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I think that I, like most other comic book readers, thought X-Men First Class was going to be an unmitigated disaster the likes of which comic book movies have never seen. This was going to be Elektra, Catwoman, Steel, and Tank Girl all rolled into a ball and tossed into a pit of unsold Batman & Robin DVDs. X-Men First Class was coming in a summer that also contained Thor and Captain America, so X-Men First Class was sure to be the final installment, death by box office poison.
The Movie 4.5/5
Instead, First Class lives up to its title in that it is absolutely a first class viewing experience. The plot, the acting, the characters all exceed anything put forth in the previous iterations of the franchise, and it’s definitely the best X-Men movie released to date. What is that brings this all together into the perfect package?
As most other reviewers will tell you, the major attraction for this film is Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr, the future Magneto. I knew Fassbender as a scene-stealer from “Inglorious Basterds,” but I wasn’t sure if he could hold a whole movie on his back. Instead, the transition from Erik, the scared boy, to Erik, Nazi hunter, to Erik, the hope for mankind, and finally, at last, to Magneto is played to perfection. Even if this movie fails at the box office, ultimately it has made Michael Fassbender a career.
That’s not to take anything away from the rest of the cast. James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is in every way the foil to Magneto that it should be, and he does a great job of evolving (ha) over the course of the film as well. Other stand-outs were Kevin Bacon as Sebastien Shaw (both an actor and a character I never thought was very worthwhile, but here I was proven very wrong), Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, and, my personal favorite break-out from the film, Nicholas Hoult as a conflicted yet capable Hank McCoy/Beast.
The story is well-done, though a bit rushed, and I’m a sucker for historical fiction so the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis scored points with me. It’s fairly respectful to the original comics (the government affiliation, Xavier utilizing technology to help his students control their powers, and the evil mutant attacking using American missiles is ripped straight from Uncanny X-Men #1) but it also knows when to veer away. We get to see blue and yellow outfits that are reminiscent of the original X-Men uniforms, but don’t look hokey and actually serve a purpose. It’s fast and doesn’t have enough time to showcase every character, but it gets the job done.
The special effects were very well-done, especially compared to X-Men Origins and X3. While Origins was the most blatant offender with its weird, cel-shaded adamantium claws, this movie utilizes the mutant powers in in imaginative and visually impressive ways. Magneto’s abilities are definitely at the forefront of this, though Shaw’s cronies, Azazel and Riptide, are also some definite eye-candy (this is also a downside, as both of these henchmen don’t amount to much more than that).
Of course, that’s all well and good, but what’s WRONG with the film? Certainly it’s not perfect, but it’s kinda close. As mentioned, some characters are shuffled to the side to allow for a shorter film. Havok, Banshee, and even Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert don’t get enough screen time to make you care about them. The casting was near-perfect, but January Jones just couldn’t pull a decent Emma Frost out of her (empty) bag of tricks if her life depended on it. It makes you wonder how she got the job (article in Variety: “FOX SEEKS PAIR OF BREASTS”). While I liked the incorporation of the original X-Men uniforms, the final shot of the movie shows Magneto in his full villainous regalia, which looks like it was sewn together with felt he bought at the Hobby Lobby.
I had some qualms with one bit of special effects for two reasons, that effect being the furry transformation of the Beast. While it made sense plotwise and the Jekyll and Hyde transformation scene was very well-done, I thought the prosthetics took Nicholas Hoult, who was doing some fantastic acting and emoting, and turned him into an angry special effect. Additionally, while the fur didn’t look TERRIBLE, there was just... something about the face I can’t put my finger on. It seemed off.
Also, there’s the sad treatment that minority characters get in the film. There’s only two, being Darwin and Angel. Darwin is an underutilized character but he’s very likable. That said, as one of the few and the very first named characters to die, seeing it be “the black guy” is disappointing, especially in light of his power being, essentially, to not die. Angel is almost worse as she appears, gets character growth, and then turns on the heroes and becomes as one-note as Azazel and Riptide. It seems she exists just to have someone for Banshee to fly against in the final fight.
While some other people I know thought the continuity issues brought up between the other X-films and this one were worth bothering about, I prefer to think of this movie as a soft reboot, ignoring what it sees fit for the betterment of the story. Sure, Magneto and Xavier can’t meet Jean Grey as a kid if they’re already enemies prior to becoming Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, but who cares? X3 and Origins are the movies most hurt continuity-wise by First Class, but keep in mind that Bryan Singer, director of X-Men and X2, was not involved with those films but IS a producer on First Class.
Final Thoughts 4.5/5
In the end, while First Class has its problems, they are definitely minor in the face of what is an overall great film. I feel kinda bad that all the stuff I review on YNIN has good reviews, but hey, I have good taste! I try not to see bad movies! Anyway, First Class is definitely worth your money as not just a good comic book film, but a good film period.
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