If it's crap ... We'll tell you
When I met Korey in London, he suggested I become a film critic and even offered to make me a detailed list of things to do to achieve that goal so I’ll give it a go! This is the first review I have ever written so be gentle!
Title: X-Men: First Class
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Eric Lehnsherr), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), January Jones (Emma Frost) and others.
Background Info: Following The Usual Suspects, director Bryan Singer had some significant critical and financial success in the late ‘90s and early 2000s with X-Men and it’s sequel X2: X-Men United, but Singer jumped ship to work on the ill fated Superman Returns! The once revered X-Men movie franchise fell into the hands of Brett Ratner who did his best to mimic Singers style of film and made the entertaining X-Men 3: The Last Stand but fans sadly didn’t take kindly to it, they liked the X-prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine even less! Singer was (allegedly) contractually tied to his Jack the Giant Killer remake and hence directing duties fell to Matthew Vaughn of Kick-Ass fame with Singer on board as producer and general guide through the X-movieverse! Together they chose not to reboot but rather to make a prequel, Leon on this site has said there are no good prequels, hopefully he’ll change his tune after seeing this film!
The original X-Men takes place in “The Not Too Distant Future,” from the point of view of 1999, so say that it happened in the early 2000s, from the opening of the sequel it’s obvious X2 happens a few months if not weeks after the first and ditto for X-Men 3. X-Men shows us Magneto as a young boy of about twelve in 1944, so he’d be thirty in 1962, if the first three films happen in, say, 2002, Magneto and Xavier are seventy. There’s only so many stories that can be told without de-aging these guys, that and it’s pretty clear that the end of the last X-Men film pretty much puts a cap on the timeline, so it makes sense to go back to the beginning and tell the story of the younger versions of these characters, the producers can also hire younger (cheaper) actors to play the now well loved heroes and villains.
For the record I always felt that the third X-Men was an intelligent film that pitted Ice-Man against Pyro, one the embodiment of Xavier’s ideals the other the pawn of Magneto and we had a pseudo Xavier Vs Magneto battle via the boys. Sadly, I seem to be the only person on Earth who thinks this, but then again who knows what I’m thinking, I’m a robot!
Plot: The film starts by showing us younger versions of characters we are now very familiar with, Xavier and Lehnsherr (Magneto) among others in a time in their lives when they were unfamiliar with their powers or potential, mutants coming to terms with their powers has usually been a metaphor for puberty in the X-universe. Trouble starts brewing when the greedy Sebastian Shaw decides he’s going to manipulate America and the Soviet Union into causing World War III, that’s not a spoiler you basically get that from the trailer, why he does that actually is a spoiler! The chain of events leads to the Cuban Missile Crisis, unfortunately the CIA of 1962 is poorly prepared to handle mutants, especially mutant thugs with combat experience and a powerful telepath, Emma Frost. With few options they turn to a man they didn’t fully understand, fortunately this man is actually a pretty descent guy who only wants what’s best for everyone without anyone getting hurt, a young Charles Xavier. Xavier must put together a team of agents to combat the evil mutant menace, his first recruit is a young Eric Lensherr, the man who will become Magneto. Just as the government agents are known as G-Men, Xavier’s team members, the first of many to be will be known as X-Men.
Characters: The film’s chief protagonist is Charles Xavier, the biggest problem here is that if the man is forty odd years younger, he’s obviously not the same man, he’d be immature and inexperienced. Now James McAvoy was pretty awful in Wanted, but shines well here, thanks mainly to the good script. He manages to convince you he is the same well educated conscientious man Sir Patrick Stewart played, only younger. Rose Byrne also plays well as Moira MacTaggert, like McAvoy, she seems to be an actor who can only do as well as what’s in the script.
January Jones, like Byrne, is cast to type, she plays a sexy bad girl, Byrne plays a brainy good girl, neither Jones nor Byrne do anything extraordinary with the material they just serve their functions well. Kevin Bacon hasn’t been in the limelight since The Hollow Man, so his presence here is a superb return to form. Bacon makes his character so deliciously wicked and manipulative hiding behind a facade of class and sophistication.
But the real star of this movie is rising star Michael Fassbender who steals the show as Erik Lehnsherr, just as Sir Ian McKellen stole the show in the first two X-Men films years before. In fact Fassbender’s performance is so captivating they should have just called this movie X-Men Origins: Magneto! Fassbender’s Lehnsherr is a highly intelligent, calculating man, who unfortunately through great misfortune has become very angry and hard hearted, Fassbender manages to play the role masterfully making his character very likable while still lethal! I can see why Fassbender has such a big female fanbase!
Relevance to Source Material: Singer’s live action continuity doesn’t really make any effort at all to follow the comic continuity and I see no reason it should! In every live action version I have seen of Batman, Superman or Spider-Man, the heroes have always met their arch-nemesis or love interest under different circumstances. In fact the only reason that these films appear to follow the continuity of their respective comics is because the first is usually the origin story, but they quickly depart into a new version of events that makes sense for their two hour running time.
In terms of whom these characters are and their personalities, values and motivations, Singer’s movies and Vaughn’s new film are spot on! These are exactly the Prof X and Magneto I know of, certain characters have been changed to a certain extent but only within reason and only so that they make more sense in a live action universe.
Technical Aspects (Editing/Music/SPFX/Costumes/Make-Up/Production Design): Let’s start with costumes, these were superb, the X-Men need to have a look that takes from the comic, but would still look like a ‘60s version of what we would later see in their adventures set in the 2000s. If you remember Singer’s first two X-Men films the X-Men don’t wear costumes as much as they wear protective gear; the same is true for this film. In the original film the villains didn’t wear costumes, just regular clothes that suited their needs, Sabretooth dressed like a crazy mountain man and Pyro dressed like some punk kid, the same logic applies here as everyone is dressed as you’d expect ‘60s baddies to dress, you’ll see what I mean!
The make-up is quite good and really made Jennifer Lawrence believable as a younger Mystique and I was afraid Beast was going to look like a Star Trek alien, an obvious actor in make-up, however his blue fur look (not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer) looks like part of a living breathing animal, I’d be interested in watching the behind the scenes features to see how that was done.
The editing is good, the film moves forward at a brisk pace, we don’t ever feel bored. The music sets the tone pretty well, reminding us we’re in the ‘60s! Special effects are so common at this point that they don’t really impress and they shouldn’t try, they should just tell the story, which they do.
Unfortunately the production design isn’t exceptional, none of the environments we see, Xavier’s home, the CIA Headquarters, the bad guys hideout are breathtaking, but maybe that’s kind of the point, everything has to look like a brand new precursor to what we’ve already seen.
Why it’s Good: There are so many in-jokes and references to the other movies in this film, but I can’t name one without spoiling anything. Bryan Singer’s X-Men films have always been the comic book movies for the more intelligent crowd, so if you like a film that makes you think, you’ll enjoy this!
Why it’s Bad: There’s nothing really bad here at all, the only reason I’m not giving this the Spill rating of BETTER THAN SEX is because as good as this film is it never truly astounded me as The Dark Knight did. The one problem is the in-jokes which are quite good but it means if you ever watch the films in the order they happen you’ll see the punch line before the setup.
Bottom Line: X-Men: First Class is a class act! This is the best film of the year so far, enjoy it!
Rating: FULL PRICE!!