X-Men First Class Review
X-Men: First Class started off as the prequel nobody asked for, but now is being heralded as the best in the series. After seeing the movie at midnight, did I agree with all the good word of mouth?
Ten years ago, Bryan Singer's X-Men crashed into theaters and was very much a landmark for comic book movies. Not only did it make money, but it was also very well received by critics and audiences alike and was very much Marvel's first big screen franchise. Sometime later after a lackluster third movie and a weak Wolverine spin-off movie, word reached the net that a prequel film was in development.
From the beginning, fans were against this movie, attacking it for being yet another way for Fox to cash in on the franchise. Despite getting an extremely talented director and cast, fans still weren't won over, even after an impressive teaser trailer was released.
From the beginning, I carried a torch for this movie. Article after article was published on this website condemning X-Men: First Class and I wrote a few myself stating that we need to start approaching comic book movies with an open mind and wait until we see the movie before we actually make a judgement.
Now it's taking all of my self restraint not to say I told you so.
X-Men: First Class very much is the surprise of the summer. Not only is it a good X-Men movie, but a good comic book movie in general. Director Matthew Vaughn managed to breath new life into the X-Men franchise while also making a movie drastically different than the previous entries in the series. Yes, it's not very faithful to the comics, and yes there are inconsistencies with the previous X-films, but it all helps to make X-Men: First Class further stand on it's own instead of letting it get bogged down by the convoluted comic book and movie continuity of the X-Men.
The film follows Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr in their younger days. Charles lives in New York and uses his mutant gift to pick up chicks at bars, while Erik is on a revenge mission across Europe looking for the Nazis who killed his parents, including the doctor who experimented on him, Sebastian Shaw. Of course Erik and Charles' paths cross and soon find themselves recruiting a team to stop Shaw from starting World War III.
One of the things that works best for this movie is the relationships between all the characters. The brother/sister relationship between Xavier and Raven (soon to be Mystique) is one of the best emotional hooks of the film, but the real chemistry is between Xavier and Magneto. I think it was James McAvoy (I could be wrong) who compared Xavier and Magneto to civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, and I couldn't think of a better comparison. Charles and Eric are very much two sides of the same coin and the journey that brings them together and eventually tears them apart is what keeps you watching in this film.
Of course, great performances are what makes the character relationships great to watch. James McAvoy remains respectful to Patrick Stewart's performance as Xavier while also bringing his own spin on the character. McAvoy brings the charm and nobility to Xavier and you can tell he's having great fun playing the role. But the real star making turn in this movie is Michael Fassbender as Magneto, bringing tragedy, anger, and a Bond-like bad boy charm to his role. I've been a fan of Fassbender since his scene stealing turn in Inglorious Basterds and after this performance I'm sure he'll become a household name, and he really is the one who walks away with the movie.
It wouldn't be an X-Men movie without a massive supporting cast, and they all get their due. There's a massive roster of mutants and they all get their time to shine, especially towards the end. Not all of them are developed as I would like, with Hank McCoy and Mystique probably being the most developed of the young X-team, but all members of the team get cool moments with their powers.
As for the villains, Kevin Bacon plays a great villain as Sebastian Shaw, getting close to going over the top but always managing to pull himself back down. January Jones is perfectly cast as Emma Frost, and in many scenes looks like she stepped straight from the comics. Sadly, the other two bad guys, the cool looking Azazel and the nameless-tornado-creating guy (someone help me out here? I'm rusty on my X-Men) don't get much development or dialogue, though they contribute heavily in most action scenes.
Many have compared this movie to Batman Begins and I have to agree. The whole movie is pretty much dedicated to the creation of the X-Men and by the end, the seeds are planted what is to come in the later movies. Matthew Vaughn has stated that he already knows the story for a second First Class movie and I personally would love to see it seeing how this movie still leaves plenty to explore.
But easily, one of the best things about this movie is that it brings back that subtext that the last two X-films lost. One thing about X-Men is that it has one of the best subtexts in any comics: one of prejudice and wanting to be accepted. Bryan Singer wisely updated the X-Men with the first two movies, drawing comparisons between the hatred of mutants and homophobia, and both X-Men: The Last Stand and X:Men Origins: Wolverine lost this message in favor of a more action heavy approach. Thankfully, Matthew Vaughn brings back the fear and hatred of the mutants, especially by setting the movie in the 1960s, a turbulent time for civil rights.
So, overall X-Men: Fist Class is very much a movie that overcame fan expectations. It's a great example of how talent both in front and behind the camera can really breath new life into a thought dead franchise. If there's a lesson to be learned from this, it's that fans need to learn to approach comic book movies with an open mind. It's fitting that X-Men is very a story of a group of people struggling for acceptance in a hostile and suspicious world, because that's very much like the fight this movie had in order to win over the usually hostile and critical fan boy audience.
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