Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon,Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Edi Gathegi, Zoe Kravitz, Oliver Platt, Lucas Till
Writers: Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz, Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman, based on a story by Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer, Jeff Parker, Jamie Moss
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: June 3, 2011
X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE didn’t set the bar very high for any future X-MEN related films, then along comes X-MEN: FIRST CLASS that wipes the slate clean and proves to be the best of all the X-MEN films.
Originally envisioned as a reboot, this is more of an origin story for the X-Men organization as a whole. It’s set in the 1960s as a young Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the troubled Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) befriend each other and try to navigate a brave new world overrun by mutants like them and what it means for the human population as a whole.
It’s a great story to tell, and it sets up many story elements – most importantly using the real life Cuban missile crisis as the focal point for bringing the X-Men together as a full-fledged team for the first time, but also putting them severely at odds with the U.S. and Russian governments who see them as a huge threat.
The villain here is Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant with the power to harness any form of energy and relay it back at his victim. His goal is to become the major superpower of the world by collecting a motley crew of his own mutants and engineering the whole Cuban missile crisis to begin with to start a war to wipe out mankind. He’s assisted by the gorgeous Emma Frost (January Jones) and he’s instrumental in crafting philosophies that later make Magneto the threatening shades of gray bad guy that he ultimately becomes.
For Professor X, he wants to find a way for mutantkind to peacefully co-exist together and he brings together his own crew including Raven aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who has become like a sister to him since they were young, Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) who later becomes Beast, Sean Cassidy aka Banshee (Caleb Laundry Jones), Armando Muñoz aka Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Alex Summers aka Havok (Lucas Till) and Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz).
Many of the plot points of this film feel like 1960s era James Bond machinations (and if the Bond producers were smart they’d nab Matthew Vaughn to helm a future 007 flick). It’s a wonderful mish-mash of styles, but it works brilliantly and gives X-MEN: FIRST CLASS the kind of look and feel we’ve never seen before in a superhero movie. It’s fresh and fun.
Visual effects-wise, this film has also advanced leaps and bounds since the first X-MEN movie a little over a decade ago. This has allowed characters like the diamond-encrusted Emma Frost and the winged Angel some really cool CGI tricks to make them look quite impressive when they start to transform.
Storywise, this is also one of the cleaner X-MEN films. The metaphors (once again involving acceptance) may feel familiar, but it’s wrapped into a fresh new package. Some of the cheesiness of the other X-MEN movies has also given way to a sharper sense of humor which Vaughn excels in (I love the 1960s music-driven montage as X and Erik search for new mutants).
Plus, the sexy factor has been amped up, with some nice lingerie-clad moments for Jones, Byrne and Kravitz.
There are some troubles with the film too. In trying to synch the film up to the other four films, they have to go to great expositional pains to explain why Raven is friends with Professor X and appear to be largely the same age, except in the X-MEN movies the character hasn’t aged in tandem with Professor X. There’s also a cameo by a familiar X-Men that doesn’t make much sense either, but not being steeped in all the various X-Men mythologies and character rules, maybe there’s something I’m missing.
Cast-wise, there’s something to be said for hiring basically unknowns for all the major leads. It gives the movie a fresh face-lift and allows you to fall in love with the characters and not allowing any previous baggage a familiar actor brings to the role.
Of course, that’s great for Bacon, who is the most famous name of the bunch and brings a great Bond-ian villainy to the role. He’s smooth, suave and looks super-cool in his 1960s garb. In fact, I’d say he’s one of the best villains James Bond never had – being a mutant notwithstanding.
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a gloriously complex and fulfilling summer superhero movie. It has smarts, depth and scope – and it clearly blows all the other X-MEN movies out of the water. Sometimes simplicity is keen, and by telling a more innocent story, set in the 1960s, it brings a fresh face-lift to a series that after the terrible WOLVERINE spin-off.
I’d love to see more of the adventures of these new mutants – it would be a great way to continue to franchise and do something different from it. With THOR and now this, the superhero bonanza of the summer of 2011 has kicked into high gear. Can’t wait to see what D.C. has in store for us with GREEN LANTERN and Marvel with July’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.
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