Review - X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class (2011), PG-13, 132 minutes - Each summer I take a day trip down to Charlotte, NC with some friends to wander around HeroesCon (a comic book convention put on by Charlotte based comic shop Heroes Aren't Hard to Find). Part of the trip has always been stopping on the way home to get dinner and to take in a movie. The film selection tends to be comic or game based depending on what is in theaters at the time. Over the six years that I've been a part of these trips, we've seen some absolute wrecks (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time), and some half way decent flicks (The Incredible Hulk). This year's obvious choice, since it was just released, was X-Men: First Class.

After Fox has done their best to completely ruin the X-Men franchise since X-2 (I am referring specifically to X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins), none of us had very high hopes going in. Just over two hours later, we all agreed that not only was this easily the best Charlotte trip movie we had seen in recent years, but it may even be the best X-Men film made to date (although I personally think that title still belongs to X-2).

First Class is a prequel story that goes back to the early 1960's to tell the story of how the X-Men first came together. It does a wonderful job of portraying how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) become friends and work together to stop the machinations put in motion by another mutant, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). In their efforts, they begin to bring together a group of young mutants trying to find their place in the world. This 'First Class' includes Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Havok (Lucas Till), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Darwin (Edi Gathegi), and Angel (Zoe Kravitz). This isn't the Warren Worthington, III Angel from The Last Stand. This Angel is a female that has no comic basis that I know of.

Originally, Bryan Singer (director of the first two X-Men films) was going to return to the franchise and direct this First Class. After he had put the initial drafts of the story together there were some scheduling conflicts and the studio decided to proceed with the film instead of waiting for Singer to be available. In his place, Matthew Vaughn does a pretty darn good job of weaving an origin story centered on the Xavier/Magneto relationship into the previously existing X-Men franchise continuity (I will discuss this a bit more in the spoiler section below the trailer). Vaughn, McAvoy and Fassbender do an excellent job of portraying Xavier and Magneto growing together, then apart as their views of the mutant race in the world diverge.

X-Men: First Class is definitely worth checking out, especially if you enjoy comic book based movies. It's well made and very character driven. For those with youngsters, there is one F-bomb (specifics in the spoiler section), but other than that it's pretty clean. If First Class is a sign of what's to come for the X-Men film franchise, then things are looking up.








*****SPOILERS*****

- First things first, ratings wary readers, the F-bomb: There is a collection of scenes part way through the movie in which Xavier and Magneto are traveling around the world recruiting mutants that were located when using Cerebro. In one of these quick scenes, they walk into a bar where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sitting. They don't even get a chance to say anything to him and he growls 'Fuck off', and they walk out. It's a pretty funny, very in character cameo by the world's most recognizable mutant.

- There are three scenes in particular that really tie First Class back to the X-Men movies that came before it: the scene in which Magneto pulls apart the gate while struggling to get back to his parents, the Wolverine cameo, and a scene in which Mystique attempts to seduce Magneto and shape shifts into looking like Rebecca Romijn (who played Mystique in the first three films). There are other character developments that set up the previous movies, but those three are major nods to the previous films.

- I really only have a couple issues with the movie, and honestly, they are a bit nit-picky and comic book nerdy. Most of which revolve around continuity inconsistencies:

1) They used Emma Frost (January Jones) properly, but she's definitely older than she was portrayed in the events of Wolverine: Origins. The fact that she could have joined the X-Men by that time fits comic book continuity, but how do you explain the change in age? Of course, I have about a million issues with Wolverine: Origins so if they just chose to ignore it for continuity sake, then I have absolutely no problem with that and this becomes a non-issue.

2) Beast also appears in X-2 as Dr Hank McCoy...before his mutation, which he pops up in The Last Stand having already had. This shows how he became blue and furry and occurs years earlier. Slight disconnect.

3) The use of Alex (Havok) as the first Summers brother to study under Professor Xavier is a little weird, but off the top of my head I can't remember previous films stating that Scott (Cyclops) was the first (which is how it happened in the comics)...so this may also be a non-issue.

4) In the first X-Men film, they treated Magneto's helmet as though Xavier had never encountered it before (when the two are much older). Here, Xavier is obviously aware of what it does.

* These continuity glitches could be explained away if this was a reboot. But if it is to be considered was a reboot (which I have not read about anywhere), then why try so hard to link it to the others?

5) My biggest problem though is with the use of Azazel (Jason Flemyng), Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), and Angel. Azazel never had anything to do with the Shaw or the X-Men (he turned out to be Nightcrawler's father, but had no other affiliation). They toyed with Riptide's abilities a bit, but the whirlwind/tornadoes weren't too far off. And can someone please explain to me why it was necessary to use yet another Angel? All three of these characters have maybe 10 (short) lines in the entire movie, if they speak at all. They're only real contribution to the film are some cool abilities based special effects.

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