It's been eight years since I've truly loved an X-Men movie. I'm a fan of the comics and I've been burned many times over the past few years by the series. So going into this, I was expecting the worst. The ads have been awful, the behind the scenes sounded disastrous, and the movie just seemed rushed. It wasn't since Bryan Singer's X-Men 2: X-Men United came out in 2003 that I really loved an X-Men film. Singer got the universe and the characters and took the series to new levels after the first movie, paving the way for a great third and final movie, but when 2006 came around Singer was gone and the series nearly imploded on itself with X-Men: The Last Stand. Fox decided to try and take the series in a new direction with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was also poorly received by fans and critics a like. It seems Fox realized what it was missing in the series without Singer and brought him back as a producer and got Matthew Vaughn, the director of Kick-Ass, behind the camera for this movie. The movie these two have crafted is really, really well done. Between the cast, story, and score, the film truly brings like to what I thought was a dying series. So much so that X-Men First Class has made me fall in love with the X-Men universe all over again, and may be the best movie in the series.
America, 1962. The county is in a state of fear over the Russian's threat of nuclear war. The CIA are in the middle of investigating the situation when they realize there may be a mutant behind the events. Not sure what to do, they turn to the only man they know who knows about genetic mutation, Charles Xavier. During a raid on a boat, Xavier saves the life of another mutant by the name of Erik Lensherr and the two start an incredible friendship that is destined to shatter. The CIA commissions them to find some mutants and create a team to fight the threat and stop nuclear war before it happens.
What makes this movie, more than anything, is it's leads in James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and the incredible Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr. I never thought I could see anyone else as Erik after Sir Ian McKellen's turn as the character in the first three X-Men films, but Fassbender has proven to be an incredible choice for the role and given McKellen a run for his money. Fassbender plays Erik as a truly tortured soul looking for redemption, closure, and vengeance on what happened to him while he was young in Poland. But for all of his pain, he is also a cool, calculating, and intelligent individual who is also a bit like James Bond. Fassbender's Erik is just truly great to watch. He tears up the screen in every scene he's in and was just a perfect choice for the role. One of his best scene's comes in a bar in Argentina where he faces some of his demons. When asked who or what he is, he coldly looks at the man and says "I'm Frankensteins monster. And I'm looking for my creator." and it's just terrifying. You can see the anger in his eyes and the pain he feels, and Fassbender just oozes Magneto in the role. McAvoy is also quite good as Charles Xavier, who is not near the man we have come to know. This Xavier is a bit of a womanizer and a partier, but still highly intelligent and looking for the good in people. He is very caring and compassionate and bent on helping the other mutants in the world to help them feel that they aren't alone. McAvoy is a great precursor to Patrick Stewart's Xavier, and he brings a lot of charisma to the role in a way Stewart never got to do. But McAvoy and Fassbender together are incredible and really bring this friendship to life. They anchor this movie down and bring new life into the series.
The supporting cast is quite as good as well. Rose Byrne is good as the CIA agent Moira MacTaggart, who is also Charles' love interest. She and McAvoy have great chemistry together and I always enjoyed them as they were on screen together. Kevin Bacon is also quite good as Sebastian Shaw, the head of the Hellfire Club and a link to Erik's past. It's the first time in a long time I've really liked Bacon in a movie, and he didn't play it over the top. He plays the role with so much class you can't help but love him in it. January Jones plays his right hand women Emma Frost, and she is decent enough in the role. Not great, but I've never found her to be a great actress. The standout for me though was Jennifer Lawrence as the young Raven, or Mystique. Jennifer brings so much charm to Xavier's longest and most faithful friend, but so much hurt and pain at being different and not feeling accepted. She really is great and I liked her much more than the quiet and cold Mystique from later in the series. When Erik begins to talk to her and get in her head, you can see her being split between Erik and Charles and where her allegiance should lie. And last but not least is Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy, the man who will become Beast. Hoult is just a fantastic Hank McCoy, and has quite the side of a tortured scientist and man who is scared of never being accepted for what he is. He and Jennifer share a lot of screen time and are very good together. I'd love to see more of them together in later movies.
One thing I really loved about the film was the tone and feel of it. With the movie being set in the 60's, it gave them a chance to really play with the decade a bit. From the fear of the nation, to the language, to the look and clothes, they just nailed the decade. There is a scene towards the beginning of Erik sneaking onto a ship that just oozes the feel of a James Bond movie, from the look and feel of the scene. It was brilliantly done. The films action is also quite good. The scene in the trailer of the team fighting in the ocean is really incredibly staged. Every one of the characters gets a chance to show off their powers and really gets a time to shine.
But what was better was that the movie didn't focus on just the action, but the characters and story. That is what this series should be built on, and they went back to the foundations of it. Singer had a lot of control on the movie, because the one thing he brought to the series was brilliant characters and an underlining social commentary. Everything from racism to slavery is dealt with with ease. A lot of that comes from Matthew Vaughn, who I am now realizing is a director to watch. He truly has an eye for characters and story that the audience can connect to. Without that, this series falls apart, as The Last Stand and Wolverine did, but Fox seems to be learning from their mistakes which is a great sign. One one the most remarkable scenes to me was the opening of the film, which Vaughn reshot shot for shot, of the Concentration Camp scene from the opening of the first movie. It's nearly identical and perfect, just with new actors. I was very impressed by his eye for detail in it. The score is quite good as well. It really fills out the scenes and brings quite an epic feeling to many of the scenes. They even use a bit of of the old X-Men theme song at one point which was a nice touch. There is a few cheesy lines of dialogue, but being X-Men, I come to expect that. It's nothing that phased me on how I felt about the overall movie.
Also, on an interesting note, X-Men Origins has basically been written out of the continuity. They disregard it completely, certain characters are used in this one that goes against that films events. It seems Fox listened to how upset fans were with the movie and have rewritten the history, which isn't surprising considering Wolverine 2 was going to disregard the first film as well. So if you start thinking about the continuity too much, it may drive you crazy, so don't. Just know that Wolverine is no longer part of the canon. That much is for certain.
X-Men First Class is everything I've been wanting from an X-Men movie for a long time. I never expected to love this movie as much as I did. It is just incredibly well done, well acted, and well written. This is easily one of the most surprising movies of the year for me so far. The advertising campaign is not doing this movie justice at all and I highly recommend you look past it and check it out. Fans of the series should love it, and it should also pull in a new crowd as well and give it new fans. Walking out of the theater, I was immediately wanting to see a sequel with this cast and these characters. I hope so much that we see another First Class movie. This movie really is just great. I highly recommend it.