Friday, June 3, 2011


"X-Men: First Class" (2011)

What makes "X-Men: First Class" more sophisticated than any other superhero movie coming out this summer? Its lack of 3D. Sure it could've been in 3D; there were easily plenty of moments within the rather dazzling special effects where the technology would've popped--countless more moments than "Pirates" and "Thor" combined. But instead, the filmmakers valiantly opted out of the dimming technology and went for substance over spectacle.

This prequel and, consequently, full-blown reboot of the X-Men franchise from Marvel returns after the failed attempt of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" in 2009. Director Matthew Vaughn, who helmed last year's uproarious and irreverent "Kick-Ass," takes full control of shaping a brand new origin story for newcomers and fan boys alike that is crowd-pleasing in both respects. (Watch for an awesome cameo that acknowledges the existence of the other X-Men entries while also claiming, "Hey, we can do it better!") It's crisp, polished and solid entertainment in large part thanks to inspired casting and real acting.

If while watching the original "X-Men," "X2" or that last one people like to forget, 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand," and ever wondered to yourself how Magneto (originally played by Ian McKellen), Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his fighting team of mutants came to be--or even how Professor X got himself confined to a wheelchair--then worry no more. "First Class" answers all these questions and more. Don't believe the Cuban Missile Crisis fits into the lore of the X-Men comics? Believe it. It's all explained here with what has to be a record-breaking number of location and date lines for any superhero movie ever. It's expansive all right, and you won't feel like you didn't get your summer blockbuster's worth.

James McAvoy as the younger Professor X, or Charles Xavier, and Michael Fassbender (recently seen in this year's "Jane Eyre") as Magneto, or Erik Lehnsherr, are a fantastic pairing as the sworn enemies who were once allies. Charles isn't a stolid philosophical man just yet, but a new professor and a cocky British lad who happens to have the power of telepathy. Michael is a more sinister form of cocky with an ever-evolving power of magnetism. He's harnessing his powers to avenge the death of his mother who was killed at the hands of an evil Nazi doctor. Despite their emotional differences, Charles and Michael are two suave, charismatic and mysterious men played by actors who both exude masculine star power.

The young cast features Jennifer Lawrence in her most prominent role since "Winter's Bone" as the transforming blue-bodied Raven/Mystique. She's the actress to watch right now, especially since she's been cast as Katniss in the upcoming "Hunger Games," and she doesn't disappoint. With her is Nicholas Hoult as Hank/Beast and Lucas Till as Alex/Havoc; the like of these fresh faces give the prequel an animated life and energy. They've hardly hit the learning stages of their powers, so they're reckless and unpredictable.

Rose Byrne plays a compassionate CIA agent who discovers Charles for government use, and January Jones of "Mad Men" plays the femme fatale blond bombshell Emma Frost who competes against Charles in the world of telepathy. She's the sidekick to the first-class villain Sebastian Shaw--remember the evil Nazi doctor? He's played by Kevin Bacon, a performance which can't be considered anything but campy. He almost single-handedly sends the movie into unintentionally laughable terrain.

Like the original X-Men comics, placing the action in the midst of the 1960s Cold War is a compelling and unique backdrop; the look and feel of the era is nicely captured. Matthew Vaughn and his crowded group of co-screenwriters make the connection vastly convoluted, but it boils down to watching how a team of mutants--just beginning to connect with their true identities and purpose--save us from the brink of nuclear war in a showdown between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It goes toward proving the mutants' benefit to mankind and setting up the X-Men team only to be divided, a split among the group that is demonstrated quite profoundly in the film's affecting final act.

The X-Men movies have always done an admirable job of infusing a message of acceptance and equality, and "X-Men: First Class" is no different. This comes through in the interactions between Raven who's ashamed of her blue scaly skin and Hank who hides his beastly feet, and their scenes bring a level of tenderness and sorrow. You can't deny a gay rights subtext this time around--certainly when Nicholas Hoult as Hank rewords the phrase "don't ask don't tell," which works as a nod and an inside joke to us. And considering Hoult's recent involvement with the work of Tom Ford, the wry humor is certainly warranted.


  1. It uses the themes of the previous movies to build an intelligent, fast-paced, and highly entertaining prequel. The performances from the whole cast, especially McAvoy and Fassbender add a lot to these great characters as well. Good review, check out mine when you can!

  2. Agreed, and thank you! I'll be sure to check out your stuff.