Review: ‘X-Men: First Class’

Just realised I hadn’t posted a movie review in a while. And this was a good one! As always, originally posted on iafrica.com.

Finally! A shining beacon of light in a movie season of bad sequels and pointless remakes!

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War – and eventually the Cuban Missile Crisis – X-Men: First Class looks back at the early days of the mutant storyline. We’re first introduced to telepath Charles Xavier and Polish Jew Erik Lehnsherr, who can manipulate magnetic fields, as boys in the later days of World War II.

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class

Charles grows up in a rich home, convinced that he’s a freak of nature and the only one of his kind. He meets shape-shifter Raven (who later becomes Mystique) and the two forge a close foster-sibling relationship. Meanwhile, Erik suffers at the hands of the Nazis as they try to rein in his unique ability.

Flash forward twenty years to the early 1960s. The CIA are hot on the heels of Communist sympathiser Sebastian Shaw – but when it transpires that he and his accomplices have unique abilities, the CIA drafts in the leading expert in human mutation – Charles Xavier. Charles and Erik share a common enemy in Shaw, and together they team up to draft a small army of mutants to fight Shaw and his companions.

A human story

First Class is a wonderful blockbuster film, effortlessly blending massive special effects and thumping action sequences with a distinctly human element that makes it all the more engaging. It’s an extremely moving film – although it does hover on the edge of being overly sentimental at times – and is driven by a smart, witty script laced with clever and cheeky references (“You didn’t ask, I didn’t tell” provoked a great chuckle from the audience).

But it’s the performances that make this film so successful. Yes, First Class is a thumping action film – but at its heart it’s a human story, driven by its characters and their need for acceptance. Central to the film is the fascinating relationship between Charles and Erik – and these two leads provide sterling performances.

James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) brings the quiet nobility and inner strength expected of Charles Xavier. But this is a younger Charles, one who tries to pick up girls using a pre-prepared chat-up speech and celebrates his graduation by downing a yard of ale at a pub. Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre) simmers with rage and a chilling sense of pragmatism as Erik. It’s remarkable how these two channel the older selves portrayed by Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and Ian McKellen (Magneto) – their transformation into these giants is easily believable. Continue reading

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“Sobering” thoughts on The Hangover*

*I apologise for the bad pun. It was just too tempting.

In my review of The Hangover Part II I had a very, very restrained rant on how offensive I found a number of jokes in the film:

“I could spend a massive chunk of this review having a rant about how the writers seem determined to be as offensive as possible, but I’ll tone it down. You can look forward to animal cruelty, far too many gratuitous shots of male genitalia (because there’s nothing funnier than a small penis, apparently) and blindingly obvious xenophobia and homophobia. If that’s your cup of tea, fine – it’s not mine.”

The Hangover Part II

Theatrical poster for 'The Hangover Part II'

But I feel like I just can’t let it go. Here’s why.

The scene that bothered me more than anything else was the scene with “Kimmy” at a sleazy Bangkok strip club. It being Thailand – and, like, everybody totally knows that there are, like, millions of transvestites (“ladyboys”) in Thailand and they just want to have sex with the poor, unsuspecting tourists – Kimmy has a penis, as well as a massive pair of breasts. When the guys trace their way back to this strip club it emerges that Stu had consensual sex with Kimmy – which turned out to be receptive anal on his part. And, to Stu, having sex with another man is apparently the worst thing that has ever happened to him in his entire life. He freaks out completely, carrying on about how he made love to a man with “boobies” and *gasp* enjoyed it. This is supposed to be one of the squirm-inducing moments in a film where you laugh at the guy out of pity, glad it’s not you.

I didn’t laugh. I didn’t find it remotely funny. I found it hateful and outdated – and it just goes a long way to proving how extremely okay Hollywood is with homophobia.

Continue reading