Bryan Singer completely revitalized the comic book film genre with the first X-Men film and Brett Ratner almost killed the franchise with X-Men: The Last Stand. Now Matthew Vaughn (who was supposed to direct Last Stand) gives us his idea of the world of the X-Men, and he succeeds admirably.
Set amidst the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, First Class tells the story of how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) first met, built an amazing friendship and ultimately lost it due to a conflict of ideals. This really is Charles and Erik’s film – the rest is just window dressing.
First Class brings together a new team of mutants including a young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Havok (Lucas Till), pre-blue fur Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Banshee (Caleb Jones), Darwin (Edi Gathegi), and Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz) which is an odd grouping pulling from classic characters in the comics and more recent ones. For the most part this team works really well together.
With Erik being a good guy this time around a new villain is needed. Enter The Hellfire Club. Lead by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), this team includes Emma Frost (January Jones), Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) and Azazel (Jason Flemyng). The creation of these two teams breaks from any semblance of continuity to the comics, but within the world of the film it works for the story it wants to tell.
Shaw is doing everything in his power insure that the United States and Russia go to war because of the Missile Crisis and it’s up to Charles, Erik and their team to stop them. This is the setting for the big final action sequence, but again, this is all just window dressing to what this film is really about. Keep in mind, though, that this is some really fun and exciting window dressing.
Despite it’s continuity problems, the film works because of the relationship between Charles and Erik. Specifically it’s the performances of McAvoy and Fassbender that sell these characters and the drama that brings them together and ultimately drives them apart. They both do a fantastic job making the audience believe not only that they have these fantastic powers, but that they both have ideas of where mutant kind should be heading and that they’re both, in their own way, right.
This is not perfect by any means. Some of the character choices hurt the film big. Azazel (who in the comics is Nightcrawler’s dad) is a really odd choice as is Darwin and Angel, both newer minor characters in the comics. Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne), Charles’ love interest has been transformed from a Scottish scientist in the comics to an American FBI agent. And Charles and Mystique meet as children, which just seems really strange. However the biggest problem I had with the film was January Jones who did nothing to make Emma Frost an interesting character. Her performance is the weakest by far.
All these problems aside, this is still a really fun film and the first good addition to the franchise since X2.
This film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with French and Spanish language tracks and Spanish subtitles. This is a fantastic looking film, it’s extremely well shot and all the visuals look amazing in Blu-ray. The sound is extremely well balanced as well. All the action sequences and score and dialog can all be listened to on a single volume level.
Looking at extras, X Marks The Spot (20 min.) is a series of behind-the-scene vignettes that focuses on various moments in the film. The Cerebro: Mutant Tracker allows you to travel through Cerebro like in the movie and click on different mutants to get little montages focusing on them from the various films. While kind of neat, this is mostly pointless unless you know absolutely nothing about any of these characters. Go on-line to access even more characters. Children of the Atom (79 min.) is a fantastic and in-depth look at the making of First Class. It thoroughly covers all the aspects you’d want to hear about. One of the best making-of docs I’ve seen in a while. Deleted And Extended Scenes (14 min.) Despite the film’s already two-hour plus running time, these scenes should have stayed in. Especially the scene where Charles tries to hit on Moira and fails.
Filling out the rest of the bonus material is an Isolated Score audio track, plus a Digital Copy of the film and access to ten Digital Comics that focus on various characters from the film and some Blu-ray Live stuff.
The comic fan in me kind of hates X-Men: First Class, but the movie fan in me really enjoyed it. It’s got some serious continuity issues, but the movie is so good that while watching it I forget all about those. It’s only after I turn the film off that I start to bitch. For me that makes this a pretty darn good film. Plus it’s got some of the best special features I’ve seen in a while.
20th Century Fox presents X-Men: First Class. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt. Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stenz and Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn. Running time: 132 minutes. Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language. Released on Blu-ray: September 9, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.