Of all the summer blockbusters I saw this year (and there were quite a few), X-Men: First Class was the best. Hell, it wasn’t just the best summer blockbuster, it was one the 2011’s best films thus far. And it’s even more impressive when you consider the production hell that director Matthew Vaughn went through to get this film made. There is so much to admire here and the film is really a shining example of how blockbuster/superhero films should be done.
It may not be as good as The Dark Knight, but it’s far and away better than any of the recent efforts that we’ve seen in the genre. And the funny thing is, everyone doubted Mr. Vaughn. No one thought he’d be able to get it done, and if he did, no one expected the end result to be any good.
Acting as a prequel to the X-Men franchise, X-Men: First Class charts the origins of our favorite mutants. As the trailers have told us, before he was Magento he was Erik and before he was Professor X he was Charles. That’s exactly how the film approaches the story. And that’s part of the reason why it works so well.
The origin story presented here is so satisfying that if would be hard to find any true X-Men fan left disappointed. Questions are answered, worries are put to rest and events are explained. The best part is, that everything here is credible. It all makes sense and actually works out really well.
We’re not given some half ass answers or corny explanations, just honest, interesting and well thought out scenarios that make the film a great prequel. Origin stories can go wrong very easily, especially one as complex as this. Luckily, Vaughn not only succeeds in crafting a worthy one, but he hits it out of the proverbial park.
We start off in the 1940s, young Erik Lensherr (who later becomes Magneto) is in Auschwitz, a death camp that the Nazis ran during the Holocaust. It is there that he is chosen for experimentation by a Nazi doctor named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw tries to train Erik to use the powers that he was born with to manipulate metallic objects. When Erik is unable to do as Shaw wishes, he guns down Erik’s mother in front of the young boy. This unleashes Erik’s powers and he kills two guards as well as tearing apart the room.
Meanwhile, another young and gifted child is living out his life. Charles Xavier is living happily in New York when he discovers another mutant, a shapeshifter named Raven (who later becomes Mystique). Shocked to find out that there are other people like him, other people who have powers, he befriends her immediately and invites her to live with him and his family.
We then fast forward to 1962, the height of the Cold War, which is also the backdrop for the film. It is during this time that CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) recruits Charles (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). Turns out that the agency has a problem, the problem comes in the form of a man named Sebastian Shaw.
After lying low in Argentina for a while after the war, Shaw is out for world domination and turns out, he’s got some pretty wild powers himself. In fact, he’s been using them to manipulate a third world war between various superpowers. He’s joined up with some other evil mutants and is scheming to have the U.S. go to war with Russia, which would thin out the human population, leaving mutants in charge.
Under the guidance of the CIA, Charles and Raven set out to recruit other mutants to help them in their fight against Shaw and his cronies.
Almost everything works in X-Men: First Class but one of the things that I found to be most compelling was the constant psychological battle between Erik and Charles. The two are from different backgrounds and they both have very different ideas on how the world should work.
Charles strives for peace while Erik is driven by revenge. It’s fascinating to watch the push and pull between them as we know that although they are allies now, they will eventually become enemies.
As the film progresses, they grow more distant from each other as their ideals start to fully formulate. For fans of the franchise, it’s great to watch and it gives us a convincing reason as to why the two could no longer remain friends. They were just too different to stay friends and watching their relationship evolve and subsequently dissolve, is awesome. It was executed perfectly.
The men who portray the two characters, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, are nothing short of brilliant. Their chemistry, rapport and interplay is intoxicating and watching them share the screen is an absolute treat. While McAvoy oozes charm and intelligence, Fassbender exudes danger and ruthlessness. These are two very different men but their interactions are a marvel to behold.
The rest of the cast is quite good as well. The group of mutants that Charles assembles all have a great vibe and the actors and actresses that portray them pull it off wonderfully, despite a few of their characters being underwritten. With too many mutants, it’s hard to make the audience care for all of them and so some are sold short. The villains especially suffer from this, January Jones‘ Emma Frost and Jason Isscas‘ Azazel are completely one dimensional.
On the acting side for the villains, things are a bit weaker. Bacon is a bit too campy and overacts the part and Jones is just downright awful. I hate January Jones, not as a person but as an actress. She brings that same stoic coldness to all her roles and I can’t help but to feel that she looks suicidal in every part she plays. She rarely smiles and has that awful monotone voice. I’m aware that her Emma Frost isn’t supposed to be terribly friendly but this isn’t a one time thing. She’s the same in every role.
The whole picture is very ambitious but it works shockingly well. The visual FX are terrific, the set pieces both coherent and dazzling and the bloodless yet stylish action never less than breathtaking. This is a fresh and dynamic reboot that works on almost every level. X-Men: First Class is a real treat and I can’t see it disappointing anyone looking for a well done blockbuster or a smart and stylish superhero pic.
FOX brings the film to Blu-Ray in a very appropriate transfer, with the visual and audio aspects both coming off excellently. Bold colours bring out the film’s 60s setting while a sharp picture brings to life the film’s stunning visual effects. Soft shots are kept to a minimum while black levels and skintones turn out alright.
Crisp dialogue and booming explosions highlight the audio track. It’s loud and powerful and will provide a healthy workout for your speakers while it manages to make sure that its accurate effects and perfect score never drown out the dialogue.
For special features, there’s only really one thing worth your time, a very well done behind the scenes feature that makes up for the superfluousness of the other extras. Here’s what we get.
- Children of the Atom: An eight-part behind-the-scenes featurette that looks at just about every single aspect of the film. It’s an excellent feature and very nicely put together. Fans of the film will love it and it answers just about any questions you had on the making of one of summer’s best.
- Cerebro Mutant Tracker: An interactive Mutant Database that will likely only be appreciated by those who are really into the franchise.
- “X” Marks the Spot: Another interactive extra that gives you a chance to watch mini features while watching the film, it’s kind of like WB’s Maximum Movie Mode, you can also watch the features by themselves.
- Extended and Deleted Scenes
- BD-Live Portal with additional Cerebro Mutant Tracker profiles
- Composer’s Isolated Score
- Theatrical Trailer
And that just about does it for Matthew Vaughn‘s X-Men: First Class. Really, this one is a no brainer for anyone who is a fan of action films, superhero films, comic book films or just the X-Men franchise in general. Vaughn has brought us a wildly entertaining film filled with just about everything you can ask for. The Blu-Ray package from Fox is also fairly impressive and combined, they make for a must have item.
This is a fresh and dynamic reboot that works on almost every level. X-Men: First Class is a real treat and I can't see it disappointing anyone looking for a well done blockbuster or a smart and stylish superhero pic.