June 25, 2011

10 reasons why 'X Men : First Class' is second best.

Only 2 days ago, I happened to watch one of the most gorgeous Hollywood summer blockbusters in a suburban multiplex here in Mumbai. Devoid of all the trappings of a typical commercial potboiler and minus the gimmicky reputation that most superhero flicks come with, X Men : First Class indeed stood upto its name. Spectacular performances from a young cast woven into a tightly written script which never loses pace, X Men : First Class proved to be a huge relief for movie freaks like me who have been yearning for ‘that one great film’ this year. Be it Michael Fassbender’s charismatic portrayal of the evil Magneto in the making. (He did steal the show and how!) or James McAvoy’s infusion of  charm and grace into the noble Mr.X or the fantastic chemistry between the 2, the film kept escalating from one level to another with each passing second. Setting the film against the backdrop of the Cold War Era tensions between the US and USSR proved to be a masterstroke! Blending history with histrionics is something that’s rarely been experimented in the superhero film genre till date and Director Matthew Vaughn deserves full marks for rebooting a franchise which was on the wane despite the towering presence of Hugh Jackman. And needless to say, audiences went ballistic in their response to the film. For girls, James McAvoy became the new Robert Pattinson while for guys, Michael Fassbender became the poster-boy. Critics went gaga courtesy what I like to call an ‘aesthetic orgasm’ largely due to the pace of the film and its sheer intelligence. As an avid follower of film reviews, I am used to puns and hyperboles in equal measure. You can trust them, you can thrash them. But sometimes you can’t tolerate them. Specially when they cross a line. And that’s precisely what one of them did by labeling X Men : First Class as “the greatest superhero film of all time.” Words which I believe call for legal action. Sheer blasphemy I say for the title of the greatest comic-book adaptation is reserved for one and only one film. X Men : First Class may be first rate, wildly intelligent, well written etc etc. but unfortunately it comes only second to the greatest superhero film of all time - “The Dark Knight”.

Just  a week away from joining a prestigious B School, you can call this my first case study. Though I do not intend to be even remotely connected to films, emotionally I do! Here are 10 reasons why X Men : First Class is simply no match to The Dark Knight : 

1) Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger as Joker

Look at those 2 words. Stare at them, say it aloud and tell me you didn’t feel a pinch of awe ! Coz you are looking at the name of the man who proved to be the greatest USP of The Dark Knight (TDK). His nerve cracking performance as the vicious psychopathic mass murderer aka The Joker was a blinder to say the least. What Heath did to TDK is simply beyond the realms of human imagination or capability. For a man who prior to the film was little known outside America.  known only to purists for he had the balls to do a homosexual role in the often ridiculed and despised yet critically acclaimed Brokeback Mountain, he became a global hero. Though he met with a tragic death, he had made his greatest contribution to cinema by giving a performance worth dying for. Pages and pages of theses can be written about him, but even the most expert eulogist will struggle for words to describe the man’s achievement. Sadly, despite a brilliant show by Michael Fassbender(the best in X Men), he doesn’t even manage to make 1% of Heath’s impact.

2) Heavyweights

Director Matthew Vaughn may deserve a pat on his back for coming up with a delicious film despite having a set of amateur young actors. But let’s face it. It’s easier to lead a bunch of novice than a bunch of wise. The Dark Knight had a huge risk of falling prey to the “Too many cooks spoil the broth” syndrome. However the film never falters. When Joker was away, the likes of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Christian Bale held sway. Their towering presence just added to the impact left by Joker.

3) Superhero?

One of the positives of the film is thanks to what I would like to term an unfair advantage – Of all the comic book characters, Batman is perhaps the only one without any sort of inborn/built-in superpowers. Batman thrives on technology. And in an age powered and driven by technology , nothing is more pleasing to eyes than seeing innovation being used to protect a city. There is a sense of practicality or feasibility in whatever Batman does making the plot more and more believable and thus establishing a strong connect with the audience.  

