Now Showing on Cable: “X-Men: First Class”

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Premiering this weekend on Cinemax was last year’s superhero epic, “X-Men: First Class”.

“First Class” was a prequel/reboot of the “X-Men” franchise, which offered us four movies of varying quality from 2000-2009. Recasting the lead roles, “First Class” turns back the clock to the 1960s, and tells the tale of the origin of the X-Men, the formation of the friendship between Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr, and their battle against Sebastian Shaw.

Released in a year which saw several high profile superhero movies, “X-Men: First Class” found a way to elevate itself above its contemporaries and surprisingly emerge as the best superhero flick of 2011.

“X-Men: First Class” tells the origins and/or early years of a number of high profile X-Men characters, including Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Eric Lensherr), Mystique, and Beast. It also introduces a set of new ones in Emma Frost, Havok, Banshee, etc. For the most part, the movie focuses on the forming of the relationships between the characters as opposed to the typical how they got their superpowers.

The villain for this installment of the franchise is Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw is an extremist mutant. He believes that the dawn of the atomic age triggered the wave of genetic mutations responsible for mutant-kind. Thus he plans to trigger a nuclear war, believing mutants will survive – even flourish – while humanity would be destroyed. Of course, it helps that his personal superpower is energy absorption… it’s a nice personal failsafe to have. Shaw is aided in his quest by the telepathic Emma Frost (last year’s MAJOR AWARD Winner for Worst Actress for this role), the teleporting Azazel, and the whirlwind creating Riptide. Together, in an enjoyable bit of revisionist history, they manipulate both sides of the Cold War and bring the world to the edge of Armageddon via the Cuban missile crisis.

But Magneto is hunting Shaw. As a boy, Erik Leshnerr was interred in a German concentration camp. There, his powers escape his control and are revealed. Shaw, then a Nazi, tries to force young Erik to use his powers by threatening, and eventually killing his Mother. It’s a crime the boy will never forget… and now that he’s grown into his mutant powers, he’s out for revenge.

He fails in his first attempt to exact it, however, he is saved by Charles Xavier. Xavier is a young freewheeler in those pre-wheelchair days. Together the two recruit some young mutants, while working in conjunction with the CIA and Moira MacTaggert on “Project X”. Eventually these young mutants head with Xavier and Magneto back to Xavier’s estate to train their mutant powers, becoming in effect, the first class of mutants at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

Between Shaw, Xavier, and Magneto, there’s plenty of discussion about mutant-kind’s place in the world. The issue as to whether or not mutants can co-exist with humanity is given plenty of discussion. The students join in, as they all feel ostracized from society to a degree by their looks or powers… and struggle with their identities. It’s these deeper discussions that elevate “X-Men: First Class”. The movie has a few good action sequences, but (to me) they’re nothing really exceptional. What is exceptional is the weight and tone of the film. Supported by first rate performances by McAvoy and Fassbender, along with Jennifer Lawrence (who gives an excellent turn as a young Raven Darkholme, who feels vulnerable due to her scaly blue natural appearance), the movie feels a step above a typical mindless action film. These characters have issues to grapple with, and in watching them struggle with them, you get to know and care about the characters.

Credit should be given to director Matthew Vaughn. He did an excellent job balancing the action and intellectual discussion, character development and conflict. The past two installments of the X-Men franchise have been lesser offerings, and it was refreshing to get one that lived up to the promise of the first two.

I’ve heard that a sequel is in our future, and to me, that’s excellent news.

A-

41 thoughts on “Now Showing on Cable: “X-Men: First Class”

      • Ironically, “The Green Lantern” was the movie I was most looking forward to in sumer 2011, and X-Men was the least. Then X-Men turned out to be my favorite movie of the summer, and Green Lantern my least favorite.

      • I liked Green Lantern also but the one thing I didn’t like about it was Tim Robbins. He looked too young to be the father of the villain. In fact, he looked like Tim Robbins in old age make-up. Funny Green Lantern was named because Ryan Reynolds I believe is the only person to play both a DC and Marvel character.

