Theatrical Review: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class is a prequel film to Marvel’s and Fox’s highly successful X-Men series.  The first two movies (X-Men and X-Men 2), both directed by Bryan Singer, are terrific films.  While I like the third film in the series, directed by Brett Ratner, I’d also be the first to tell you that it falters behind the first two movies.  I also include X-Men Origins: Wolverine directed by Gavin Hood, with this bunch as well, and like X-Men 3, I thought it was entertaining, but nowhere in the same league as the first two movies.

Now director Matthew Vaughn has been given a chance at the reins of the series, working under a story with Bryan Singer as part of the credits.  Matthew Vaughn has previously directed Kick-Ass, Stardust and Layer Cake. Prior to this, he was first connected to Thor which he dropped out of to be replaced by Kenneth Branagh.  But still it looks like someone was bound and determined to get him connected with a Marvel Comics movie…

…and thank goodness they did.  X-Men: First Class is a winner and I can’t wait to see it again.

As our movie opens, it’s the 40s and we’re shown the parallel stories of Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier as young boys, first learning about their mutant abilities.  Lehnsherr is being forced by the Nazis to use his talents, while Xavier has more academic concerns, including meeting the mysterious Raven as a little girl (who later becomes Mystique).

We move to 1962, and now both have grown to young men.  With the war long over, Erik Lensherr is in pursuit of the Nazis who killed his parents.  Charles Xavier and Raven are following their academic roots, until they’re contacted by CIA operative Moira MacTaggert for help with the CIA’s work.  Eventually Xavier and Lensherr finally meet, and both discover common ground in their pursuits with mutantkind.

Looming in the background though is Sebastian Shaw and the Hellfire Club and their plans are at extreme odds with those of the CIA.

Now, I know I’m being real vague here about the overall story, but honestly, I don’t want to spoil a thing.  X-Men: First Class is a movie, for an X-Men fan, to be savored.  There’s nice little story turns and Easter eggs throughout this film and remarkably it all ties in well with the previous movies.

X-Men: First Class absolutely looks terrific.  Matthew Vaughn isn’t afraid to play with bright colors here at all and setting this primarily in the 60s also plays with the shooting style of the film, including some nice montage areas.

This is one packed film and nothing feels wasted.  The pacing is terrific and right when you think something’s been forgotten about, they come right back to it.  Henry Jackman’s musical score is perfectly suited to this film and nimbly helps with the pace.

It also helps that you have a terrific young cast.  James McAvoy plays Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender plays Erik Lehnsherr.  McAvoy is both smooth and smart, and right from the word “go” ably projects the same authority that Patrick Stewart did in the prior movies.  I’ve become quite the fan of Michael Fassbender and he does not disappoint in the slightest here.  He manages the same sort of regality that Ian Mckellan had in the prior films, but also brings a real physical joy to playing a character with super-powers.  I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Rose Byrne plays Moira MacTaggert and Jennifer Lawrence plays Raven.  Both ladies are fantastic in their parts and I really like just how well lawrence works with McAvoy in the early parts of the movie.  Oliver Platt plays an unnamed (but important) CIA liason to this crew and delivers the right amount of authority.  Rounding out the rest of Xavier’s core team, you have Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy, who’s also the mutant who becomes known as the Beast, Caleb Landry Jones as the sonic-powered Banshee and Lucas Till as Alex Summers, also known as Havok.  All are great, but I really have to give some high marks to Hoult, who in many ways to me seems almost the heart of this film.

On the villains side, we’ve got Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, and he just looks like he’s having a great time being part of this film.  January Jones plays Emma Frost, extremely loyal to Shaw and really quite the knockout.  Alex Gonzalez and Jason Flemyng round out the villain side, as the mutants Riptide and Azazel respectively, and though they don’t get the lines that everyone else has, they both have real physical presence.

And there’s even more, especially two very nice cameo appearances, but I don’t want to say any more than that.  Matthew Vaughn has assembled a terrific ensemble cast and you can’t help but want to see this same assemblage come together again.

Like I said, X-Men: First Class is a winner, and I even enjoyed it more than Thor.  Out of the big four comic book movies announced for this summer, I thought X-Men; First Class was the sleeper of the bunch.  The more I kept seeing of this in trailers and the news, the more I was looking forward to it.  The sheer idea of taking this series back in time to the 60s is brilliant and to me anyway, really helps bring in huge sense of wonder.  Don’t miss this one…

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

05. June 2011 by Darren Goodhart
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