Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: June 3, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr brushes up on his world history by studying the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. He learns how multiple mutants were involved in not only escalating it but also trying to solve it.

Surely an education by Hollywood will help him out when he takes his GED next month.

After spending hours reflecting on January Jones’s boobs, he took the rest of the day trying to move things with his mind, which led to an emergency room visit after bursting a blood vessel from concentrating too hard. Thank god there was only one movie opening wide this weekend.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Take a listen below as Kevin is joined in the Magical Studio in the Sky by Chris Spears, formerly of the Imperial Holonet Radio Podcast.

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Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language

Starring: James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones and Oliver Platt

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

What it’s about: In this fifth film of the X-Men series, director Matthew Vaughn takes us back to their origins. We follow the lives of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, two mutants with extraordinary powers. Charles lives a life of privilege and is helping the CIA bring together mutants for government operations while Erik is seeking revenge against the Nazi scientist who killed his mother. Together, they find themselves united in an attempt to avert the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

What I liked: I’m a huge superhero fan, and I will always give props to the original X-Men for kick-starting the latest onslaught of superhero movies more than a decade ago. On the whole, I’ve enjoyed all the X-Men films, even The Last Stand and Wolverine to a degree. (Yeah, those had their problems, but the whole series is a guilty pleasure of mine.)

X-Men: First Class goes back to the roots of what made the X-Men films great, namely the sympathetic character of Erik Lehnsherr, later to be known as Magneto. Just as Ian McKellan played the role with lots of empathy, Michael Fassbender owns this movie. Rather than being a straight-up bad guy, Erik is a character who sees himself doing the right thing… and often he is doing the right thing. In many ways, Erik is more grounded than Charles Xavier in this film, and that makes the audience get behind him.

Plus, Fassbender manages to take the role seriously enough to counteract some of the inherent campiness of the other actors, namely James MacAvoy as the swinging version of Charles and Kevin Bacon as the Bacon-esque former Nazi.

While this is a big summer action film, it does not rely solely on the action to make the movie work. Instead, the film has its most powerful moments when characters face off rather than when shit gets blown up.

Not being a reader of the X-Men comic books, I cannot say how close this follows the source material, but speaking as someone who has enjoyed the previous four movies to varying degrees, I found it to work well into the constrains of this franchise.

And let’s not forget that it’s the fifth freaking movie. How often do we get this jump in quality when a franchise hits number five? Compared to the Jason-less Friday the 13th: Part 5 – A New Beginning and the nonsensical Leprechaun in da Hood, this movie is beyond genius.

What I didn’t: As good as X-Men: First Class is, the film is not without its flaws. Most of them I found relatively forgivable, though. Like any film that is not only a fifth in a series but also a prequel, it gets weighed down with some awkward pacing and exposition. There’s plenty of moments where the movie tips its hat at the other films. Sometimes these work, but sometimes they don’t.

Also, because it is set in the 60s, the film is loaded with anachronisms, mostly in terms of style and slang. In one scene, Charles uses the term “groovy,” though it’s done so in a humorous respect. The reality is that these “far out” phrases were far more common than what we hear in the script. But I understand the need to tone that down. Otherwise, it would have played like Austin Powers 4: Groovy Mutants.

Finally, the acting isn’t excellent across the board. In fact, it’s really hit-and-miss. Sure, Fassbender rules the film, and Bacon is silly fun as the villain. But James MacAvoy phones in his performance, falling into the cliche of holding two fingers to his temple whenever he uses his psychic powers. I keep expecting Burton Guster to come running onto set followed by Carlton Lassaster.

And then there’s January Jones, who is attractive and has marvelous boobs. But her acting is atrocious. Yeah, she looks good on a movie poster, but damn!

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of the big summer superhero movie.

Grade: A-

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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