  1. Great film. In my collection. Amazing how the movie can have someone like January Jones in it and still be great. A lot of the applause should go to Kevin Bacon who did a fantastic job.

    • I know, right. Worst actress of last year, and it barely slows the movie down one bit. Looking back, she wasn’t in it all that much. Huge cast… Lots of characters.

      An awesome flick though. I totally enjoyed it. Bacon made a great villain, too, you’re right.

      • Hey, it’s Vaughn. I like Vaughn. I like Fassbender and Lawrence and pretty much that whole cast except for people whose names rhyme with “Shmanuary Flones”. I could do worse.

        I’ll probably get it through Netflix eventually, I’m just backlogged and honestly, I’d rather stay away from superhero stuff for the moment.

  2. I also had low expectations for this after X3 and Origins: Wolverine.

    However, despite some of the cheesiness (Banshee) and bad acting (Jones), this turned out pretty good.

    Besides, it had Assbender so it automatically became awesome.

  3. I really loved this when I saw it in the theater, even with January Jones’ horrible performance. I recently watched it for the second time, though, and it didn’t hold up as much as I would have liked it to. I think that the first time I saw it I was surprised that it wasn’t completely horrible but the second time that surprise factor wasn’t there.

    • Yeah, ok. I can see that Phil.

      It definitely WAS a surprise. I remember thinking “Wow! This is actually really good!”

      It didnt let me down when I watched this weekend, though, I still thought it was enjoyable. Still, I can see how that could happen.

  4. I adore this film. Next to Thor, this was my favourite comic book film of last year. I think what let this film down here was the villains. The X-Men themselves were all pretty well rounded characters. But the villains, aside from Kevin Bacon’s Shaw, were just so one sided and wasted actors.

    Oh and January Jones… don’t get me started on how she just sucked all the life out of one of the best X-Men characters written. Thanks JONES!

  5. Happy to read a good review on this film – First Class was definitely my favorite superhero film to come out last year. I also enjoyed Thor very much, but First Class just inched itself above it for me to like it a little more.

    I would agree on the balance the director maintained for the film – between the intellectual conversations and the action sequences, the film sustained a nice balance of the two and came together as a well-thought out, interesting action flick.

    I thought Kevin Bacon was the perfect form of slimy and hilarious to play the villain, and Fassbender and McAvoy were perfectly cast. And I also will say that I couldn’t stand January Jones in the film.

    Great review, Fogs!

    • Thanks Kristin!

      Yeah, we had a bunch of fun kicking January Jones around round these parts. I gave a bunch of awards at year end, and she got Worst Actress, everybody was uniformly down on her. She just… has no range whatsoever. Like the difference between her happy and sad faces is so minimal. LOL

      Thor was very good too. I havent seen it since it was in theatres, but I’m looking forward to that hitting cable so I have an excuse to write it up. :)

      Thanks for the support!

      • Ha, that’s a good way of putting it – “the difference between her happy and sad faces is so minimal” – good point. I kind of view Kristen Stewart the same way, although I have not (and don’t plan on) watching the Twilight movies.

        Your awards thing sounds like so much fun! And pretty hilarious too. I will have to check it out!

        You bet! Movie geek bloggers (long enough for you?) have to stick together! :)

      • LOL, well, if you honestly want to look, you can check out the categories link on the front Page – The MAJOR AWARDS. :D

        I pretty much blew it up way out of proportion, I’m not about being low key around here. :D

        And yes! K Stew is an excellent parallel. Give her the right role (Adventureland) and it works, but other than that… eesh.

        I’ve never watched a Twilight movie either, but I have announced I’m going to do a one day marathon where I watch all of them in a row and blog the whole thing. LOL. I dont know how that’ll wind up, but hopefully it’ll wind up a decent read.

  6. I liked this movie but not nearly as much as most people. To be honest, I couldn’t have given two shit about any of the characters outside of Michael Fassbender’s and James McAvoy’s. Had the movie focused a lot more on their relationship, this would have a great flick.

