TITLE: X-Men: First Class
STARRING: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, January Jones
DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
RUN TIME: 131 minutes
RELEASE DATE: June 3, 2011
By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja
I first heard of Matthew Vaughn when he was picked as director for the third X-Men movie, but the job went to Brett Ratner instead and the rest is history. Well, Vaughn has gotten a second chance at directing an X-Men film and the results make me wonder why the hell this guy didn’t make X-Men 3, because X-Men: First Class is a great super-hero movie.
The film is a prequel (I know that term turns some people off, but give me a minute to explain) that charts the creation of the X-Men, around the Cuban Missile Crisis. Set in 1962, Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Fassbender) are both mutants with incredible powers who have lived very different lives. Xavier grew up wealthy with his fellow mutant Mystique (Lawrence); while Erik watched his parents murdered in a concentration camp and was tortured to make his powers stronger. Despite their differences, they must come together to teach other mutants how to use their powers and stop mutant mastermind Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) from starting World War III between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Although I was excited that Vaughn was directing after he nailed Kick-Ass, after X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine my optimism in another X-Men film was pretty much destroyed. But this film has combined so many things that I love beautifully: it’s a super hero movie, it’s a ’60s spy movie, it has a kind of alt-history feel to it, and it raises a couple of interesting points that makes the distinction between hero and villain blurry. As a super hero movie, this film delivers great action and generally stays true to what comic book readers have come to expect from the characters. The actors do an amazing job of breathing new life into these characters, especially Fassbender who actually makes me care about Magneto, a villain I have loathed since I first read about him.
The 1960s setting and James Bond tone that exists for two-thirds of the movie is done very well and it’s an interesting setting that hasn’t really been done before in super hero movie without coming off as extremely campy. It has an optimistic and colorful tone that symbolizes the beginning of this new evolution of humanity that mixes well with the sad truth that humanity may never accept mutants and a war may be inevitable; and towards the end tone shifts beautifully to symbolize the fact world has changed and the darker paths the characters are about to travel.
Our introductions to the characters, how their interactions shape the events on screen, and the struggles they go through that make them into the people we see in the other films is very fun to watch. The main theme driving the story of the X-Men is the idea of discrimination and how people in a minority deal with being outcasts; and while some critics feel this idea has been done to death, the film goes back to the beginning of the issue and it is dealt with on a more personal level. The struggle of how to deal with a society that may not accept them is exemplified in a great way by Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s Beast as they deal with the fact they have mutations that can’t be hidden. While I usually believe in Xavier’s point of view, the film makes the issue more complicated and makes the audience feel more sympathetic towards Magneto even though his eventual goal is to wipe out all humans.
There are two problems I have with the film: one is an actual problem with the film and the other problem is more personal. While most of the characters get their moment to shine, there is still so many of them and the rich mythology X-Men has that condensing it down to two hour plus film means some things aren’t handled as well and feel a little underwhelming. Personally, I could have used more scenes with McAvoy and Fassbender, they have great chemistry and the film is more interesting seeing their friendship in the film knowing how it will end.
This is a great super hero movie and nice surprise for the summer movie season that I hope everybody sees. However, my fears that Green Lantern will be the one superhero movie this season that sucks has increased. Please God, don’t let it suck.