X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
JANUARY 8, 2012

“X-Men: First Class” easily fits into the franchise and reboots the series. Set in the Cuban Missile Crisis era, this historical event works perfectly as a launching point for the struggle between humans and mutants.

The film opens by building the backstory of Professor Xavier and Magneto as children. Magneto’s childhood shows the young Erik Lehnsherr moving a metal Nazi gate with his mind. The film’s central villain, Sebastian Shaw, played wonderfully by Kevin Bacon, takes Erik under his wing.

A sad fact is that I did not care about any of the side characters. Though the death of Darwin should have affected me, it opened a tragic truth: the side characters were underdeveloped and miscast. From discovering them, training them, and putting them in action, I never found myself caring for them (this includes Banshee, Beast, and Havok of the X-Men and Angel, Azazel, and Riptide of the Hellfire Club). Though they all had speaking parts, it was filler, all leading up to the epic struggle between Xavier and Magneto and the teetering of Mystique. Had the supporting cast been just as stacked as the leading cast, this film would have been unquestionably better, but for whatever reason, it remained sub-standard.

The film’s females failed to fair much better than the rest of the supporting cast. Even though I know Jennifer Lawrence can act, she was a shadow of herself in the role of Raven / Mystique. Her dialogue came off unconvincing and uninspired. January Jones appeared to follow suit, acting mainly as a bra-wearing distraction rather than a compelling part of the plot. And Rose Bryne works more as a plot device to bring the mutants together than an actual character of the film.

The saving graces of “X-Men: First Class,” however, were the stellar performances from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who took an otherwise lackluster group of people and made them extraordinary. Michael Fassbender as Magneto adds sophistication to the film from the moment he steps on the screen. In the beginning portions of the film, introducing Xavier and Erik was a different film experience than the second half after they taught the “first class.” The moments that place McAvoy and Fassbender together were like striking two gorgeous sticks together to make fire.

Every scene together causes the most incredible portions of the film. Some of the highlight moments are Erik raising the submarine out of water for the first time and Xavier stopping him. Or when Xavier and Erik in Russia approached Emma Frost (January Jones) for the first time. The moment between Xavier and Erik moving the satellite is the most touching and shows the genuine connection between the characters. The same goes for the moment when a bullet hits Xavier in the spine. Even as Erik turns evil, he takes the time to run to the aid of his old friend. Showing a villain’s softer side makes him a better character in the long run. Not to say Kevin Bacon’s villain of Sebastian Shaw isn’t great, but these villains are great for different reasons.

The multi-layered nature of the film pans out wonderfully, with friction between the U.S.A. and Russia over the Cold War as the backdrop to the fight between Xavier’s first class and Shaw’s race for mutant supremacy. Among Xavier’s students, you have the growing friction between Erik’s ideals and the conflict of Raven’s self-discovery. The supporting cast then falls to the wayside due to no connection to any of the major plot points, creating a void.

“X-Men: First Class” offers much more than previous installments, becoming one of my favorites. Though continuing the dark overtones of the prior films, there is a range of emotion (comedy, allure) extending beyond just action and tension. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender steal the show with a more powerful dynamic than Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Though the supporting cast is lacking in a few areas (mainly the “henchmen” and some young mutants), surprise performances like Kevin Bacon’s overshadow most inconsistencies in the casting department. Fusing actual historical events with the concept of the fantastic (mutants) works perfectly and adds a compelling nature unmatched by any other comic book adaptation. After a few more viewings, “X-Men: First Class” could still top the list of favorite comic book films.

RELEASE DATE
June 3, 2011

DIRECTOR
Matthew Vaughn

WRITTEN BY
Ashley Edward Miller
Zack Stentz
Jane Goldman
Matthew Vaughn
Sheldon Turner (story by)
Bryan Singer (story by)

BASED ON
Characters
by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

STUDIO
20th Century Fox

PG-13
(for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language)

ACTION
ADVENTURE
SCI-FI
131 minutes

CINEMATOGRAPHER
John Mathieson

COMPOSER
Henry Jackman

EDITOR
Lee Smith
Eddie Hamilton

CAST
James McAvoy
Michael Fassbender
Rose Byrne
Jennifer Lawrence
January Jones
Oliver Platt
Kevin Bacon
Jason Flemyng
Zoë Kravitz
Nicholas Hoult
Caleb Landry Jones

PRODUCED BY
Lauren Shuler Donner
Bryan Singer
Simon Kinberg
Gregory Goodman

BUDGET
$140–160 million

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