5
Jun
2011
Review: X-Men: First Class
X-Men: First Class
Jordan
After a decade filled to the brim with comic book movies, origin stories, and reboots, X-Men: First Class has its work cut out for it. Coming after two disappointing installments in the X-Men series (2006's X-Men: The Last Stand and 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine), the movie had to shake things up somehow just to get audiences back in the seats. Fortunately, it does just that, moving back to the early '60's to deliver an engaging, if flawed, look at the formation of mutant-kind's last line of defense.

The film, directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass), opens just as the first X-Men did, with a young Erik Lensherr being dragged away from his mother in a concentration camp, trying in vain to bend the gate with his newly discovered super powers. He is soon taken to the sadistic Dr. Schmidt, later known as Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, having fun in the role), who uses rage to unlock the boy's powers. We are then introduced to a young Charles Xavier, who befriends a young shapeshifter named Raven.

From there the film becomes a globe-spanning trek through the early '60s, as an older Xavier (James MacAvoy) gets his doctorate as an older Erik (Michael Fassbender) seeks revenge. The two are soon drawn into the effort to recruit more mutants to counter a plot by Shaw that weaves its way into the Cuban Missile Crisis. The cast is rounded out by an incredibly game Rose Byrne as CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert, a fantastic Jennifer Lawrence as Raven, who becomes known as Mystique, and the downright awful January Jones, who stiffly stumbles through a turn as the iconic Emma Frost.

The movie is not without its flaws. All of the Cuban Missile Crisis material will feel strangely without stakes for anyone who has ever seen a better executed take on the tensions and apocalyptic fears of the period, and the sprinkling in of real life footage does more to undercut the realism than it does to serve it. The film also seems to feel the need to rush into well established moments in X-Men continuity, sacrificing what could have been an incredibly enjoyable jaunt through the early days of the team to get into developments we all know are coming. That Xavier and Lensherr will soon be arch-enemies is known by all; more fun could have been had if the film had dedicated more of its runtime to developing the bond between these two before tearing it asunder. In fact, the film is at its best during an early montage that follows the two as they attempt to recruit mutants from around the world. MacAvoy and Fassbender have an easy, realistic chemistry and crackerjack comic timing that could have been put to better use if the movie would have slowed its propulsive pace for long enough to develop more realistic character beats.

Ultimately, though, First Class achieves its ends. It is fun, fast-paced, and action packed. It keeps the tone light for much of its run time, throws in enough in jokes (and cameos) to keep fans of the series happy, and reminds any wary audience members why X-Men movies used to be so much fun. While I wish the movie hadn't felt such a strong desire to blow through as much continuity as it did, there's at least comfort in knowing that it did so with verve and aplomb. And if nothing else, it accomplished what was surely its behind the scenes goal: It got me excited for the prospect of another X-Men movie.

Grade: B+
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