STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones,
James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Zoë
Kravitz, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Oliver Platt, Morgan Lily, Edi Gathegi, Ray
Wise, Bill Milner, Caleb Landry Jones
2011, 132 Minutes, Directed by:
are a dicey proposition, and most make it unnecessarily hard on themselves by
trying to exhaustively satisfy a fan base that’s already an easy lay . . .
X-Men: First Class is a
feisty prequel effort, effectively restoring badly needed snap into the mutant
franchise, breaking away from Wolverine to fiddle
with a colorful community of heroes and villains.
It’s also cheeseball beyond
belief at times, madly searching for ways to establish connections between this
origin tale and the four films that technically follow it. First Class
works too hard to be clever, when all anyone is truly asking for is a
restoration of the group dynamic that made the earlier pictures exciting and
Tortured in a Nazi
concentration camp during WWII, Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto (Michael Fassbender,
forceful but underused) has matured into a killing machine, on the hunt for his
diabolical captor, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).
Professor Charles Xavier (a
charming James McAvoy) is a powerful telepath and a swinging bachelor, looking
to put his gifts to proper use with the help of his associate, Raven Darkholme/Mystique
When Shaw and his team of
mutants, including diamond-skinned Emma Frost (a comatose January Jones – that’s
her real name by the way), organize a master plan to initiate WWIII off the
shores of Cuba, the CIA., including Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), reaches out
to Charles, who assembles a squad of young mutants to help bring down Shaw.
Training his adolescent outcasts while nurturing a tentative friendship with a
frustrated Erik, Charles forms his X-Men, setting off to save a world clearly
disturbed by this show of mutant force.
Perhaps the most satisfying
feeling First Class offers is the return of the mutant squad, a team
commotion solidified brilliantly in Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men
United. Singer returns here to nab producer and story credits, and his
influence is felt all through the production, which welcomes a restart of the
franchise by dialing back the clock to 1962, infusing the film with a Cold War
feel and a retro vibe, illustrating the mutant reveal while world politics head
to the brink of global destruction.
"Sure to please younger audiences and comic book believers alike . .
The director here is Matthew
Vaughn, who recently worked out a different set of comic book muscles with
Kick-Ass. First Class offers a more reflective
opportunity for the filmmaker, who approaches the material with an eye for
mutant melodrama, exploring the discomfort of these characters as they’re
revealed to the world, exposing their secrets to those who judge harshly.
Continuing the outsider theme
of X2, First Class takes great pains to establish the mutants as
vulnerable souls, unsure of themselves, looking to Charles for guidance and
wisdom, imbued with a sense of purpose from a caring man. Scenes of
self-discovery are played broadly, but Vaughn retains the mournful essence of
the X-Men experience, sustaining an intimacy with the
ensemble and their private desires, building a thrilling lift hill of gradual
acceptance before the blockbuster theatrics kick in.
Instead of playing sleek,
First Class is thrust into a pop world of 1960’s architecture and costuming,
with period ornamentation providing an unusual personality to the picture,
massaged well by Vaughn and his gifted crew.
The film retains a lively
visual design, which extends to the new group of mutants, including Zoe Kravitz
as Angel Salvadore, Jason Flemyng as the demonic Azazel, and Caleb Landry Jones
as Sean Cassidy / Banshee.
Vaughn makes the most out of
the gang, keeping displays of power and training montages in constant rotation,
boosted by impressive special effects and competent performances, producing an
atmosphere of varied personalities and striking powers, padding the widescreen
space with a host of testy mutants learning to control themselves on the eve of
The score from Henry Jackman
lacks a proper hero theme to send the activities soaring, but the cast is quite
energetic, with special attention to Nicholas Hoult, who makes a fine impression
as budding mutant scientist (and creator of Cerebro), Hank McCoy / Beast.
What’s unexpected about
First Class is how prequel-y it becomes, with the script dashing back and
forth to create connections to the established storyline.
The picture has an intriguing
plot that’s best played on its own, with little touches of foreshadowing placed
into the corners of the frame. Instead, First Class bends over backwards
to remind viewers of everything that’s about to come, with Charles making bald
jokes and Raven abruptly showing a sexual attraction to Erik despite a clearly
pronounced romantic development with Hank.
The presentation of Magneto’s
helmet and the introduction of Charles’s mansion as the
X-Men safe haven is one thing, but do we need to see how the future
Professor X loses his ability to walk? Is it crucial to witness the origin of
the mutant code names? Must Charles and Erik have their dividing row
First Class rushes the
details or plays cutesy with them, cramming the essentials into a single picture
instead of spreading the inside references around, building conflict over
sequels to come in what looks to be a new start for the
X-Men franchise. The cheese is piled too high at
times by Vaughn, who seems eager to please, though it often dilutes the
First Class is sure to
please younger audiences and comic book believers, while the rest should also be
heartily entertained. It’s a solid X-Men adventure with the fresh take on
superhero concerns, but it also feels rushed, racing to hammer in its position
as the first film of the saga, often forgetting to kick back and simply enjoy
the vast mutant view . . .
- Brian Orndorf