This is the story of young, 60’s era Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), man-whore about town and very aware of his special mutant talents. Where ever he roams, his seemingly self appointed sister Raven (aka Mystique aka Jennifer Lawrence) is not far behind. While Charles does his best to charm the ladies out of their panties with his Austin Powers-esque lines, Raven spends her days trying to blend into the wallpaper for fear someone might notice her true, blue form. Meanwhile, in another part of the world, a bad ass Erik Lehnsherr (aka Magneto aka Michael Fassbender) is hunting down the nazi scum who killed his mother…one by one…on a trail that will end with Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club and also Kevin Bacon. ALL ROADS LEAD TO KEVIN BACON!! Shaw’s evil shenanigans geared toward bringing the world to its knees and then under control by mutants bring Xavier and Lehnsherr together, working with the CIA to bring down Shaw with a mutant team of their own. Teen versions of Beast, Havok, Banshee, Darwin and a fairy-like girl who spits fire balls named Angel join Charles, Erik and Raven in tuning their powers to their maximum potential before turning them on Shaw and his henchmen Azazel, Emma Frost and Riptide, hell bent on world destruction.
Sounds like a great time right? It is! For the average movie fan, watching Xavier be all smooth while young Magneto travels the globe to off Nazis will be endless fun. Point of fact, I could have watched an entire movie of just this. Maybe a TV series. Xavier charms the ladies and forces men to do his bidding while Magneto uses magnokung-fu on the baddie super spies. WIN! Throw away any negative comments I may have made about Michael Fassbender from Jonah Hex…all is forgiven. Plus, Lori says he is dreamy. As the film progresses and we are introduced to the teens that will be the first wave of X-Men, you get the idea that this good looking bunch is going to dominate the rest of your time. This is not the case. While the crew trains under the guidance of our not yet bald mastermind Xavier, we get further glimpses into Raven’s struggle with her true mutant face (now colored by Magneto’s influence) and Magneto’s power growing at an amazing rate. These scenes are excellently paced with a perfect blending of FX and quality acting.
My one axe to grind will be Mystique’s makeup that for some reason appears far too blue and plastic looking. The original design was sleek and extremely convincing, especially considering she is a scaly, naked metamorph creature. This attempt falls far short of the original and I can’t exactly place my finger on why. It just doesn’t look great. That said, everyone else’s power manifestation looks top notch with high marks for Beast’s final, blue transformation which combines his current look in comics with the aspects of the actor playing him. Could we have seen the X-Men go head to head with Shaw’s mutant crew in a bigger battle? Absolutely...but how far do you take that before you are sick of seeing those powers go off? First Class keeps the action moving while dishing out heaping helpings of eye candy..and it all makes sense. There is no moment where you think they’ve done something purely for the sake of shooting a visually cool scene. The use of powers in nearly every situation is logical, enjoyable and at times, funny! Three cheers for good, sensible, witty writing in an X-Men movie!! I would also mention that the film maker’s choice for Emma Frost left something to be desired. The character seemed out of place in nearly every scene, amid characters whose outfits were changed to look very believable in a real world setting. On top of that, the acting performance, be it personal choice or director’s intent, was flat. Emma is an incredibly fun character who can be sincere even when doing something completely, deliciously evil. This Emma is a lackey at best…and a femme-bot at worst. This played along side a fairly subdued Shaw, the almost suave Azazel and the dapper suited Riptide Shaw leaves you with a bad guy crew who, while calm and collected in their evil deeds, is hardly a force to rally against in a super hero film. I suspect Kevin Bacon is a little too likeable for this job. Even after working with nazis, I still didn't hate him. Go figure.
Since we are on a little bit of a negative rant now, I’ll explain why die hard X-Men fans may be twitching in their seats. First off, most of the characters aren’t tru to their comic counterparts. You might think that, at the very least, if they are going to change the ages and slight back story of these beloved character, they would at least get their ethnicities right. Nope. Banshee and Moira MacTaggert are now die hard, 100% American. It may seem like a small thing to casual fans, but being Irish was sort of the core of Banshee’s character! HE’S NAMED BANSHEE AFTER ALL!! For fans of the comic, it would have been awesome to hear accurate accents along with the more than competent acting by most involved..as if your favorite comic had come to life. Sorry to disappoint. This does not happen. I won’t even go into great detail about the forced re-writing of Marvel history that happens, as we’ve become accustomed to this in Marvel movies and cartoons for years now. Oh HI Mystique who is suddenly in little boy Xavier’s mansion. You’ll be his adopted sister now. Poof..just like that..the dynamic of even the original films is totally changed..or rather cast aside for a new start. Reboot.
X-Men: First Class is a very welcome surprise. After attending Toy Fair 2011 with Marvel license holders grimacing at the though of what would happen had they made figures for this movie that would surely tank, you may now be left wanting figures from this movie! This is not Daredevil..or Ang Lee’s Hulk..and is far, far better than Elektra! Hell, this might even be better than X-Men United! The important thing to remember is this is not the core Marvel Movie universe, where they are adamant about delivering stories ripped straight from the pages of Marvel Comics. This is Hollywood’s interpretation of those same comics, tuned up for marketability and appeal to the broadest base. Most of the time, the result is painful. This time, it is remarkably good. Where the movie Wolverine twisted the life of one of Marvel’s most popular heroes and delivered highly implausible and down right dumb scenarios, X-Men: First Class shows respect for the source material and while it still diverges greatly, maintains the core integrity of the principals contained within. The most we hoped for in this film was sup-par eye candy and super hero action to whittle away a lazy Saturday afternoon. What we got was a fun take on the emergence of mutant kind in our world wrapped around a James Bond story line and dishing out quality drama in the larger story of mutants versus the world. How do you fight for a race that fears and despises you just for being what you were born to be? X-Men: First Class has the answer.