is a movie that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. X-Men has always been a saga about the fine line between good and evil and how that line gets blurred often. This one is no different. You feel that both sides of the equation have things going for them. It doesn’t show one side in a good light and the other in a bad light. Both have strong and true convictions. You get to choose the side you want to be on.

2011 is shaping up to be a great movie for superhero movies. After the highly entertaining Thor (my review), X-Men: First Class steps it up. And with more superhero movies to come, it will take a mighty effort for them to overtake the caliber that this movie presents. Go watch it now. You will be absorbed for over two hours. Your move, Captain America.

The Last Station – Movie Review

The Last Station is a  movie about redemption. It’s a movie that tells the story of the basic human need for forgiveness and continuity and love. Set in the early 20th century Russia, this movie is centered around the last days of Leo Tolstoy, famous writer of Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Tolstoy had founded the Tolstoyan movement. However, his wife, the countess Sofya, does not agree with those views, especially regarding the relinquishment of private property, and is more worried about sustainability than about her husband’s movement.
The Last Station is the story of the struggle of everyone against the countess, as they try to bring her down to get her husband’s movement to triumph. And in the center of that story is love, be it the love that existed for over forty eight years in the marriage of Tolstoy and the countess or the newly developing love between Valentin (James McAvoy), the new secretary, and Marsha, a woman who lives in a Tolstoyan colony. And how can love survive in a movement that calls to love everyone equally, where loving someone else preferentially is breaking the rules – the rules that even Tolstoy himself cannot but break.

Nominated for several academy awards, especially in the acting department, this movie is simply excellent. Helen Mirren, in her role as the countess, delivers a powerhouse performance as the woman trying to ensure that her way of life remains the same throughout everything. She portrays the hurt of a woman who feels her husband doesn’t love her anymore and embodies the frustration of not being able to communicate with him like before, which she blames on those her husband had befriended after starting the movement.
The actor who plays Tolstoy, Christopher Plummer, delivers a rich and multilayered performance of the man lost between the principles he set for himself and others and his basic need as a human being: love for his wife and family. The Last Station is the battle of the protective wife and a dominant advisor, all going in front of Valentin, another great performance by James McAvoy, a man whose basic needs have been clouded over the years by his sense of belonging to  the Tolestoyan movement.

The beauty of The Last Station is that it shows even the greats, like Tolestoy, are basically human after all. They have their flaws and needs and, regardless of how sophisticated they may be, at the end, they are as simple as we all are. A truly magnificent conclusion, indeed.