Review: X-Men: First Class

I should warn you right off the bat that I was actually going to the theater to see the new Transformers flick. But, being as it was 4th of July weekend, I should have figured it would be sold out. So this was my secondary choice, which might reflect my overall feeling about it because honestly, I was really in the mood for a mindless action flick with nothing but destruction and mayhem on the mind.
But oh well. I have been wanting to see it though, ever since it first came out a few weeks back. I just never got a chance to get to the theater. And with comic book films, I'm all over them. I'll see them all sooner or later. Thor was a nice surprise. Solid and entertaining throughout with a lead that demands your attention and Kenneth Branagh's sure handed and confidant direction. I'm really sad to hear that Branagh won't be returning to direct Thor 2. I thought he did wonders with the material. Green Lantern is an exception though. I have no desire to see it. It just doesn't look very good to me.

In my feeling this is the best of the series. It has the style of the 1st one, but the grandness of the 2nd. I think setting it in the 60's with all the mod decor and pimpin' suits was a brilliant idea. It gives it a new atmosphere that was seriously lacking after the 1st. In this one, Mathew Vaughn takes over as director. Interestingly enough, he was supposed to direct part 3 but bowed out in the last minute because he didn't want to be so far away for so long from his family. Who knows what kind of 3rd entry we could have gotten had he ended up directing it. We can only guess. To be fair, I think Brett Ratner did the best he could under the circumstances. Part 3 isn't great by a long shot, but I don't think it's the train wreck everyone makes it out to be. I mean hey, it made more money than any of the other X-Men flicks in the franchise. Doesn't that say something? But that's another story.

X-Men: First Class takes place in the 60's during the Cuban missile crisis. We see how Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto first meet and ultimately become close friends. They realize that they aren't the only mutants on the planet and with help from the government, set out to locate and recruit as many as they can. That's where we meet a band of mutants who in some cases stay with the X-Men and some who ultimately turn to the dark side with Magneto. That's about as simple as I can put it without getting into the whole plot involving a possible World War III started by the villain of the film Sebastian Shaw, played to dry perfection by the always reliable Kevin Bacon. Because this plot ultimately is what drives the story and the movie. You see, Sebastian Shaw wants to wreck havoc on the planet by starting a nuclear war, hoping that the regular humans on the planet perish and the mutants reign supreme. That's the perfect world he envisions. The world where he becomes ruler. Another subplot involving Sebastian Shaw is his rise to power. In the beginning it shows him as an old Dr., scientist, i'm not sure which. He sees what a very young Magneto is capable of and tries to coerce him into using his powers by killing his mother. And that's the trick. You have to really piss off Magneto to get him to unleash his power, he just didn't realize it. Flashforward a couple of decades and we see Magneto possibly in his mid 20's on a mission to find and kill Shaw. He killed his mother and unleashed unholy experiments on him throughout his young life and it's taken him this long to hone his powers enough to where he can exact revenge on this guy. Only now, Shaw is much younger and doesn't talk with a thick German accent anymore. He's also got powers of his own now, seemingly much more powerful than any of the other mutants. And this is where Magneto first meets Xavier. Xavier actually saves his life during a failed attempt at trying to kill Sebastian Shaw. This is also where Magneto realizes he's not as powerful as he thought. He has the ability, he just hasn't learned how to control it yet. And that's where Xavier comes in.

I was surprised at how they changed some of the principle characters of the X-Men. I was never a die hard X-Men comic book fan, as I've been one since the mid 80's. But I do remember that Storm and Cyclops were indeed in the original lineup. There is a scene in the film when Xavier first uses that special helmet designed and created by Hank McCoy/Beast that he so often uses starting with the 1st film when trying to locate other mutants. In this scene if you look closely, you see a 2 second image of a young Storm and Cyclops. So I guess that counts. I think they even might have created a character from scratch with Angel, played by Zoe Kravitz. But I could be wrong. That decision to change the lineup of the X-Men kind of left a lot of people wondering wtf? I will give the casting director props though, because this cast is stellar. Though I never would have imagined James McAvoy as a young Xavier, he plays him with such sincerity that even though he walks and has a full head of hair, you imagine Professor X. He's that good. And Michael Fassbender as Magneto is just brilliant casting. The guy is intense when he's not even trying. He brings such a ferocity to the character that even with just a cold stare, he can cut you in half. Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique was great, as was Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast and the other mutants. Though I didn't even know it at the time, Jason Flemming plays one of the baddie mutants Azazel and he looked awesome! Like one of the coolest looking devils I've seen on film in a long time. The only real complaint I really had was January Jones as Emma Frost. I just don't get it. Why is this chick so popular? I know she's on Mad Men. But why is she considered a sex symbol? In the entire movie, she's either in a bra and super short mini skirt or a skin tight white leather outfit that leaves nothing to the imagination and I just don't see how she's as popular as she is. And I haven't even gotten into her acting yet. It's as bland as it could possibly be. I suppose her popularity is what helped get her this role, but they could have done so much better.

The setting is what really sets this one apart and makes it it's own. Like I said, the 60's mod setting really makes a big difference here. The decor, the clothes, it gives it all such a refreshing look. The effects are outstanding and Vaughn's direction is solid. It's interesting how he can adapt his style to what material he's working with. With Kickass, it's so much more vibrant and in your face graphic with inventive and hyper-kinetic camera work. Here he's so much more subdued and if I didn't already know before going into this, I could have sworn Bryan Singer directed the thing himself. That's not a knock on Vaughn's ability either. Some of Singer's best camera work is on the 1st X-Men, even with the limited budget constraints. But with Singer doing story and producing duties on this one, it's definitely got his stamp all over it. But Vaughn is really the one who deserves credit for making the thing look classy and for keeping the movie moving along smoothly. It's pretty damn entertaining from the get-go, with hardly ever a moment of dullness. Especially when we've finally met all these other mutants as they start showing off what powers they have as they finally feel comfortable to let there hair down. It's a fun sequence. The last quarter of the film is simply amazing and probably the best sequence from any of the X-Men films. The threat of a war keeps you on the edge of your seat with Magneto really being the only deciding factor of whether this war happens or not. Also in this last quarter Magneto realizes his full potential as a mutant and it's pretty awesome. Another element that makes this one stand out from the others is Henry Jackman's rockin' score. It's got a lot of guitar riffs and believe it or not, really makes the movie pulse. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone younger than 8 because the whole political angle would bore them to death. But for adults it's definitely First Class. Get it?

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