4) Dialogues

If Shakespeare was alive, he would have been proud reading the screenplay of TDK. Some of the dialogues in the film can qualify for proverbs. Though X Men : First Class can boast of some real good ones as well. (“Killing was never an option” , “Let’s just say I’m a Frankenstein’s monster and I’m looking for my creator.” or “If you’re using half your concentration to look normal,then you are paying only half attention to whatever else you are doing.” etc. etc.),  they don’t come so frequently as in TDK. TDK throws them at you one after another at a breathtaking frequency – “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” , “I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve”, “We were decent men at indecent time”, “Whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger” etc. 

5) Being Human

Another highlight of TDK was the remarkable climax scene, where the civilians of Gotham City display a great level of courage and spirit by proving the Joker wrong. In an industry where superhero films are so condescending to the civilians, this came as a wave of fresh air. Civilians are treated as mere spectators or victims to the show put up by the superheros and supervillains. And it gets no different in X Men where they are all at the mercy of mutants. However for the first time, TDK handed over the reins of saving an entire city to neither of the two protagonists but instead to the common masses. Ingenious!

6) Chemistry of Contrast

Batman & Joker in The Dark Knight

Professor X & Magneto in X Men: First Class

Chemistry between Prof X and Magneto is perhaps the most sizzling aspect of X Men First Class. How 2 thick friends go onto become bitter foes provides enough fodder for a fairy tale narration which the West simply loves. Quite evident in their literature and cinema. And it would be really unfair on the director to disregard the beautiful way in which he explores the 2 characters and emotionally invests us in them. Great no doubt. But the point is. Chemistry between 2 lovers, 2 friends, 2 relatives is quite heard of. but what about the one between 2 completely contrasting entities? That’s what TDK manages to do. Though Batman despises Joker and the Joker loves the Batman, they can’t do away with each other. Strangely, they are connected. They wouldn’t kill each other. As Joker himself tells Batman in the film,”You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you coz you are so much fun!”. TDK redefined chemistry and thus outdid everybody.

7) Trendsetter

With all due credit to the team of X Men, you can’t cloud the fact that the whole idea of rebooting a superhero franchise so intelligently started with the Batman films. Slowly people started taking these films more seriously rather than stuffing them with mindless gravity defying stunts. It’s only when DC Comics came up with The Dark Knight that Marvel was spurred to respond with X Men : First Class.

8) Benchmark for action

The truck flipping scene in TDK

Action is an indispensable part of every superhero film. And even the silliest films in Hollywood score on the action part. Both X Men and TDK do a great favor to themselves by focusing on the script more than stunts and 3D. However when you compare the 2, TDK scores a point over the other. Though X Men can boast of some fabulous sequences, none can match the originality of the most famous action scene in TDK. The famous truck flipping scene in TDK has become a legend in itself. And so has the explosion at the Gotham City Hospital. It set new benchmarks for action in Hollywood cinema. With minimal use of CGI, the days of conventional fights were back in Hollywood.

9) On your toes

A sense of anticipation pervades through the entire 2 and a half hours of running time in TDK. Right from the 1st scene, there is this eerie feeling that something terrible is about to happen. As Joker wreaks havoc after havoc in Gotham, the plot simply gets unpredictable. Though X Men starts brilliantly on that front, towards the second half, it becomes more predictable.

10) The Real Knight

Christopher Nolan

In all the above talk, I didn’t mention one name. The man behind it all. The genius who crafted this gem of a film, the brain, heart and soul of the project – CHRISTOPHER NOLAN. Arguably the most popular director today. Would we have known Ledger at all had Nolan not written the character so wonderfully? Every film of his comes with a huge expectation and instead of cowering under the burden, he keeps getting better with every film. His Dark Knight set a wonderful trend which has been loyally followed by Matthew Vaughn. And thus giving us one more man to look forward to as he announces the sequel to X Men : First Class.

I loved X Men : First Class. It may be truly first class but it comes only a distant second to The Dark Knight.