Review: X-Men, First Class

Charles Xavier: James McAvoy
Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto: Michael Fassbender
Dr. Schmidt / Sebastian Shaw: Kevin Bacon
Moira MacTaggert: Rose Byrne
Emma Frost: January Jones
Raven / Mystique: Jennifer Lawrence
Hank McCoy / Beast: Nicholas Hoult
Janos Quested / Riptide: Alex Gonzalez
Angel Salvadore: Zoe Kravitz
Azazel: Jason Flemyng
Sean Cassidy / Banshee: Caleb Landry Jones
Armando Muñoz / Darwin: Edi Gathegi
Alex Summers / Havok: Lucas Till

20th Century Fox presents a film co-written and directed by Matthew Vaughn. Co-written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Jane Goldman. Based on characters by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Chris Claremont.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity, and language.
Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Release Date: June 3, 2011

I must preface my review of X-Men: First Class by mentioning that I’ve never seen any of the franchise’s previous four entries. My knowledge of the universe of the X-Men is limited to mostly a few cartoons and an arcade game that I remember from when I was younger. As First Class is about the origin of Professor X’s merry band of mutants, you would figure no previous knowledge of the X-Men mythos would be necessary. And for the most part, I suppose it’s not.

First Class begins during World War II, when a young boy finds himself at the mercy of a Nazi concentration camp. One of the men in charge, Dr. Schmidt (Bacon), knows that this boy has a unique power and his willing to slay the boy’s mother in front of him to uncover that power. Simultaneously, there are a couple of other powerful children who become acquainted at the same young age, but under much more desirable circumstances.

Fast forward twenty years and the world is on the verge of another World War. One of the children, Charles Xavier (McAvoy), is studying human mutation at Oxford while his acquaintance turned foster sister Raven (Lawrence) is studying waitressing. They are sought out by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Byrne) after she witnesses Schmidt – now Sebastian Shaw, with the ability to absorb and re-use kinetic energy – and a couple of other mutants attempting to set the wheels of World War III in motion. With the help of the CIA, Xavier and company gather a half dozen or so mutants to help take down Shaw and put a stop to the threat of a nuclear war that would wipe out mankind and make Shaw stronger than ever.

That only scratches the surface of X-Men: First Class. There is a lot to digest in this motion picture, with about a dozen different mutants that all have very unique traits and backstories. While we learn what each mutant is able to do, we’re never given any reason as to why or how they discover these traits. It’s not difficult to accept that the X-Men are the way that they are, but I couldn’t help be curious as to how a child like young Xavier or Erik would discover they can read minds or shape metal. I must also point out that Azazel (Flemyng) – who is on Team Shaw and can teleport – looks exactly like Will Ferrell as the Devil in an old SNL skit with Garth Brooks. For a mutant who can take out dozens of men at once, it makes him seem a lot less menacing than he should be.

The main roles in the film clearly went to the best actors involved, and that helps to make First Class an enjoyable experience. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender do a terrific job of carrying the roles of Professor X and Magneto, giving very human elements to these most superhuman characters. Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence also deserves praise for her work as the insecure Raven. While I am one of the few who didn’t care for last year’s Winter’s Bone, her performance in that film was terrific and with a strong turn here, she is quickly developing into one of Hollywood’s best young actresses.

The film itself starts off slow but picks up pace as it moves along. However, even at a 132 minute running time, there’s a little something to be desired. Director Matthew Vaughn sprinkles in some obvious winks to fans of the franchise that even a non-fan such as myself could pick up on – and likely some more less obvious ones. The film is built as an elongated prologue and perhaps I’d feel more satisfied if I’d seen all of the other X-Men movies first.

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