“A new species is being born. Help me guide it, shape it… lead it. “
X-men First Class brings the X-men franchise back into the spotlight after two pretty lackluster X-films. First Class goes back to the very beginning of the story of Professor X and Magneto showing us their journey to friendship and destruction. The movie is technically a prequel but it more or less plays like a reboot so that it is very accessible to new viewers but still has several nods to the previous films that will keep fans interested. The movie brings back Bryan Singer(who directed the great X-men and terrific X2) as a producer and brings in Matthew Vaughn(of Kick-Ass and Stardust fame) as the director. This film looks to be the promising comeback for the series that has had a couple of weak entries in the past. Is this possible? After watching the painful X3 and the mixed bag that was X-men Origins:Wolverine the franchise is getting sort of old. Can X-men First Class re-energize this tired franchise or should we pray that this team never makes a comeback?
X-men First Class takes the story of the original trilogy back to its roots when the film opens with an almost perfect recreation of the scene from the original X-men. We see a young Erik Lensherr as he is separated from his mother and releases the might of his mutant powers on the barbed fences. After the short segment that was almost exactly like the original X-men we see that Erik was being watched by a Nazi doctor called Schmidt(Kevin Bacon). Schmidt takes Erik aside and tries to get him to demonstrate his power. When Schmidt sees that it is emotions that drive Erik he brings his mother into the room and threatens to kill her if he does not show his true power. Erik who is very young becomes scared. After this scene we get an introduction to Xavier as a child and see how privileged and wealthy he is. As the movie progresses from this point we see the lives of Erik(Michael Fassebender) as he grows to become an adult full of vengeance and seeks revenge for those who ruined his life and the life of Charles(James McAvoy) as he grows to be a wealthy intellectual professor of mutation. Eventually their lives cross paths and when they do a very interesting relationship is born. Eventually Schmidt re-emerges under a different name; Sebastien Shaw. Shaw is seeking to reveal the existence of mutants and use their powers to take control of the world. If Shaw sounds like he’s sort of out of a 007 movie its because he sort of is. Although he is rather interesting, his plan is sort of something that a Bond villain would do and I’m pretty sure thats what Vaughn was going for. Eventually Erik and Charles begin to construct a team to stop Shaw and they assemble a team made up of Mistique, Beast, Angel, Banshee, Havoc, and Darwin. They train the team together and continue to challenge each other as they both grow into great leaders. Shaw also has the Hellfire Club, a small team of mutants made up of Emma Frost, Azazel, and Riptide, that the first class of X-men will have to face. An important thing to remember about all of this is that it all takes place in the 1960s and the film certainly benefits from that. It gives the whole movie an extra layer of depth as setting it in a time when prejudiced and racism were fundamental problems in the US. Aside from the 1960s setting there is definitely a little bit of a James Bond influence with all of the technology and gadgets that were used. All of these elements come together to make a really great X-men story. The story is always moving and there is always something happening and even though the movie is pretty loaded down with the subplots and character developments the movie does not feel over stuffed.
The story may be great but what really makes this movies is the great cast of young actors playing all of these iconic characters. All of the actors did a terrific job in this movie especially the leads Michael Fassbender as Erik and James McAvoy as Charles. Both of these actors absolutely nail their characters. McAvoy brings such a charm to Charles Xavier as we see him as a young womanizer and party boy(who yes still has his legs). He portrays a character who is very likable if a little disconnected getting lost in his own goals at time. Fassbender gives an absolutely awesome performance as Erik who is a character that seeks revenge on those who hurt him and looks to protect his mutant friends. What is great is how these characters are written to parallel each other as they come from completely different backgrounds and are completely different people but because of the goals they share they become close intimate friends. As the film evolves we see that both of these men still have dramatically different methods to achieving these goals. This odd but powerful friendship is the anchor of the movie and easily the most interesting thing about it. Aside from these two we get great performances from the rest of the young cast made up of Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones,Rose Byrne,Nicholas Hoult,Zoë Kravitz,Caleb Landry Jones, and Lucas Till. All of these actors bring a very enthusiastic energy to their performance that has been missing in the last few X-men films and the movie thrives because it. As large of a cast as this film has the movie has; it handles it masterfully. Every character has a moment; even the minor characters that makes them memorable in the film. Then there is Kevin Bacon. It was great to see him play this very devious villain who could speak multiple languages and had a goal that was very simple and very comic book-esque. Even though he he may be borderline campy at times he is still just a lot of fun to watch. Something that I found most interesting about him was that he essentially represented the evil that Magneto would become. His overall plan and methods definitely reflected the idealism that Erik had in this film and the evils he would do in later films. The idea that the man who tortured and ruined Erik would be the person who inspired Erik to become Magneto was very interesting. What makes this movie isn’t its action or its entertaining story it is its characters that are so interesting to watch that drive this film to greatness.
