Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men: First Class Review

X-Men: First Class
Rating: 9.2/10
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Kevin Bacon
Written By: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Music By: Henry Jackman
Edited By: Eddie Hamilton, Lee Smith
Produced By: 20th Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment
Budget: $120 million
Runtime: 132 minutes
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality, and a violent image
Serving as a prequel to the X-Men trilogy, First Class takes us back to the 1960s to show how it all started. It brings all the thrills and excitement one expects from an action-packed summer blockbuster while giving us an intimate look at the growing relationship between Charles and Erik. In the end, First Class is a solid superhero film well worth the ticket price. -BE ADVISED THAT THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS-

First Class is The Last Stand done well. It's a fast paced story-driven X-Men movie filled with action and super powers. Nothing feels unnecessary or insulting as every scene is squeezed in either for backstory, character development, or awesome ass kicking. The powers and CGI never feel fake as director Matthew Vaughn continues to prove his skill in entertaining. Nothing takes you out of the action as the story shifts from location to location, especially in one of the coolest moves in superhero history, Magneto pulling a submarine straight out of the water, you are so taken by the sheer awesomeness of what's happening that nothing else is on your mind.
Vaughn recognizes the power that simple coolness can have in making a movie enjoyable and uses it to full effect in First Class. The movie opens with what appears to be the same opening scene from the original X-Men, Erik in the concentration camp when his mother is taken away. While different actors, it seems Vaughn shot the scene frame-for-frame just as Singer did in 2000, immediately impressing the viewer and putting you in the world of the previous films. The final battle sequence is equally impressive, providing laughs and excitement as needed. It also gives us one of the coolest death scenes I've seen in years as villain Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) meets his demise in what might be a top three worst way to die (think: frozen in time + slowly moving coin). Simply amazing.
Casting was fantastic. There were no weak links from the supporting cast (including one of the greatest and most unexpected cameos ever - and I'm not talking about the glimpse you get of a young Storm), and the big three truly deliver: McAvoy as Charles, Fassbender as Erik, and Bacon as Shaw. McAvoy surprises us by delivering an intelligent 20-something Professor X, showing himself as a master of his talent and wisest of them all, yet still always learning more from those around him. A true teacher. Bacon also impresses, most notably by delivering several scenes entirely in German, Spanish, and Russian complete with native accents. Fassbender without a doubt steals the show, though, granting us a novice Magneto still grasping the full extend of his power and place within the mutant community. He's hotheaded and his story of revenge brings a fierceness to the screen that just screams cool.
Perhaps what First Class succeeds at the most is in showing the beginnings of what will become a truly amazing relationship between Charles and Erik. I would even go as far, after seeing First Class, to claim Charles and Erik's relationship as the greatest hero/villain combination I have ever seen. It isn't based on fear or hatred, but on respect. These two characters are the closet two friends can get, their paths forever joined by shared fate, yet each sees the world in completely different ways and, more importantly, sees mutants' place in it differently.
First Class does an amazing job of developing this relationship, notably in two scenes. The first is a training scene where Charles helps Erik rotate an entire radio satellite. This scene not only shows us Charles helping Erik, but also allows us a glimpse inside Magneto’s mind, showing us that even the most ruthless of bad guys can always have a corner of light. Sometimes they just don't know it, and need a telepath to help find it. The second is during the climax when Erik inadvertently redirects a bullet into Charles' spine, paralyzing him. The action that forever cripples Charles also stops Erik in his tracks, halting his attack on the Americans and Russians as he rushes to his friend in shock. Erik, not Charles, is the one in total distraught over what he has just done to his friend, bringing to mind the pure sadness of Ian McKellen as he watched Jean Gray disintegrate Charles in Last Stand. McAvoy and Fassbender have the same great chemistry that McKellen and Stewart did, and it plays well in the development of their characters.
There are no complaints to First Class, though there are some minor confusions. While there aren't too many characters for it to get out of hand, the point of some is questionable. One girl with the power to fly and shoot fireballs is named Angel, despite an Angel character already existing in Last Stand. She didn't even serve a major purpose, nor did a certain wind generating bad guy whose name I don't even remember. The only scene I would go as far as to say was "rushed" would be a scene where the teen mutants sit around and come up with nicknames. It's just strange how they're talking and suddenly Raven/Mystique has thought up names for everyone. Especially where it concerns Professor X and Magneto. These are powerful names that everyone, in their world and ours, knows. It seems like a little more thought and development on screen could have gone into creating them. Erik doesn't really become Magneto until the end anyways, and Charles is only halfway towards Prof. X (if the wheelchair were part and loss of hair the rest).
Some ret-conning does occur. Most notably in that Charles is paralyzed during the film's climax despite Patrick Stewart walking at the beginning flashback of Last Stand. Yet, it doesn't upset you because First Class is a better movie. In fact, it is probably hands down the best X-Men film so far, and one of the most entertaining superhero movies yet (better then Thor, at least). While the film does a great job standing on its own, it also opens the door to "prequel-sequels." First Class exceeded my already high expectations, and I for one would love to see Vaughn return to continue the story. There are, after all, several decades still left uncharted.

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