FIlm review: 'X-Men: First Class' is first-rate comic book film

June 06, 2011
  • In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, from left, Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Lucas Till are shown in a scene from "X-Men: First Class."
(AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Murray Close)

"X-Men: First Class" is the fifth film (and second prequel) in the "X-Men" franchise.  At this point I would expect the series to be shedding quality in order to be more efficient in pumping out by-the numbers installments.  

And yet "X-Men: First Class" is a film that is anything but "pumped out." It is not only a worthy entry in the series, it is the worthiest. It is the best film in the entire "X-Men" universe.  

Of course, it is not a film that will define the franchise. Too many of the most popular characters (Cyclops, Storm, Rogue, and for the most part Wolverine) are nowhere to be found.  

This film gives us the origins of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult). They are supported by characters that I'm sure up until now were considered third tier, but "First Class" makes them so interesting that I'd like to see more of them before we get back to the "popular" ones.  

That is to say nothing of the character that actually sets everything in motion, the one who causes all the mutants to band together if only to stop him, the evil Shaw (Kevin Bacon).  

Shaw is one of the better movie villains I've seen in a while. A mutant with the power to absorb and expel energy, Shaw is the most effortlessly dangerous person on the planet and he knows it. Bacon plays with such smugness that you want to slap him and yet you would never dare.  

The story centers around Shaw's plan to cripple the human race by pitting the United States against the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Shaw wants to live in a world run by mutants and figures it will be easier to take over if the nations destroy each other.  

CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) learns that there may be some no-good mutants affecting the Cold War and decides that the United States could use some mutants of their own.  

Moira recruits Charles aka Professor X, ever the defender of all things good. He brings on his childhood friend Raven aka Mystique, a shapeshifter confused in her feelings toward her mutant identity. He also brings in his metal-manipulating ally Erik aka Magneto, no doubt an enemy of Shaw (whose attempt to recruit him for the bad guys as a child resulted in devastation), but with eerily similar opinions of mutant superiority.  

They put together a mutant team that includes the multidexterous Beast, the winged Angel (Zoe Kravitz), super-screamer Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), instant bodily adapter Darwin (Edi Gathegi), and hotheaded destructor Havoc (Lucas Till). Shaw, for his side, has weather spawner Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), demonic teleporter Azreal (Jason Flemyng), and the diamond-bodied Emma Frost (January Jones).  

The performances are first rate.  People are actually complaining that particularly gifted actors like McAvoy, Lawrence and Fassbender shouldn't have taken these roles because the roles are beneath them.  

I say they handle the characters so well that they bring the roles up to their level.  It's not like they do it alone; the script does the main characters justice as well. I wish there had been more room to develop some of the minor characters, but they say that no good movie is long enough.  

"X-Men: First Class" has everything you'd expect from a superhero movie: training montages, irresponsible early uses of power, emotional hardships, morality debates, tested relationships.  

Director Matthew Vaughn handles these basic elements better than just about anyone else and he gets the money scenes right too. The action sequences are clean and clear instead of shadowy and shoddy. The film has laughs and tears and thrills and poignancy in all the right places. It is not just an excuse to use the "X-Men" label to sell tickets and merchandise.  It is the best comic book film since "The Dark Knight."

Four Stars out of Five

"X-Men: First Class" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity, and language.  Its running time is 132 minutes.  

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