    Instead, we spend time with a bunch of boring teen turds half of the time worrying about their feet look or why they don’t like to be different. And January Jones is nothing short of robotic. It’s like there is nothing inside!

    • LOL. I do recall calling her a Fembot at one point…

      Man though, “Boring Teen Turds” huh? I mean, I’ll grant they’re underwhelming, but I think “I liked this movie but not nearly as much as most people.” Might be a bit of an understatement bub. :D

    • I remember back when X-Men first made comic books the new thing on the big screen and rumours of a very cerebral Magneto film were in the ether I was really excited to see a less action/more talk comic book film. So see where you’re coming from Castor. Fassbender and McAvoy had great chemistry and seeing more of their relationship would have made the film more than just another comic book film.

  7. This was a lot of fun because it had the exciting and fast-paced feel to it, as well as having a great ensemble for its many cast of characters. Good review Dan. Hopefully the second one will be good too but something tells me they may just be shooting a little too high. To be truly honest, one prequel is enough.

    • Uhhhh I dunno Dan-o, I liked it enough to see a second one. I mean, I dont blame you for being a little leery, I understand. But I guess, to me, I just think of this as an entirely new start (I know its supposed to be a prequel… same characters, all kinds of common stuff)…

      But I do hear ya.

  8. Great review Dan! Although you know I had a different a opinion on this one… :)

    Definitely agree about Fassbender and McAvoy though. They did add emotional weight to the film, and their performances were great. I think it would have been so easy for either of them (especially Fassbender) to go a really cheesy, over-the-top route with the scale of their emotions, but they pulled things back and really humanized their characters.

    • Yeah, I believe the word you’re looking for is “Hater” LOL.

      I agree with you on January Jones though. I’ve seen cardboard standees with more emotive capabilities.

      Gotta say though, you hold a minority poosition on this one. Its been pretty widely well received. And I like it, I stand by it. Fassbender and McAvoy carry it and then the action scenes are solid. Plus Bacon is fun, he doesnt often play the bad guy.

      This is half the fun of this whole thing though, you know? Everyone has their own opinions on stuff.

      • Haha “Hater” is a pretty generous term for what I am of this movie .I don’t know if the hype really did this one in for me or why I can’t show it any love.

        I definitely like seeing other people’s opinions though, and I can see what others might like about this movie, despite the fact that I don’t feel the same.

        I think one of these days I’ll give it another watch… see if time has quelled my bitterness haha.

  9. I was pleasantly surprised by First Class as well. I think I enjoyed the crazy opera of Thor a little bit more, but FC is a strong second for 2011.

    As a “comic book guy” I was actually impressed that they mostly took the ideas of the comic and left out the continuity and came up with something better.

    • Thor was a pleasant surprise too. I had a hard time envisioning how they could take all that Norse mythology stuff and Asgard and Midgard and the Verilys and Forsooths and turn it into a watchable movie, but they did.

      Comic Book Guy: “Best prequel ever.” :D

      • Comic Book Guy: “After the butchery that was ‘Superman Returns’, I’m surprised Singer didn’t have Xavier be Jean Grey’s deadbeat dad. Well, there’s always the sequel to the prequel to look forward to.”

  10. I’ve loved all the X-Men movies, particularly the philosophical questions that they ask. I know that I’m supposed to cheer for Professor X’s team, but most of the time I find myself agreeing more with Magneto. The damn humans can’t be trusted! HA!

    • Ha! It’s true! Magneto’s the thoughts and feelings that we all have. Driven by fear. Xavier’s all about the conscious and logic.

      • Well, I’d probably end up fighting on Magneto’s side up until the point that he’s about to win through some sinister means, and then suddenly I’d be a defector, bringing down the whole thing for “going too far.”

        That’s another reason that I like the X-Men, people often change sides, so it’s not like I have to believe the same thing for ever and in every circumstance. I’m not a super hero or a super villain, I’m a super Flip-Flopper!

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