This past weekend saw the release of the fifth film in the X-Men movie franchise, and as was expected, the movie was the top film of the weekend. But was it a quality film, or did it fall short like the last two X-Films?
Read on to see my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class!
It’s been two years since the last X movie, which was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and fans of the franchise know that it’s almost become too much to ask for a quality X-Men movie. When we first saw information about the film we knew that Vaughn was attempting to show us the origins of Magneto and Xavier and Xavier’s first class of students. However, the film is set as a period piece, in the 60’s (the time of the original comics), and fans of the films know that four of the five original students were portrayed as being too young in the original trilogy to be part of the First Class.
To remedy that problem Vaughn decided to use a cast of other mutants, and only one of the actual first class (Hank McCoy, aka Beast) makes it into the film. Other than Beast we see Mystique, who later joins Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants, Angel Salvadore, who wasn’t part of the comics until Morrison’s New X-Men run in 2001, Alex Summer’s, aka Havok (younger brother to Scott Summers, aka Cyclops), Sean Cassidy aka Banshee (who doesn’t appear until two years after the original comics started), and Armando Munoz, aka Darwin (another character who didn’t appear until much later in the comics). Fans, after seeing the cast of characters, were all in an uproar, including myself, because how are we to have a “First Class” movie when only one of the actual first class is present?
Well, Matthew Vaughn makes you forget all about that, and you enjoy the fact that we’re finally getting another good X-Men movie. And boy is it a good one, and surprisingly so at that.
The film begins with a scene that mirrors the beginning of the first X-Men movie, with a young Erik Lehnsherr (later Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender) being separated from his mother during the holocaust by Nazi soldiers. After displaying his mutant powers in this scene we later see that a Nazi doctor, later to be called Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), has brought young Erik into his office so that he may experiment on him and learn more about his magnetic abilities. Shaw then murders his mother, causing Erik to lash out in anger and destroy Shaw’s office. This scene sets up the dilemma and conflict for the rest of the film, as Erik decides that he must find the man who murdered his mother and bring vengeance to him.
Elsewhere, we see a young Xavier in his family’s mansion meeting a young girl in their kitchen who turns out to be a very young Raven Darkholme, aka Mystique. Young Raven is homeless and scavenging for food when the young Charles finds her and tells her to live with his family and never go hungry again.
After these scenes we forward to the 60’s to see an older Erik moving forth in his mission to kill Sebastian Shaw, and Charles Xavier graduating from University going off drinking and meeting women at bars. Another scene has CIA agent Moira MacTaggart (a name comic fans should recognize) infiltrating the Hellfire club to learn that Sebastian Shaw is the leader of an organization who is trying to start what will later be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, so that we may be driven into a third world war in which Shaw sees mutants coming out on top and reigning as the supreme race above humans.
The rest of the movie has Erik and Charles eventually team up, put together a team of young mutants, train them in a CIA facility and then later at the Xavier Mansion (later to become the mutant academy) in an attempt to stop the Missile Crisis from happening.
The story and the conflict in the film make it one that’s the most well written one of the entire series. Vaughn does a great job to make this period piece work not only through the historical conflict, but by realistically making the settings and characters look like they came straight out of the 60’s.
I cannot write this review, though, without mentioning the amazing performances by Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy as Erik and Charles. The two have an energy between them that works on such high levels that I was astonished. And they also work on their own as well, showing that they’re simply great actors. Fassbender shows his ability as an actor by being the stand out role in this ensemble film. Many of the best parts of the movie are from Erik being an almost James Bond like character fluent in at least four different languages, and basically just a general bad ass. This movie could have been re-labled as that “X-Men Origins: Magneto” film that we were promised a while ago as it does just that — shows the origin of Magneto as a character and as a villain, and it does it better than I ever would have hoped.
On the other end of that spectrum, we have a Charles Xavier that we’ve never seen before, at least in the films. He’s a walking, fast talking ladies man who has an air of confidence about him that makes it obvious that he’s different than the seasoned professor from the original films. Though he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be a teacher, we see him grow into the role, and effectively be a teacher for the first batch of mutants that he and Erik bring together.
The rest of the cast is superb as well, with a great cast of young mutants that we see grow to know how their powers work. Vaughn does a great job at portraying their mutant powers, and Banshee stood out to me as the one that seems like it wouldn’t work at all on film, but came out as one of the coolest to watch of the group.
We had plenty of fight scenes and a big war scene that allows us to see the cast at work displaying their abilities, and they were all fantastic. Not all of the characters, though, are as strong as those I’ve specifically mentioned. Kevin Bacon does a great job as the films main antagonist, but none of his three mutant partners is near as good as he is. Emma Frost, portrayed by January Jones, does an okay job of what she needs to, but she doesn’t stand out nearly as much as I’d hope she would have. For someone so important in the X-Men franchise, I’d have hoped they’d have given better focus to Emma, but I’m sure that we’ll see her again and she’ll be utilized better when not being held back by the Hellfire club. Azazel, who is the father of Nightcrawler in the comics, has plenty of great action sequences throughout the film, but he’s rather quiet and the red body paint looks much more campy than Mystique’s (and Nightcrawler’s for that matter) blue body. Finally we have “Riptide”, who literally does not say a word for the entire film. Luckily we have such a great cast of heroes to balance the underwhelming fodder of villains aside from Sebastian Shaw.
By the end of the movie I came out amazed and excited that we finally were given a quality film for the X-Men franchise. It’s been a long time coming, but it was entirely worth the wait. Matthew Vaughn proves that he definitely has a good place as a comic movie director, and he makes X-Men: First Class so much more than just a comic movie. He makes it a quality film in its own right that doesn’t even need to be connected to a larger franchise. First Class is completely open to those who have never seen or read any other X-Men material, and it’s just as great for those who have.
X-Men: First Class launches the beginning of the summer movie season, and it does it with vigor. From this point on we have a new big release every week until the end of the summer, and I think that First Class gave the rest of the summer movies something to look out for, something to actually have to try, and hope they are better than. If this film is a sign of how the rest of the summer movies are going to be, it looks like we’re going to have a great film season.
GO Rating: 4.5/5
I loved this film, and it’s truly a breath of unbelievably fresh air.