X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
**** (out of 5)
June 3, 2011
James McAvoy as CHARLES XAVIER
Michael Fassbender as ERIK LEHNSHERR
Kevin Bacon as SEBASTIAN SHAW
Rose Byrne as MOIRA MACTAGGERT
Jennifer Lawrence as RAVEN
January Jones as EMMA FROST
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I consider my affinity to the “X-Men” films somewhat unique. While I’m a comic book fan, I grew up as a DC guy, never having the funds to buy the books for two universes at once. So I never read the X-Men comic books, and I never watched the cartoons.
When the movies came out, I fell in love with them. And unlike many critics, who generally find the first two films to be the only good ones, I have a certain guilty pleasure about “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” (Though I will admit that there are some really serious problems with the “Wolverine” prequel.)
Still, I also can tell that “X-Men: First Class,” which tells the origin of Professor X and Magneto, is right up there in terms of quality with the first two films in the franchise.
“X-Men: First Class” goes back to 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis as a backdrop. We see Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) as young men developing their mutant powers. Together, they unite newly discovered mutants from around the world to form the proto-version of the X-Men, attempting to defeat a former Nazi who is trying to bring about World War III.
Many critics are heaping praise on James McAvoy, which I don’t think is exactly earned in this film. He does an okay job, but he slathers on the cheese like the script were a box of movie nachos. In the beginning, McAvoy channels Jeff Goldblum and later turns into Shawn Spencer from “Psych” by having two fingers perpetually pressed to his temple whenever he uses his power. These aren’t deal-breakers for this film, but he doesn’t exactly carry anything.
Instead, the real star of “X-Men: First Class” is Michael Fassbender, who brings the level of empathy we saw from Ian McKellan in the earlier films. In fact, the film’s greatest strengths are in his story. “X-Men: First Class” isn’t just a superhero movie with heroes facing an international threat. It is also a revenge story in which Erik must find the people responsible for his family’s death during World War II. Like McKellan, Fassbender plays the role not as a bad guy (or in this case, a potential bad guy), but rather as a man who honestly believes he’s doing the right thing.
Few other actors in this film take it as seriously as Fassbender does, but that’s okay. Kevin Bacon is a bit campy as the villain, Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence phones in her role as the troubled Mystique-to-be and Rose Byrne works well in the film as a beautiful CIA agent, even if she could stand to eat a few more carbs to add to her bony frame. At least she’s better than January Jones, who has a nice set of knockers but the acting ability of a sleeping Megan Fox.
But the real fun of this film is the raw excitement and action that is hit-or-miss with these superhero movies nowadays. Sure, it has it’s big-budget effects moments, but the writing of “X-Men: First Class” really fuels the story. I know there’s no mention of mutants in the Wikipedia entry of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but after watching this movie, you could almost believe there should be.
There are plenty of flaws in this film, including some clunky prequel beats in order to synch the story with the rest of the franchise, and some blatant anachronisms in terms of hair style, clothing and even slang (including a character calling another a badass, which was not a popular term in 1962). But these are forgiveable. After all, if the script were written with the slang of 1962, it would be in danger of coming across as an “Austin Powers” rip-off, and that wouldn’t have worked at all.
In the end, “X-Men: First Class” is a great popcorn film that successfully breathes new life in a decade-old franchise. And that’s a hell of a thing, considering it’s the fifth film in the series.