X-Men: First Class Movie Review

I don’t think saying X-Men: First Class is the best film of the franchise gives the movie enough credit. The original X-Men trilogy from directors Bryan Singer and Brett Ratner were mediocre action flicks that just happen to spark the whole comic book film adaptation craze. Since Singer’s first X-Men picture hit the silver screen way back in 2000, movie goers are expecting to see big budgeted summer movies starring their favorite super-heroes. Most fans will argue that Singer’s two original movies were fantastic and the later installments, X3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, were what killed the franchise. Although I agree with that idea to a certain extent, I have to admit that Singer’s X-Men and X2: X-Men United aren’t the cinematic masterpieces fans want them to be. Unlike Marisa Tomei, Bryan Singer’s movies haven’t aged well. I wouldn’t even include an X-Men movie in my list of top ten favorite comic book films….until now.

X-Men: First ClassX-Men: First Class takes place in 1962, right at the heart of the bitter Cold War between The United States and The Soviet Union. C.I.A agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrns) recruits brilliant geneticist Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to help form a covert mutant division to help track down the villainous Sebastian Shaw who, along with his Hellfire Club, has used his wealth and power to bring the world closer and closer to nuclear annihilation. While on his mission Xavier meets the vengeful Erik Lehnsher (Michael Fassbender) who has spent his entire life hunting down and killing former Nazi soldiers. The two put aside their differences and decide to work together to form a group strong enough to defeat Shaw and prevent a third world war. The bulk of the story is the relationship between Charles and Erik who will later become Professor X and Magneto. Rich with dramatic irony, it’s painful at times to watch these characters interact when you know how their friendship eventually turns into a bitter rivalry.

The film’s is at its best when it doesn’t feel like a super-hero picture. Inspired by early James Bond movies, director Mathew Vaughn turns the X-Men franchise into a globetrotting spy film where it’s protagonists just happen to have super abilities. Early scenes showcasing Erik’s brutal methods of exacting revenge are intense and, for the lack of a better world, completely badass. The young Magneto is a fascinating character and Fassbender steals every scene that he’s in. McAvoy portrays Charles as a cocky womanizer who’s optimistic view towards humanity clashes with Erik’s natural cynicism. McAvoy and Fassbender are two incredible talents but the supporting cast all have their own moments to shine. The most fascinating of the side characters are the shape-shifting Raven (Jennifer Lawrance) and timid but powerful Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). Even with their fellow mutants, the young Mystique and Beast are outsiders due to their physical appearance. Although you know where their paths will eventually lead, its interesting to watch how the characters reach their given destination.

Much like Star Trek, Batman Begins, and The Incredible Hulk, X-Men: First Class isn’t entirely sure if it’s a prequel, sequel, or reboot. In many instances the movie plays homage to the Singer’s films, which is not surprising since Singer is one of the flick’s many producers. Even with Singer’s guiding hands the film is riddled with continuity errors and it appears to completely disregard the events of X3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (oh boo hoo).X-Men: First Class should be viewed as a stand alone movie that I’m hoping will be the start of a new, and significantly better, franchise.

But most people aren’t paying top dollar to see a history lesson on The Cuban Missile Crisis nor an allegory on the Civil Rights movement. Movie fans want to know about the action and I’m happy to say the action is aplenty in X-Men: First Class. Unlike the past movies where every character turns to Wolverine to do something, this film actually shows the X-Men working together as a team. During the exciting climax of the film, Mathew Vaughn successfully juggles two large groups of mutant characters battling it out on an island beach.

Those diehard X-Men comic fanatics are going to hate this movie without a doubt. Their mind has already been made even before the opening credits begin to roll. For those who want a faithful adaptation of the early Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics of the 1960’s you will certainly be disappointed. Mathew Vaughn has already made a faithful comic adaptation with Kick-Ass and this time around he’s taken a few notes from Christopher Nolan. Like The Dark Knight, Vaughn is more focused on making a great summer film than satisfying all the X-Men fanboys.

I usually save my complaints near the end of my reviews…but I’m really racking my brain to find any in this film. What I can come up with are generally superficial and I’d definitely categorize them as nitpicking. January Jones makes a beautiful Emma Frost but every scene where it requires her to speak leaves me shaking my head in disappointment. The CGI at moments doesn’t look completely finished and the make-up on Beast induces some unintentional laughter. But these minor flaws are minute and certainly didn’t distract me from the awesomeness of this film.

Mathew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class is a film that I expected to be a disaster. I thought it was just another attempt at Fox to make a quick buck on what many considered to be a dead franchise. Surprisingly packed with brilliant performances, epic action scenes, complex character arcs, and a stylish retro direction, X-Men: First Class is a triumph. Not only as a comic book film but as a film in general.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

4.5 / 5 stars      

David McMillin

David McMillin

Film / Graphic Novel Reviewer

David writes movie and graphic novel reviews at That’s It Guys.