It has been five years since we last saw the X-Men on the silver screen. Well... maybe some of you saw "X-Men: The Last Stand" in theaters, but I didn't. And after having seen that movie, but not for some months, I wouldn't have been very happy had I done so. "X-Men: The Last Stand" was just that, a, seemingly, final stand for the X-Men franchise and personally I didn't think that movie had a leg to stand on. Before I get ahead of myself, and before you mistake this as a "Bashing of The Last Stand" let me say this: It was decent sure, but it was not the proper movie to follow up to 2003's "X2".
However, thanks to director Matthew Vaughn and the various producers we have had a redeeming light to bring us back, to give us hope that the X-Men franchise isn't done. It's only beginning.
Set in the year 1944, we are shown the unequivocally bleak picture of the Jewish concentration camps, one particular in Nazi German occupied Poland. A young boy is separated from his parents and tries to run back to them but a handful of German soldiers restrain him. They succeed but not before the young Erik Lensherr (Bill Milner) attracts the attention of one Dr. Klaus Schmidt/Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) in an unusual way. Jump to Westchester, New York where a young Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher) discovers a surprisingly young and blue intruder Raven Darkholme (Morgan Lily), who soon becomes his "adopted" sister.
Fast forward to the year 1962, where Erik, Charles, and Raven (Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence respectively) are busy with their own lives. Unbeknownst to them, Sebastian Shaw is just as busy putting into motion his own plans. After the trio meets one another and learn they are all kindred spirits after the same goal, albeit with different means, the three set off to bring in other fellow mutants to their cause and stop Shaw.
As I said in the beginning above, it was five long years since people had seen the last X-Men movie. I'm sure I am not alone in saying soon after "X-Men: The Last Stand" left theaters, it also left our minds. At least it did for me. While some of us may have enjoyed TLS, and some still might, others weren't so enthused about the X-Men franchise afterwards. Bring in Matthew Vaughn. Actually, I suppose I should backtrack because Matthew Vaughn wasn't the first director to be suggested for this movie. In fact, the likelihood of First Class ever being made was dependent on a number of different hurdles being cleared and issues being resolved or addressed. Most notably the fact that Vaughn was initially set to work on The Last Stand but backed out later. Thankfully Vaughn's satirical superhero film "Kick-Ass" convinced the doubters of Vaughn's prowess otherwise.
So now we've had a wonderfully enjoyable film for a full year now that has presented us with a different look at the classic comic book characters we've already grown to love, a different story to bring us back, and some remarkable performances to keep First Class in our minds. It also serves to hold us over until its eventual sequel is released.
I can't recall when exactly it was that I saw the trailer for First Class, but I can recall the feeling of excitement it gave me very well. This feeling was due in no small part to the selection of music used in that trailer. "Half the Man" by Groove Addicts is a great song and I suggest you find it on YouTube and give it a listen or two. Perhaps while you're looking over the news for First Class' sequel or while you're getting ready to sit down and watch (or re-watch) First Class itself. While you're doing that you should also look into the soundtrack for this movie. As I re-watched First Class so I could do this review, I often caught myself tapping my foot to the particular piece that was playing or leaning forward in my chair because of what was happening on screen in front of me and what I was hearing during that scene.
Some of the best instances of the score was during a Fassbender/Lensherr scene. Anytime he is on screen there is the distinctive theme, or parts of that theme, draped around what is happening. Even when he's in a scene for a couple minutes there is the unmistakable twang of Lensherr's theme.
But enough about the music, let me address what really makes this movie the standout it truly is: The actors and actresses. If it weren't for the great choices in casting and wonderful performances by those people First Class could've fallen as low as The Last Stand did.
I'll go ahead and say it right now, this may have been titled "X-Men" but it was a Erik Lensherr/Magneto feature through and through. Michael Fassbender was amazing in his portrayal of the character of Erik Lensherr. After seeing First Class, you could easily imagine that what we saw was what the younger version of Sir Ian McKellen's Magneto would have been like. More than once I found myself mouthing the words right along with Fassbender or standing and miming the actions of what he was doing on screen when he stormed the USSR compound. And while it was titled "X-Men" at times it felt like a James Bond film, especially early on in the film.
Not to take away from what the others did, James McAvoy was fabulous as a younger, fully-haired Charles Xavier. McAvoy brought the same sense of believability in the lines he delivered and way he carried himself that Fassbender did. I loved the lines of him telling Hank, "don't touch my hair" or "Next thing you know I'll be going bald." to Rose Byrne's agent Moira MacTaggert. I was surprised that Vaughn and company decided to put Xavier in the wheelchair in the first movie. Although I should keep in mind that back when this was just getting started, they most likely didn't know there would be a sequel. I still enjoyed the way they made it happen though, it was quite surprising and, for myself, jaw-dropping.
Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, and Edi Gathegi were good in their roles, but they weren't as engaging as Fassbender and McAvoy were. Which is understandable in the lesser known mutants but less so in Raven/Mystique's case. Don't mistake me Miss Lawrence was good as Raven... just not great. However I do realize that it's most likely my lack of enthusiasm for the character of Raven Darkholme/Mystique that is influencing my perception of her performance. There are a couple of characters that could've either been done better or just without completely and those are the characters of Emma Frost and Riptide.
All Emma Frost did was hold us over until Bacon's prominent Sebastian Shaw was back on screen. January Jones is beautiful sure, but her "costume" was at times nothing but a glorified bra. The lines she delivered were wooden or unbelievable. But hey, she looked great in that "costume". Which I guess was the main point of her character being in the movie. And I guess you have to have three lackeys for your group of villains to be complete? What else did Alex Gonzalez's Riptide really do? Throw around a few tornadoes? That may look cool but when the character doesn't say word one throughout the entire movie... it strikes me as being very unimportant.
A few of the other complaints I had with First Class were the occasional obvious instances of CG effects, a couple of the actors' expressions rubbed me the wrong way, and some blatant "wire-fu" during the film's climax. But those aren't as horrible as they could have been. Not once in all the times I've seen X-Men: First Class did those issues cause me to stop watching the movie. Only one movie has actually drove me to stop watching and it certainly wasn't X-Men: First Class.
Even though it is well over two years until the sequel will be anywhere close to hitting theaters, I can't wait for that to happen. I can't wait to see how McAvoy's Xavier and Fassbender's Magneto will progress in the sequel titled "X-Men: Days of Future Past".
One last thing: What were those people thinking in making Magneto's helmet THAT color? The bloody thing practically looks pink!
This was a review by tMG. Thank you very much for reading.