Review: X-Men: First Class

I was very hesitant about X-Men: First Class. I had been burned by X-Men movies before and I’m not one to quickly forgive and forget. Luckily X-Men Origins: Wolverine won enough goodwill that I went into First Class with an open mind. Sure I had seen some really bad leaked photos and it seemed they we going to be taking a lot of liberties with the story, but surely it couldn’t be worse than X-Men: The Last Stand. Boy I couldn’t be more right. X-Men: First Class isn’t a good “Comic Book” movie, it’s actually just a good movie. No need to add any modifiers to soften the blow when you say things like “Sure it was lacking in plot but…” or “Yeah, but the special effects were wicked!” No, this movie needn’t be defended for it can stand on its own merits.

The story is very strong; rooted firmly in the spirit of the comics but never gets tied down trying to stick to strict canon. Not afraid to plop characters out of place in the traditional X-Men timeline, the writers take what they need and yet keep the core of the characters mostly intact. Anyone with a basic knowledge of the comic know that with the exception of Hank McCoy, this isn’t Xavier’s first class in the comics but it never takes away from the enjoyment of the story. Though the cast is changed, the story remains the same. First Class simply does a great job of being true to the spirit of the source material.

The plot is exciting and entertaining. While an origins story at its core, First Class keeps a pretty good pace and never really gets too bogged down with backstory. It gives you enough information on the characters to let you know who you’re dealing with and then goes on with the action. When it’s all said and done this really is the origin story of Professor X and Magneto.

It must be incredibly intimidating to follow an act like Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, but I must say that Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy do an amazing job playing the two friends who eventually become enemies. The entire time that Fassbender is on screen, you can see the slow steaming rage beneath the raw charisma of Erik Lehnsherr and McAvoy is simply charming as a young Charles Xavier. Any doubts you may have had about the duo are quickly put to rest in the first half of the movie. It is truly brilliant to see Charles learning how to teach the mutants he recruits. Erik’s full decent into darkness and manipulation of Mystique is a great counter to the story of Xavier and has some eerie overtones of the relationship that Logan will have with Rogue (or Jubilee if you’re a fan of the comics) in the mansion years later; acting almost as a “What If?” look of what could have happened had Wolverine not taken a more positive path.

The casting as a whole was really well done. I was slightly disappointed that some traditionally international members of the X-Men universe were Americanized, but it never turned out to be an issue beyond momentary distraction. Kevin Bacon plays a great Sebastian Shaw and amazingly looked the part despite my initial misgivings. Everyone seems to have great chemistry which is key in a large ensemble piece such as First Class.

The action scenes were high energy, but never reached the “Terminal Transformers Speed” where things just become an indistinguishable blur. The special effects are also mostly spot on, but there are some issues. Despite a less than amazing Beast that can’t move his mouth to talk, the effects do their job and never really take you out of the movie. Honestly, the effects for mutant powers are nearly minimalist at times as McAvoy simply puts a finger to his head to denote he is using his mind-bullets; that’s telekinesis Kyle. (*NOTE* – please don’t write me to tell me that Professor X doesn’t have the power of telekinesis.)

What it really comes down to is that X-Men: First Class is a movie that doesn’t sacrifice substance for style and does a great job being honest to the source material. It has everything a great summer movie should have: sexy people doing exciting things in an interesting way to make up an entertaining story. The movie really does seem to be the total package. I hope that this is the first of multiple quality X-Men movies and the willingness to go to dark places shows a lot of promise for the upcoming Wolverine movie. First Class is a must see for fans of comic books and action movies alike.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

3 Comments

  1. AndyNo Gravatar
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink | Reply

    How ’bout the power to kill a yak from 500 yards away…. WITH MIND BULLETS?!

    No, seriously though, great review Carl. I’ve been really curious about this one, and I’m glad to hear it’s good. I just love MacAvoy, any project he touches can’t be too bad.

    One question though, does this fit into the canon of the other four movies? I kinda hope it doesn’t, honestly, it would give them more room to work.

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink | Reply

      It really has a problem with canon if you put it under a microscope. They attempt to explain things a little, such as Mystique’s age and blah, blah, blah… but honestly it’s usually pretty half-hearted. I think there are more issues with Origins than the others though. I could easily see them just saying “Screw it, lets make a good movie and not worry about it” if the continue to make the movies as planned.

  2. Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:43 am | Permalink | Reply

    Really enjoyed this film and I thought the effects of Banshee and Angel flying around the ships was quite realistic looking. Shame that Singer still look some liberties with canon but still a solid origins film.

    Don’t know why everyone’s hating on January Jones though. She played Frost pretty much how I expected her to be. That’s the problem with an emotionally-stunted character like that.

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