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X-Men: First Class: Winners and Losers, Fassbender Up, Lawrence Down

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 5, 2011 at 6:55AM

X-Men: First Class's $56 million opening (no 3-D premium ticket sales) marks a big win for most of the folks involved. But there are a few losers, too.
Thompson on Hollywood

X-Men: First Class's $56 million opening (no 3-D premium ticket sales) marks a big win for most of the folks involved. But there are a few losers, too.

Twentieth Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment:
Both companies recognized that the X-Men franchise needed a reboot. With Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier) and Ian McKellan (Magneto) heading into senior status, the only real star in the franchise was Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, so those spin-offs made sense. They also commissioned a Magneto origins story from Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air), but decided to use that material in their X-Men origins feature, First Class. That was also smart, because now they can go back to a Magneto series if they want to, because the X-Men series now boasts a new star: Michael Fassbender.

Thompson on Hollywood

Michael Fassbender:
That this German-born, multi-lingual, masculine, athletic Irishman would become a major movie star did not take much figuring. Everyone in Hollywood saw the promise in The Hunger, Fish Tank and Inglourious Basterds. Now, after the double-whammy of his Mr. Rochester turn in the class-act romance Jane Eyre and the successful reboot of a major studio comic-book franchise, Fassbender has arrived. The world is his oyster. Judging from my early interview with him, he has a good head on his shoulders and will not go crazy with foolish material (he managed to survive B-movies Jonah Hex and Centurion, which served to showcase his action chops).

Coming up: Steven Soderbergh's black ops actioner Haywire (Relativity, August 11), the role of Carl Jung in David Cronenberg's Oscar-bait drama A Dangerous Method (which still seeks a U.S. distributor), The Hunger director Steve McQueen's sex addict drama Shame (also lacking a U.S. distrib), Ridley Scott's currently filming big-budget 3-D actioner Prometheus (Fox, 2012), possible Brit music movie Good Vibrations, and Jim Jarmusch's untitled "crypto-vampire flick," set to start in 2012. It sounds like an intelligent mix of big and small.

Matthew Vaughn. The man walked away from one chance to direct X-Men, and stepped up to do this one when he felt ready. The idea of filtering the movie through a 60s Bond film works brilliantly for the most part--visually the movie soars, and most of the actors manage to rise above the action pyrotechnics. The return to a focus on character is welcome. While the movie boasts awkward moments, Vaughn still enters the big leagues. He may not have to do Kick-Ass 2. (I flipcammed him for Kick-Ass).

James McAvoy:
McAvoy is a terrific actor who ably carried Wanted and Atonement. But oddly, in both cases his co-stars, Keira Knightley and Angelina Jolie, respectively, were considered the films' real marquee draws. Unfortunately, McAvoy missed the opportunity for a franchise with Jolie's refusal to do a Wanted sequel. He's solid and charming in X-Men: First Class, but because he plays the film's humane conscientious hero, he comes off soft to Fassbender's hard. It's a case of the straight leading man looking less sexy and dangerous than the bad guy. Fassbender comes out ahead on this one. McAvoy remains a lovely Ewan McGregor-style leading man--as opposed to a move star. I define movie star very strictly--and have gotten into fights about this. It's someone who actually puts butts in seats. Will Smith. Angelina Jolie. Past their prime are Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, and Tom Cruise. The list keeps getting smaller, have you noticed?

Jennifer Lawrence:
This untrained young actress deserved her Oscar nomination for Winter's Bone, for which she was perfectly cast. Jodie Foster also used her well in The Beaver, as a high school over-achiever, a role that most young actresses would have walked through--but Lawrence nailed it. She brings depth and grit to her roles, and has the makings of a movie star. I suspect she's well-cast in what will be a huge franchise: Hunger Games. But in X-Men: First Class she's a lox. The weakness of this movie, which played better to men than women, by the way--is the female characters. While Rose Byrne makes a competent if uninspired CIA agent, Vaughn uses gorgeous Mad Men star January Jones as a Modesty Blaise/Pussy Galore sex object, and wasn't able to save Lawrence from standing around awkwardly. Her Mystique makeup is just awful. She looks uncomfortable throughout. (I flipcammed her for Winter's Bone.)

Go ahead, argue with me.

This article is related to: Franchises, Genres, Headliners, Studios, Reviews, Summer Movies, X-Men, Sequel, Comics, Action, Twentieth Century Fox

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.