X-Men: First Class
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon
Running Time: 2 hrs 12 mins
Release Date: June 3, 2011
PLOT: In 1963, Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender) unite with other mutants to fight Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) and his nuclear threat to the world.
WHO’S IT FOR? The superhero crowd. There isn’t as much humor as in Thor and the running time may find some a little bored unless you’re a huge fan of mutants.
EXPECTATIONS: I assumed it would be better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine and I do like me some McAvoy and Fassbender. I was happy to see they didn’t bother with 3D.
James McAvoy as Charles Xavier/Professor X: If you aren’t familiar with the X-Men movies, this is the guy who becomes the captain of the starship. Wait, I’m mixing movies. McAvoy is playing the same guy as Patrick Stewart. It’s just like Godfather II, only not really. The young Charles is cocky and uses his power to find other mutants and to hit on women. He comes from a privileged life and doesn’t seem to have a trouble in the world. That makes him fun, especially when he’s drunk while celebrating, but we don’t really feel or root for the guy. I feel like they abandoned any new characteristics rather quickly and instead had Charles be the coach we’ve already seen before. Plus, putting two fingers to your temple isn’t the coolest looking super power.
Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto: If you’re looking for motivation, and a troubled past, you’ve found it with Erik. As a child he suffered through a concentration camp and torture at the hands of Sebastian Shaw. As an adult he’s an assassin motivated by revenge. There’s always an edge of danger to this guy even when Charles helps him harness his powers. With Fassbender’s work in Inglourious Basterds, Jane Eyre and this, I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of Michael F. Ass Bender, who never seems to imitate Ian McKellan’s performance but captures the same presence and then some.
Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique: She’s a shape shifter who’s feeling blue. Mainly because she’s blue (with red hair). Clearly they are trying to capture the plight of the ugly girl here, but unfortunately they spent too much time talking about it and not enough time showing it. I do like how they brought Erik and Raven together, and there is an OK cameo with the future Mystique here, but Lawrence’s performance and the way the character was written didn’t do enough for me. I would have loved a stronger love/friendship triangle between Raven, Charles and Erik.
Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw: When in Germany, Bacon captures evil fun, especially when enjoying chocolate. I’ve been a big believer of chocolate with bacon for years. Later in the film, when Sebastian is gallivanting around the world l felt like he was playing someone else. Too much gallivanting! It’s almost campy, like the retro suit defines his performance more than his power to absorb energy.
Rest of Cast: I enjoyed Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids, but here if feels like she’s just taking up space. It’s shocking how much she’s tied in to X-Men lore at the end of the film. With Hank McCoy, they did a pretty good showing he doesn’t like being picked on. With all of the other mutants like Riptide, Azazel, Angel and Darwin, it’s easier just to say “The one with wings,” or “The one who looks like the devil,” or “The one who shoots red lasers from his chest, not his eyes, so he’s totally not like Cyclops.” They never feel like more than just token characters distracting from the good parts of the film. January Jones continues her blank stares as Emma Frost.
TALKING: Mutants be proud. That’s the message that is repeated throughout the film. It’s a back and forth with many characters saying, “They hate us,” versus, “We can help them.” The most interesting idea here is that evolution typically does eliminate the weaker species. When McAvoy and Fassbender have any back and forth, it’s just as good as when Stewart and McKellan did it in the other X-Men films.
SIGHTS: The retro look the film captures comes off a little too much like an Austin Powers flick. Even the war room feels like it could be Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The problem with that is, those are satires/comedies. It creates a lightness that I didn’t too much care for. Also, I don’t think grey sweatsuits will be making a comeback. Odd they bothered with those considering how much style was put in to the rest of the outfits. Those are minor things compared to how awesome the action looks. The final battle is in broad daylight and I got lost with excitement many times.
SOUNDS: The musical score is good when pain and intensity are on the line. The quality drops when the film is lighter, like during a training montage. I’m actually shocked disco (a little too early I guess) didn’t break out on the submarine with Sebastian dancing/grooving up to the bar.
BEST SCENE: Here come the missiles. Magneto is full of rage, explains it perfectly and looks to destroy a fleet of war ships.
ENDING: There is nothing at the end credits. I repeat, you don’t have to sit through the entire end credits, there’s nothing there. I just saved you eight minutes of your life. You’re welcome. There’s really no indication there needs to be another “First Class” to help explain the X-Men world. Professor X and Magneto have fully embraced the path we already know.
QUESTIONS: Why all of the extra mutants? Why not keep Darwin around longer since he was the most interesting of the new mutants? Why be so quick to show where Magneto’s helmet comes from? Why be so quick to show Charles and Raven meeting? Most importantly, once Hank becomes Beast, why did they do a voiceover on every line of dialogue? Also, am I the only one who feels disconnected by the attempt of having JFK be president? Trying to make this too real removes me from the moment. Don’t rewrite my history, tell me yours.
REWATCHABILITY: It’s a little long. I think this film falls under the “If it comes on cable, I will be helpless and have to stop everything and watch” category.
Not that you have to choose, but it feels like X-Men: First Class chose style over substance. Being slick/cool became so important I think the movie loses a little heart. There are also inherent issues with prequels that are difficult to overcome. Meeting new mutants is odd. They immediately don’t matter. Why? Because they don’t exist in X-Men (the future films). So they either quit or die. That means a lot of extra story to prove there is a good reason for mutants like Angel to have screen time. Plus, this reminded me of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. More lightsabers and more jedi doesn’t automatically mean more entertainment. More mutants, same thing. Riptide, Azazel, Emma Frost, Darwin and the other side characters make this an ordinary superhero movie.
Fassbender, McAvoy, Lawrence, Bacon and the mutants they play make this something more.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10