X-Men: The Beginning (Matthew Vaughn, 2011)
Director: Matthew VaughnActors: James McAvoy, January Jones, Jason Flemyng, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne
Screenwriter: Ashley Miller, Bryan Singer, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Zack Stentz
Composer: Henry Jackman
Director of Photography: John Mathieson
Editor: Eddie Hamilton, Lee Smith
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox France
Original title : X-Men: First Class
Before the mutants revealed their existence to the world, and before Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr became Professor X and Magneto, they were still only two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before becoming the worst enemies, they were still friends and worked with other mutants to prevent the destruction of the world, Armageddon.
During this operation, the emerging conflict between the two men increased, and the eternal war between the Brotherhood of Magneto and the X-Men of Professor X broke out … X-Men: the beginning takes us to the origins of the saga X -Men, revealing a secret story around the major events of the twentieth century.
The long story than that between the X-Men and the director Matthew Vaughn, former producer of Guy Ritchie which he has remained in the shadows for too long, for no real reason. Already in 2005, he had to stage X-Men the final confrontation, before giving up because of “artistic difference” with Fox two weeks from filming.
The rest we know, the hard worker Brett Ratner came to trash the franchise, followed by the yet very good Gavin Hood, to bury all hope of seeing a film of X-Men drinking on the big screen. And that’s where Matthew Vaughn reappears, accompanied by the godfather Bryan Singer, who with the first X-Men and X2 had somehow defined the codes of the modern superhero film, launching the wave of comics adapted on the big screen for the best but especially for the worst.
It is also the latter who signed the story serving as the basis for the scenario of X-Men: The Beginning, inspired, we imagine, essentially from the comic-book X-Men First Class by Jeff Parker and Roger Cruz. Without making a clean sweep of the first films, X-Men: The Beginning imposes itself as a high-flying prequel by a director free of his show-off tics seen in Kick-Ass, the ideal way to relaunch a saga massacred by an unscrupulous studio and a blockbuster who forgot to be silly. And incidentally, an excellent film, quite simply.
The main strength of X-Men: The Beginning is to address all audiences. From comic book fans to worshipers of Singer’s two films, to laymen, everyone should be delighted because no one is left behind. The film gives real origins quite logical to the various characters and turns into a breeding ground for whole mythology.
Thus are present the origins of various elements such as Cerebro, Magneto’s helmet, Xavier’s paralysis, the X-jet, the character of Diablo through his father Azazel, among other fundamental details that make the link with the first saga. But the most interesting thing is not there.
It is rather on the side of the symbol and the integration of the X-Men into the history of the modern world. Matthew Vaughn and Bryan Singer dig a little deeper into the global metaphor of the universe of mutants, such obvious symbols of a society incapable of accepting difference. Nothing very new in there but it’s rather reassuring to see that the message is still going well and that it lends itself wonderfully to the decor so tense of the 60s and the Cold War.
A time when the fear of the other was at its maximum and which finds a certain echo in our current western world, the little of the Communist having transformed into a fear of Arabic.
This is to say that this relaunch of the X-Men franchise is timely to highlight the absurdity of the situation. And what could be better than the Cuban missile crisis to give strong support where it hurts? Taking as a backdrop this short moment when the world almost imploded in a series of grotesque events, X-Men: The Beginning offers a rereading of history like a Watchmenmore sober to illustrate the nature of the “children of the atom” through a very clever spy film intrigue.
And we must admit that the story is quite brilliant despite the multiplicity of narrative tracks that range from this historical background to the formation of the first group of X-Men, including the club of the damned, the relationship between Xavier and Mystique and well on the main story which shows the evolution of a couple of friends/enemies Erik and Xavier, or the future Professors X and Magneto.
Despite the profusion of characters that inevitably leaves a few on the side, the film only “lasts” 2:10, this X-Men: The Beginningbenefits from fluidity and rhythm difficult to take in default. Divided into two fairly distinct parts, the narrative frame offers both an interesting variation around the military crisis in the Doctor Folamour style while developing concrete origins for superheroes and villains, leaving a considerable place for some of the most interesting, like Mystique, and introducing others with amazing powers.
X-Men: The Beginning benefits from a substantial post-production work which allows a majority of rather insane visual effects, while a handful seems a bit cheap (Erik’s second blow of anger while the global scene is visually stunning). Overall it is a blockbuster aimed at the top of the basket in terms of staging, even if sometimes Matthew Vaughn seems to fade in favor of a certain academic public.
Just like Singer, if all this sometimes lacks personality, and therefore style, the efficiency of a seriously recited cinematic grammar allows almost immediate adhesion. There are even a few pieces of bravery that could well place this homecoming above all the previous films in the saga, including the much-loved X2 (which suffers from its titanic introduction compared to the rest of the film, despite immense qualities).
Regarding the cast, Vaughn has accumulated the right choices and all are doing wonderfully, even if the whole remains dominated by the fascinating duo/duel between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, both prodigious, and to a lesser extent Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Bacon in great dramatic and/or bad guy roles.
Note for those nostalgic for the 80’s the short but fun participation of the immense Michael Ironside. In the waste department, we can deplore a lack of visual cohesion sometimes (several directors of photography have succeeded, it shows) and a pompous soundtrack which lacks a really powerful theme. But overall, the franchise has just reborn in the most beautiful way.
It is never easy to revive a franchise that has bottomed out, let alone when it has happened twice. With the return of Bryan Singer to support the definitely very gifted Matthew Vaughn, this was the best thing that could happen to the mutants. Swept the successive affronts of Brett Ratner and Gavin Hood, and place a real spy film, a socio-political intrigue that skillfully revisits history, but above all a story of origins simply brilliant.
X-Men: The Beginning avoids almost all the traps set by the exercise of the prequel and the film of superheroes, is freed from certain balls inherent in the universe to offer an introductory reading of the most intelligent, and if all that sometimes lacks what makes very great films, we are holding a summer blockbuster which will be difficult to overcome this year. A real renaissance, in addition to a return to basics.