X-Men: First Class (2011)
June 27, 2011
Synopsis: In 1962, a young Professor Xavier recruits a team of mutants to combat a Cold War threat. Among them is Erik Lensherr, his best friend… and future archenemy.
Preboot? – So what is X-Men: First Class, anyway? Is it a prequel to the other 4 X-men films also made by 20th Century Fox? Or does the fresh cast and origin story indicate this is a reboot like Batman Begins? First Class can’t seem to make up its mind. It sports a brilliant new cast, fresh design, and origin story; which all point to a complete reboot. But its also filled with nods to the previous X-men movies (and one of the funniest cameos of all time) which point to a prequel like the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film. The result has people calling it a “preboot”, as if its intentionally walking the line and hoping nobody cares too much. (Its now been confirmed that First Class is the first of a new X-men trilogy.)
Thankfully, First Class is way too much fun for me to care. Seriously, this movie was a blast. The action is fun, the pacing well tuned, the characters charming, the use of history intriguing, the special effects impressive, and the soundtrack spellbinding. Its certainly not a perfect movie, but it captures the charm, darkness, and scale of what the X-men are about. I was especially impressed with First Class’ use of actual history. From young Erik in a Nazi concentration camp to the Cuban Missile Crisis, this ‘secret history’ is a brilliant move. My hat is off to director Matthew Vaughn for tying it all together.
When it comes to X-men, there’s two origin stories I’ve always wanted to see: Wolverine’s past, and the friendship between Professor X and Magneto. Thankfully, First Class is much better than the sloppy Origins: Wolverine. I was initially skeptical about James McAvoy as Professor Xavier, but I was proven wrong. His cool confidence and leadership were perfect for a young, prebooted Charles Xavier. Michael Fassbender steals the show as Erik Lehnsherr, a Nazi hunter obsessed with revenge. (Anytime you make Nazi’s the villains, you’re golden in my book). Erik’s character arc is emotionally gripping, and the best part of the movie. And speaking of the Nazi’s, Kevin Bacon makes a surprisingly good one!
I’ve got a thing for movies with good soundtracks. (listen here!) Henry Jackman’s work on First Class isn’t the most complex or intricate score you’ll hear this summer, but it fits the film perfectly. Traditional strings and brass are supported by subtle electric guitar and bass, giving it the modern feel needed for a superhero movie. I won’t spoil it, but a particular scene with a submarine is stunning both musically and visually. First Class used the dynamic duo of special effects and soundtrack without a hitch, and I love them for it.
X-Men: First Class isn’t without its imperfections. It doesn’t depend on familiarity with its characters, but it certainly assumes it (and rightly so, being the 5th film in the franchise!) The result is glossing over some characters and details because it assumes the audience knows who they are and who they become down the road. Chances are you’ve noticed the white wonderbra wearing Emma Frost (played by January Jones). First Class manages to explain her ridiculous outfit (she looks just like her comic-book counterpart) but overall Jones lacked the commanding presence required for Emma Frost. But considering that there’s two more X-men films coming, she has time to develop into the strong willed telepath we know and love.
Finally, First Class has a moral message. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s is merely a backdrop for X-Men’s human/mutant dilemma, and Xavier’s hope for a peaceful future between humans and mutants is contrasted with Erik’s downfall. “We have it within us to be the better men,” Charles teaches. “We already are,” replies Erik. Above all, X-men reminds us that being good requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice.