Going into yet another X-Men film would make even the most die hard fan weary. I mean, after the last two strike outs this seemed like the last at bat for The Uncanny. But dear friends, in this stylized throwback Singer wound up, hurled one over the plate and Vaughn knocked that grapefruit back, waaay back and out of the park. A new and different X-Men for a new generation, First Class, with confident strides, takes the X-Men series out of the ICU. As a fan myself I breathed a sigh of relief and then had to catch it after seeing Matthew Vaughn’s fantastic film.
X-Men: First Class begins with a very familiar and memorable opening that X1 fans will find not only appealing but intriguing. Much like the intricacy of layers in the LOST storyline, this story starts with a view of the events from a different angle bringing depth and interest to the impacting events depicted. Moving on, we get more glimpses of the main character’s earlier lives intended to show the polar opposite of their upbringing. Thankfully it doesn’t dwell and instead allows us to follow their growth and care for them over the course of time. From there, First Class builds tension well and is superbly paced.
Story aside, this is a visual wonderland of saturated 60’s stylings…groovy baby. This retro-themed film encapsulates the likes of benchmark films from that era as Dr. Stangelove and Goldfinger are but a few of the movies that will seem lovingly referenced if not totally ripped-off. But First Class has much more to offer than showcasing our heroes draped in vintage clothing. It gives a sizable humanity to these iconic and formerly 2 dimensional characters, while having some fun. First Class is also filled with hints of forthcoming characters vital to the series making fans nearly salivate for future adventures.
It’s tough to top the likes of Patrick Stewart and IIan McKellen but James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were certainly no slouches. McAvoy commands the screen and comes alive as Xavier instantaneously. His compassion and fervor are so tangible you’d think this movie was in 3D. Fassbender, equally as electrifying (or should I say, magnetic?) skillfully shows the struggle he has to channel his own potential as well as deciding that the only fate for himself and all mutants lies in his own hands, shunning his friends and those close to him.
There are great little “getting to know you” scenes but there’s a heart in the middle of the film when Xavier begins to teach the new recruits. McAvoy’s sincerity really comes through in what can almost, in this case, be insultingly called a montage. In one of the most interesting and unexpected character developments of the film Xavier counsels Hank McCoy (Beast) briefly on the duality/morality of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Its a wonderful exchange which speaks volumes about the entire purpose of the mutant struggle. First Class further gives each character a credible weight as well as humanity which, considering this if a film about fictional comic book characters, is all the more impressive.
What makes this more appealing is that for the first time the younger and less experienced mutants get more than a passing glance and really participate in the story as we see them as individuals, not shallow characters in a mural of super heroes. On the flip side Kevin Bacon makes for a right evil Sebastian Shaw but that’s unfortunately the lack of depth in the villain camp. Yet he plays a great “Emperor” (if you will) to Fassbender’s Erik.
It’s widely known that Vaughn and the team faced tremendous pressure and a rushed schedule to get this completed so, as I suspect, to be out in front of this year’s super hero heavy summer. Well you know what they say about how the best perform under pressure right? This movie fires on all cylinders and it’s really hard me to find anything wrong even with the limited production window. And if I did it would be petty…like the White Queen’s awkward CG diamond form and how Rade Serbedzija is always cast as the stereotypical Russian.
Still fans of the series can relax and rejoice in this uber-pleasing entry the properly righted the X-Men boat…although as a prequel it’s only rerighted from one end. Still it gives hope to the franchise and maybe Matthew Vaughn will hang around to give us another dose of what he has up his sleeve. First Class is powered by an engaging story that is also laden with hints, nods, ties to the X-Men universe, simply fine acting (not to mention peppered with some brief but simply crowd-pleasing cameos) and brought home with Henry Jackman’s energetic and hefty score.
First Class is colorful, breezy at times but sincere and substantial. Moreover, it’s jaw-dropping and just short of epic. It embodies a real weight that Vaughn’s other comic film Kick Ass lacked. Far from a brainless comic romp, it’s a swift and deep multi-character piece about inner struggles and acceptance. That gives it the legs that many other comic films lack. The issues explored and investigated help ground the film and further endear us to the characters proving their social relevance. It also shows why these characters have such longevity for nearly 50 years and how a “comic film” and its message can truly succeed outside of the panes of the “comic book”.