X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Review by Gordon Justesen
McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver
Platt, Kevin Bacon
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 132 Minutes
Release Date: September 9, 2011
“Listen to me very carefully, my friend. Killing will not bring you peace.”
“Peace was never an option.”
Even in the world of movies, a miracle can happen when you least expect it. Going into X-Men: First Class, I was hoping for the absolute best but certainly not expecting it. This was due to two precise factors; it was a prequel and it was a prequel to a movie franchise that was running on fumes at this point.
Prequels, in my mind, are almost always difficult to pull off successfully. In fact, the only prior existing movie of this type that I consider to be a great movie is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which is otherwise regarded as one of the lesser films of that series (for the record, I think it's every bit as great as Raiders...deal with it!). But certain franchises have illustrated that prequels do more harm than good, and even though I did like Episode III, the Star Wars prequels will always remain vastly inferior to the original trilogy.
With X-Men: First Class, far and away the single best comic book themed movie of the year, a most unexpected exception to the rule has been established. It perfectly demonstrates that when in the hand of filmmakers who care about the mythology and care about crafting a compelling story that can help expand on already familiar elements, you can indeed wind up with a truly fantastic prequel. For that, credit must go to director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass), who has crafted what is by far the best film in the series to date, surpassing even X2.
The opening of the movie actually extends on one of the first scenes we saw in the first X-Men movie, when a young boy named Erik Lehnsherr reveals a telekinetic power while in a Polish prison camp during WWII. This attracts the attention of a diabolical Nazi doctor named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who pressures young Erik to reveal his powers so he can study and possibly duplicate them. Erik does indeed display some destructive results to Shaw's delight, only after the doctor kills the boy's mother right in front of him.
Cut to 1962, as we are introduced to a young Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). And we come to realize that in between his intense studying of genetic abnormalities, he uses his telepathic powers to help score with ladies. At his side is the beautiful young Raven (the strikingly gorgeous Jennifer Lawrence), who's been his most loyal friend since a very young age.
The evil Shaw, who has since become something of a powerful mutant himself, has rounded up a band of evil mutants at his side, most notably the diamond-skinned Emma Frost (January Jones). The CIA eventually becomes involved with top agent Moira Braggart (Rose Byrne) learns of Shaw's plan to start WWIII through use of nuclear missiles. After paying witness to their mutant powers, MacTaggart plans to seek out the help of mutants on the good side, which of course leads her straight to Charles.
Meanwhile, Erik (Michael Fassbender) is on a one man hunt, looking to track down Shaw and destroy him in an act of vengeance. Once Charles has agreed to assist the CIA in the pursuit of Shaw, he and Erik eventually cross paths as they locate Shaw on board a ship at sea. This results in Charles saving Erik from drowning, thus beginning the alliance we have been hungering to pay witness to, since we've only seen these two as enemies in the other movies.
The next move for our heroes is to track down other young mutants in existence, which Charles is able to do through use of a nifty telepathic machine. He and Erik travel to multiple areas for new recruits, which include the fairy winged Angel (Zoe Kravitz), fire-powered Alex Summers (Lucas Till), glass-breaking Sean Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones) and a young mutant scientist by the name of Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). Charles and Erik also come across a certain familiar mutant in a bar, and his one line of dialogue is one of the show-stopping highlights of the entire film!
One of the main reasons this movie towers over all previous X-Men movies is that more so than ever, we have a genius screenplay that allows the characters to be fleshed out so remarkably well, in addition to having them establish potent relationships. Not only do we see the unique friendship between Charles and Erik develop, but Raven (who will soon become known as Mystique) and Hank (later to become Beast) are drawn to one another in a unique way, mainly because their mutant powers are very similar and are extremely shy about exposing that side of them. And added to this riveting character development is a story that basically has our young heroes practically in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis, which is a tremendously superb touch.
In addition to those great qualities, X-Men: First Class turns out to be quite a terrific period piece as well. Director Vaughn and his production team do a splendid job of getting the look and feel of the early 60s and making great use of it. And Vaughn also executes what may be the single most brilliant montage sequence in quite some time!
As for the acting, this is hands down the best to be seen in any comic book movie outside the Christopher Nolan Batman films. You simply couldn't ask for two better and convincing actors than James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender in terms of essentially giving birth to the roles of Professor X and Magneto. Not only do they display magnificent work here (Fassbender, in particular, is very much worthy of a Supporting Actor nomination), but both men could very much pass for a younger Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellan.
Kevin Bacon, whose having a remarkable year playing nasty villains (see Super) knocks it out of the park with perhaps the best villain this film series has established. And we get fantastic supporting work from Jennifer Lawrence (it's always a delight when a beauty such as her also happens to be a damn good actress) and Nicholas Hoult, who flat out surprised me in what he brought to the role of Beast! If there's a flat performance to be mentioned, it's that of January Jones as Emma Frost, who seems incapable of eliciting a believable emotion here...but thankfully, her character is pretty much overshadowed by everyone else.
Given the fact that this film was A) rushed into production a year before it's release, B) is a prequel and C) a prequel in a franchise in need of a boost, I'm still flabbergasted in a way that this didn't end up a train wreck the likes of , oh say, Green Lantern. But as it stands, X-Men: First Class ended up not only being the single best comic book movie of the year, but the best entry in the X-Men series to date! It's a prime example of how to make a grand scale comic book movie adaptation, and is very much the best film of this genre since The Dark Knight!
The film series has always prevailed marvelously on both DVD and Blu-ray, so it should come as no surprise that this Fox Blu-ray release features a simply stunning visual presentation. Matthew Vaughn knows how to craft a spectacularly looking movie, and the 1080p definitely makes grand use of this quality. Colors and image detail are both at a knockout quality, and the film's many visual effects (which were the only thing about the movie that got somewhat panned when theatrically released) look fantastic, and perhaps way better than when seen theatrically. I've seen all the X-Men movies on Blu-ray, and I can definitely say that this is very much the best looking release of the bunch!
Likewise, these movies have always come equipped with a marvelous sound mix, and there's no doubt in my mind that the DTS HD mix on this release will go down as one of the best sounding presentations of the year! We're pretty much treated to an awesome bit of sound every time a mutant character unleashes his or her power, not to mention the many scenes when multiple mutant powers are being used at the same time! Needless to say, there is endless bits of action for this presentation to work with, resulting in your sound system getting some tremendous work done to it. Music playback and dialogue delivery are both in top notch form, as well!
And these movies never disappoint in the extras department. Included on this Blu-ray release is an enhanced viewing mode option titled “X Marks the Spot”, which will periodically cut away to behind the scenes material and interviews while as the movie plays (always a neat feature). There's another interactive feature titled “Cerebro: Mutant Tracker”, which will allow you to access information on a mutant during the presentation. Also included is a near 70 minute behind the scenes documentary titled “Children of the Atom”, 15 minutes worth of Deleted and Extended Scenes, and a Composer's Isolated Score.
Lastly, there's a bonus disc containing a Digital Copy version of the film.
X-Men: First Class is a huge success on multiple levels! It's the best installment of this film series yet, it's one of the best comic book movies of recent years, and it's one of the best Blu-ray presentations you'll experience all year! For fans of this franchise, this is an absolute must own!