X-Men: First Class (+Digital Copy) [Blu-ray] (2011)

Actors: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Directors: Matthew Vaughn
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: September 9, 2011
Run Time: 132 minutes




20th Century Fox has engaged in a curious bit of hype for the X-Men: First Class Blu-Ray release. Complete with a huge party in Hollywood featuring models dressed as Emma Frost and DJ Paul Oakenfold spinning tunes, they touted it as the “biggest Fox Blu-ray of the year,” a strange claim considering the release of a certain epic space saga on Blu-ray next week. Then again, X-Men: First Class remains one of the best-reviewed mainstream movies of the year… and no one’s inserting any awkward “NOOOOO’s” into the dialogue.

Unnecessary hyperbole aside, the new Blu-ray presents a very appealing package, starting with the movie itself. At first glance, it looks like a desperate attempt to keep the X-Men franchise alive by changing the timeline. But Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn – originally slated to do X-Men: The Last Stand before dropping out over scheduling concerns – viewed the project as more than an also-ran. In the process, he readily delivered the best X-Men film to date.

His secret lies in focusing on the saga’s central dynamic: the opposing philosophical views of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr (Michael Fassbender). The former believes that humans and mutants (those born with extraordinary powers) can live together in peace, while the latter thinks that mutants are destined to replace humans . . . and that humans will not go quietly into the night. We see how their convictions began, with Charles a bon vivant graduate student surrounded by wealth and privilege, and Magneto a Holocaust survivor dedicated to destroying those Nazis who escaped the noose.

The pair come together as friends and then sees that friendship tested beneath the crucible of the Cuban Missile Crisis . . . actually an effort on the part of the sinister mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) to start a nuclear war. With humanity wiped out, Shaw can then seize control of the planet, something both Charles and Erik want to stop for very different reasons. To do so, they need an army of their own, pulled from the ranks of young mutants just beginning to learn how special they are.

Vaughn ties an incredible amount of plot into a comparatively brief 130-minute running time. The story embraces multiple characters and significant story arcs without wasting a single instant. Stellar performances from McAvoy, Fassbender and Bacon anchor the proceedings, but we also spend considerable amounts of time with the likes of The Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Havok (Lucas Till). All the characters get plenty of time to stretch their muscles, and yet the film never feels crowded or rushed, even with the copious action pieces that cover it from beginning to end.

The film’s impressive storytelling prowess gets a considerable boost from the period touches. Vaughn infuses First Class with a healthy dose of James Bond glamour, from the go-go dancers of the Hellfire Club to the John Barry-style score courtesy of Henry Jackman. More importantly, the film delves very deeply into real world notions like prejudice and revenge: whether peaceful solutions can be found or whether the only recourse of the oppressed is to destroy their oppressors forever. First Class wraps it all up in a gloriously exciting package that fulfills its promises on a number of levels. The only downside is that, with the bar set this high, more problematic efforts such as X-Men: Last Stand and Wolverine will no longer suffice. If Fox wants to continue this franchise – and by all accounts they do – they’re going to need to bring their A game. First Class did, and the Marvel movie canon is all the better for it.

THE DISC: The Blu-ray version contains two discs, one with the movie and most of the extras, the other with a digital copy for transferring to a portable device. The Blu-Ray visuals are sparkling and the behind-the-scenes stuff is great. First Class contains a very illuminating one-hour documentary, complete with interviews from all the principal creative forces, as well as a fun “Cerebro Mutant Tracker” feature that delivers cool details on various X-mutants (including those not in First Class). An “X Marks the Spot” viewing mode provides more behind-the-scenes tidbits within the film, and an isolated soundtrack lets you enjoy Jackman’s terrific score without the dialogue or audio effects. The usual bevy of deleted scenes and trailers round out the set.

WORTH IT? Oh yeah. Not only does it set the franchise firmly back on track, but it makes a wonderful primer for newcomers to the X-Men saga. You don’t need to be a comic book fan to enjoy it: just someone who likes their action movies delivered with thoughtfulness and skill.

RECOMMENDATION: A first-rate addition to your Blu-ray collection . . . no “NOOOOO’s” included.

- Rob Vaux



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