X-Men: First Class

16 Jan

Title: X-Men: First Class
Year: 2011
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, with a story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Ray Wise, Zoe Kravitz
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language
Runtime: 132 min
IMDb Rating: 7.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Metacritic: 65

 

Finally, half a year after it premiered in theaters I finally got to watch one of the films I anticipated the most but that had delayed watching after missing it in theaters, waiting for a day in which I could just sit back and really enjoy the hell out of the blu-ray. And boy was it worth it; X-Men: First Class is a truly incredible film, one that, after the rotund disappointment that was 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, returns the franchise to relevance, makes it fresh by starting at the beginning, with great direction by Matthew Vaughn, who proved he had style to spare with Stardust and last year’s Kick-Ass (which I gave an A to), a truly terrific screenplay, and a cast full of really great actors that bring new life to characters we all know and love, and make me really want to get a new trilogy out of this film series.

Headlining the cast as Charles Xavier, our future Professor X, and Erik Lehnsherr, our future Magneto, are James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, two of the best young actors working today. Mr. Fassbender, especially, is just proving how ridiculously talented he is, making 2010 his banner, breakout year, with a foursome of truly spectacular films in Jane Eyre (which I gave an A to), A Dangerous Method (an A-), Shame (an A+ and my favorite film of 2011 so far) and now this one, which seats comfortably in the same league as those. To have four films out in the same year is a feat on its own, to have them all be of such great quality of just tremendous, he’s battling Jessica Chastain and Ryan Gosling for the title of most ubiquitous actor in great films of 2011, emerging as a great leading man, a status which will hopefully be further cemented when the awesome-looking Prometheus premieres this summer.

This film truly is outstanding, trust me on that, and it’s great at managing to reboot a franchise that was sagging along. When Bryan Singer gave us the first X-Men he delivered an action-packed film that was just so sharp and faithful to the source material; X2: X-Men United, was one of those rare sequels that actually improved on the original, an ambitious and spectacular blockbuster that stands to this day as one of the greatest comic book films ever; but then Mr. Singer left the director’s chair and Brett Ratner closed the trilogy with 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand which, much like every other thing the director has done, throws away any sort of character and emotional development for fluff action; then the aforementioned X-Men Origins: Wolverine was just too clichéd for us to really care. This film will only remind us why we fell in love with those first two films, and make us be ready to forget about the couple that followed them.

Just look at the film that Matthew Vaughn has given us, with Mr. Singer providing the story and present as a producer, he manages to show us the beginning of the epic story of the mutants we all know and love. A dazzling, globe-trotting affair that, with the Cold War as historical background, manages to show us how these people came to terms with their incredible abilities and how personalities we know as fully formed were initially formed, and friendships and enmities which would help define these people were born. And with such a talented cast as the one assembled here the result is bound to be this impressive, Mr. McAvoy and Mr. Fassbender are dynamite, both individually and together, having true movie-star magnetism to draw us in, delivering such great work that shows they’re both able to have fun with this material while still taking it really serious and, especially in the case of Mr. Fassbender, deliver truly smooth and cool performances in the process.

Mr. Vaughn is smart about not going all out with the razzle dazzle right out of the gate. Instead, the first half of the film is solidly grounded in a very human scale, making sure that we connect emotionally with these characters, that we get to know them, so that when he pulls out all the stops in the second half of the film, which includes some seriously stunning visual effects, we’ve already invested in the characters we’re seeing do these crazy things and we can enjoy the hell out of the ride he gives us. This is just such a bold film, so willing to take risks, confident of itself in all the right ways and boasted by a fresh energy from a super talented youthful cast, it makes a story we all know feel brand new, giving us a two-hours-plus film with James Bond-esque scenarios and a rather nostalgic look at the 60’s, complete with really neat costumes.

As the film opens we see a familiar sight, a young Erik Lehnsherr in a Nazi concentration camp, trying to use his mind to bend a metal gate that’s keeping him away from his parents. This attracts the attention of Sebastian Shaw, the evil guy of the film that’s played by Kevin Bacon who’s just having a ball with the role, and as such the chess pieces are put into motion. Chess is also a game we see Erik and Charles playing, a look at how these two buddies start to converse with each other, their different opinions coming up and shaping up things to come. And while these scenes are great, and show the great chemistry between Mr. McAvoy and Mr. Fassbender have at portraying the greatest mutant bromance, Mr. Vaughn doesn’t go that much into the politics of the story and the identity issues as Mr. Singer did in the first films.

I loved every single thing about this film, except maybe January Jones who outside of Mad Men has only proven she’s a pretty bad actress. The great thing is that Mr. Vaughn keeps this one quite light, which is a big compliment in this case. It’s a compliment because this film has weighty themes and a huge number of characters that could easily be seen just brooding and being moody, and Bryan Singer showed a film like that can work wonders, but this new approach makes this fun, makes the two-hour-plus running time go by seriously fast, with the globe-trotting spy feel of the film going along perfectly well with the mutant superpower bits, the film coasting along on the strengths of its cast, Mr. Fassbender chief amongst them. X-Men: First Class is in a class of its own, and I really want a couple of sequels to be greenlit as soon as possible.

Grade: A

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