Casting a movie sequel made from a popular book or previous film is a fabulous way to waste time online. Fans of The Hunger Games trilogy are currently locked in fierce debate over the wisdom of Jennifer Lawrence playing Katniss Everdeen, and every other part in that film has been dissected and/or applauded in the comments section of each cast announcement. (To which I would like to add: Lenny Kravitz as Cinna?! WTF?) Sitting alone at my keyboard, it’s easy to second-guess and complain about this, but I have to admit that occasionally the casting directors come up with a choice that makes me remember why I am but a lowly blogger and not involved in movie-making. I speak, of course, of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in the latest mutant prequel, X-Men: First Class.
The first few X-Men films were very good, with Patrick Stewart playing Charles Xavier and Ian McKellen as Magneto. Although Hugh Jackman and his fabulous sideburns (and abs) grabbed most of the attention, Stewart and McKellen were the two that held the films together. So when word started to come out about another X-men origin prequel (with X-Men: Wolverine mercifully forgotten), it was only natural that their story should be the next one told.
Set in 1962 during the Bay of Pigs crisis, the story explores the youthful friendship of Xavier and Magneto and the conflict that eventually drove them apart. MacAvoy never tries to do an imitation of Patrick Stewart, but gives a fully developed, charismatic performance that anchors the film. He does make a few bald jokes, but always with the winking arrogance of a young man who couldn’t possibly conceive of something like that happening to his head of magnificent hair. Michael Fassbender (who was smoldering hot as Mr. Rochester in the newest version of Jane Eyre) shows Magneto’s tragic childhood and is so sympathetic that you almost have to agree with him that the humans suck and can never be trusted. When these two are together, it’s pretty easy to ignore the other mutants such as the blue girl and the guy who turned into a beast.
The rest of the cast is not quite as skilled as the two male leads. I hope Jennifer Lawrence can do a better job as Katniss than she does here as Raven, because the pounds of indigo goo she’s wearing make her look like a member of Blue Man Group who was in a tragic fire. January Jones as Emma Frost proves once and for all that she really is Betty Draper from Mad Men, because every part she performs in looks like a frigid housewife from the 1960s. She is also dressed like an escaped fembot from Austin Powers, which doesn’t help. And Kevin Bacon as the villain Sebastien Shaw who murders Magneto’s family and pursues him for his power is just plain boring. Note to Kevin: wearing an ascot is not enough to define your character as an evil mastermind.
Barf Bag rating: ZERO BAGS As the summer blockbusters keep on rolling in, it becomes more and more evident that the big special-effects studio films rarely use the hand-held camera technique that can cause so many digestive problems. I’ve packed away my Dramamine with my earmuffs and hope for all of our sakes that this is not just a phase they are going through, but an actual change of attitude. I guess we’ll find out with Transformers III.