Friday, June 3, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Making up for the last two installments, 'First Class' takes the 'X-Men' franchise to new heights. Made for fans of the first two 'X-Men' movies, fans of 'Kick-Ass' director Matthew Vaughn and anyone who enjoys a well-written, acted and directed summer blockbuster.

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.

X-Men: First Class

There are three different types of X-Men fans: those who love the comics (and usually hate the movies), those who love the movies and those who only like Bryan Singer’s X-Men and X2. Finding both The Last Stand and Wolverine unwatchably bad, I lie in the group of Singer fans. I thought the franchise was dead until news broke that Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn was brought in to direct Singer’s First Class script. At that point, my expectations jumped through the roof and, to my surprise, First Class surpassed them.

Know that X-Men: First Class is not a reboot of the franchise, it is a prequel. Although not all of the lines match up correctly – which would leave you thinking it was a reboot – I’ll keep this review spoiler-free by telling you that a few things are scattered throughout the film that indefinitely stop you from questioning. Without a doubt, you will know that First Class is a prequel.

First Class opens with a picture-for-picture re-enactment of the concentration camp opening from Singer’s original 2000 X-Men. We see young Erik (future Magento) display his magnetic powers as he is dragged away from his parents by Nazi soldiers – except First Class shows us what happened to Erik after being cracked over the head with the butt of a rifle. The genetic alterations that the Nazis played with during World War II also included the study of mutations. Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, Apollo 13) was their leading mutations expert. While interrogating Erik about his power, Shaw learns that Eriks’s powers are fueled by anger, so he murders Erik’s mother to invite the return of his rage. Seeing the Erik’s amazing ability, Shaw turned Erik into a lab rat. When First Class jumps to 1962, we see adult Erik (Michael Fassbender, Inglourious Basterds) acting like James Bond, traveling the world and taking down the Nazis from his past. Knowing how difficult it will be to reach him, Erik saves Shaw for the final spot on his revenge list.

Interweaved with Erik’s past we also see the childhood of young Charles Xavier (future Professor X). We see little Charles meet child shape-shifter Raven (young Mystique) and take her in a sister. As they grown up, Charles (James McAvoy, Wanted) is completely oblivious to the fact that Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, the upcoming Hunger Games films) is in love with him.

After graduating from Oxford in the 1962 world with a degree in genetic mutation studies, Charles is hired by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, Bridesmaids). Charles is brought onto MacTaggert’s team once she witnesses powerful mutants working with Shaw to “single-handedly start World War III” by putting Russian nuclear missiles on Cuba. You had no idea that the Cuban Missile Crisis was really the first mutant take-over attempt, did you?

Both trying to stop Shaw, Charles and Erik cross paths, become friends and unite under a new top secret government organization. Although it is never given a title, it is obvious their secret team is under the control of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel Universe’s secret organization headed by Nick Fury in the Iron Man movies and Thor. The agency presumably remains nameless as X-Men is a Fox-owned Marvel franchise and Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers are still under the direction of Marvel.

Charles and Erik use the brain-amplifying tool “cerebro” in First Class just as they did in the past movies – to lock down the coordinates of fellow mutants. The two of them set off across the country to recruit teenage mutants in what can be called one of the coolest montage sequences of all time. The members of their team include Beast, Banshee, Darwin and Havok. Together they must go up against Shaw’s team – Emma Frost, Azazel and Riptide.

As depicted in the old X-Men movies, beneath their opposing morals and goals, Charles and Erik have a relationship built upon a strong bond of friendship. First Class shows us just how strong that bond is. The purpose of First Class is to show us what caused the erosion of that friendship, to show us how the X-Men came about and to show us how the world first reacted to mutants.

Being the fifth film of the franchise, nobody has been expecting First Class to be as strong a sequel as it is. The script is witty, smart and highly-complex, easily the most complicated of series. Non-comic book fans were surprised when the first X-Men proved to be made for those familiar with the comics or not. First Class is even more accessible than that. Its intelligent writing can be enjoyed by anyone.

There are only two flaws in First Class. One is a cheesy action sequence that resembles Tinkerbell chasing Peter Pan through the sky, the other is the overuse of nods to the other X-Men movies. Both of those faults can be forgiven due to the rest of the film. Vaughn’s awesome directing, Fassbender’s brilliant performance and Singer’s above-par screenplay make up for any wrongdoing.

If you enjoy or have ever enjoyed any of the X-Men movies, rush out to see First Class this weekend. Making up for the last two lazy installments, X-Men: First Class returns the style, wit and fun to the franchise. You will not be disappointed.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

4 out of 5

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