Matthew Vaughn who was originally supposed to direct X3 finally gets his moment to shine as the director of First Class. He does a fantastic job at finding the perfect balance of character, story, drama, comedy, and action. The movie just really nails down the perfect blend of all of those elements and I give that credit to Vaughn and producer Bryan Singer. There are times when the movie is fun, there are times when its intense, there are times when it is sad, and there are times that will have you laughing. The look and feel of the movie is also very different from the past entries because of its 1960s setting and its new direction.
Overall I think X-men First Class was an excellent movie that returns the focus of the series back to where it needs to be which is its characters. Its the characters that make these films interesting and its the evolution and growth that makes me want to go back and see this movie again. Whether it be the dynamic between Xavier and Erik or the struggle of Beast and Mistique to be accepted as they are; these are interesting characters to watch. The excellent acting and directing lend themselves to a character driven X-men movie. I suppose that I’ve been a little too easy on this film. There are characters who get put on the back burner and there are characters whose evolution may feel a little rushed, but these small qualms are nothing when compared to the greater things this film honors. It is a very busy film, but the outstanding pacing makes sure it is always interesting and there is always something happening. This is the X-men film fans have been wanting to see, and because of its success this is the first film I’ve seen this year that I am excited to see again and I think that says a great deal about the excellent quality of this movie. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of the X-men films, comics, or even cartoons. I would also say that if you’re looking for a character driven action film then this is a great choice. Yes, the X-men films have finally returned to form.
The film shows us the origins of not only the X-men but the men who founded it Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. The pacing is excellent and there is always something interesting happening. The only complaint I can come up with is that maybe the film has a little too much on its plate, but even with that in mind the movie does a fantastic job at balancing the the story, sub-plots, and character arcs.
This movie is a terrific example of how to handle a large ensemble cast. Sure there may be close to 15 or 16 characters that are all very interesting, but the film all gives them the spotlight for at least one moment in which you see some sort of interesting development. The heart of the movie is with the characters of Charles and Erik and the movie succeeds because of it. Those two characters are alway interesting on-screen; together or separate. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are spot on with their performances of their characters. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen leave some big shoes to fill, but these actors make those characters their own. The rest of the young cast does a great job too. Caleb Landry Jones as banshee in particular was entertaining to watch. Some character arcs such as Mistique’s or Beast’s could be seen as rushed if you wanted to see them completely fleshed out.
Matthew Vaughn does an excellent job at handling such a large cast of characters and provides a very energetic shot to the arm that this series needed. The look and feel of the movie is great as it feels young and fresh. Vaughn brings the series back to form with a new exciting direction that leaves me hopeful for the future.
Overall Effectiveness of the Movie: 9.5
This movie had a great foundation thanks to producer Brian Singer, but one thing that really makes this film what it is is great execution. There were several things in a movie so full that could have gone wrong if handled poorly. Luckily things came together great because the young cast was interesting and exciting, there was a bold new direction, and all of the special effects and the technical side of the movie worked. This was just a great comic book movie and a great summer blockbuster that actually has quite a bit of depth to it. This was the first film this year that I’ve really become excited to see a second time.
Overall Score: 9.5