Let me start by saying, I really enjoyed the first 2 X-Movies, especially X2 which I’d put among my ‘Top Ten Comic Movies’ for sure. What Brett Ratner did with X3 however, and the terrible Wolverine movie that followed, inexcusable. Coming off of those 2 colossal disappointments I have to admit my expectations were severely lowered going into First Class. But what Matthew Vaughn delivered, well, it’s fully restored my faith in the franchise.
This is also one of those rare occasions where the movie actually turned out better than the trailer…
This movie chronicles the early years for Magneto and Professor X, along with the beginning the ‘Xavier’s Institute For Higher Learning’. They were forced to do this because the mess that’s been made of the current continuity. You can’t have an X4 because X3 was so bad, that’s why you make prequels now. And I can tell you, I fully expect First Class to spawn its own sequels. They didn’t stick too strictly to the comics, but they did the best they could with what had already been presented in the other movies, and they put out a damn fine film.
We start out that same way Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie started, probably helps that Singer produced this one. Anyhow, it’s Erik Lehnsherr, as a child, separated from his parents in a Nazi prison camp. Not real uplifting, but it sets a tone. It also introduces us to Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who is overseeing the camp, and the cruel things he does to try to unlock young Erik’s powers.
At the same time a young Charles Xavier awakens in his New York mansion to find someone quite special in the kitchen, another mutant. This is the first time in his life he knows that he isn’t the only one.
Xavier’s young friend turns out to be none other than Mystique, played in this installment by Jennifer Lawrence. Charles invites her to stay and they grow up together. Flash ahead several years and Charles (now played by James McAvoy – Wanted) is a student at Oxford, while Erik (Michael Fassbender – 300, Jonah Hex) is searching the world, looking for the man who murdered his mother – Sebastian Shaw, and doing so in quite the badass manner might I add. There is one scene in particular where he tracks down some Ex-Nazis in a bar in Austria, I couldn’t help but think of his big scene from Inglourious Basterds. It was excellent.
The beautiful Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, Insidious) plays the role of Moira MacTaggert, who comic fans know eventually has a son with Charles. Only here, Moira is not a Scottish scientist like in the books, but instead a CIA Spook. While following a US Colonel (Aaron Pierce from 24) she stumbles upon Shaw and his ‘Hellfire Club’. This is when she learns of the existence of mutants, and seeks out a young professor by the name of Charles Xavier for his help and expertise.
The ‘Hellfire Club’ meanwhile consists of 3 members other than Sebastian Shaw. Riptide (Álex González), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and most notably – The White Queen; Emma Frost (January Jones). The group is strong arming the Colonel into moving missiles to Turkey, just outside the USSR, a sign that would’ve been seen as aggression toward the Soviets.
Upon recruiting Charles and his surrogate sister Mystique to her cause, Agent MacTaggert leads a team on an attack of Shaw, only to have Emma Frost counteract Charles and escape. This however is where Charles and Erik meet, as Erik was there after Shaw as well. Together, they agree to help the CIA and are taken to a government facility where they meet a young scientist – Hank McCoy. With the help of a machine Hank built that he calls ‘Cerebro’, Charles is able to amplify his metal powers and locate other mutants.
This section of the movie was quite entertaining as Charles and Erik travel the world looking to recruit these other mutants. It is during this scene we get one of my favorite movie cameos of all time, and no I’m not talking about Stan Lee who actually did not appear in this one. I don’t want to say who it is, but I can tell you the crowd got a kick out of it. When all is said and done they return with a new team of recruits, consisting of Havok, Banshee, Darwin, and Angel. Together with Hank (aka Beast) and Mystique, they make up the first class of X-Men. Booyah.
Shaw has plans to start WWIII and let the humans wipe each other off the map, leaving just the mutants to rule. So the new X-Team must try to stop him and preserve the peace. Before this can be possible, Charles much teach the others to fully realize their potential and harness their powers. This in turn leads to some pretty entertaining training sequences, as we start to get a feel for the characters. Unlike Ratner’s X3 which simply threw characters on-screen for the purpose of having them fight, this movie actually allows you to grow and sympathize with the kids.
I don’t want to ruin too many details, but I can tell you that Erik and Charles disagree about what will happen if they stop Shaw. Chuck is convinced that the humans will recognize the possibilities of working together and welcome the mutants into a peaceful co-existence. Magneto on the other hand is sure that the humans will do what they always do when confronted by something different and scary to them – attack it. Erik of course is proved right and thus sets up the separate paths the 2 will follow leading up to the prior movies.
A nice thing about this movie was it showed Charles’ flaws. His inability to see the pain Mystique was in, and how naive he was to the response of the humans to his existence. It really helped level the playing ground between him and Erik, and lends credence to Erik’s latter actions.
I haven’t seen X2 in a while, so I’m not ready to label this the best of the X-Movies yet, but I can say for sure it’s one of those 2. X-Men: First Class far exceeded my expectations, and I highly recommend you check it out. I fully expect to see McAvoy and Fassbender back for another installment, and if Vaughn and Singer are involved again I’ll be there.
I give it a Solid 4 of 5 Bears.