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X-Men: First Class (2011)

June 13, 2011

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones
Director: Matthew Vaughan (Kick Ass)

Quick Thoughts: X-Men: First Class breathes fresh air into the X-Men franchise. The original series of films was mostly acclaimed with the possible exception of Brett Ratner’s messy X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006, giving this film some pretty high standards to live up and it easily blew those expectations away. Matthew Vaughan’s First Class manages to stand on its own while simultaneously giving enough nods to its predecessors that it works as both the start of a new franchise and a prequel to those earlier movies.

First Class takes a look into the lives of our favorite mutant heroes before they became established forces of good and evil. Set in the 1960s and amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film focuses largely on Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender), and how they developed into the alter-egos we now know them as: Professor X and Magneto. Xavier is a young academic brought in by the government due to his excessive knowledge of the mutation gene and to help them against a potential new threat: a band of possible mutants, led by Sebastian Shaw (Bacon). Lehnsherr is after the same man, but for different reasons; Lehnsherr was a prisoner of war and his mother was murdered by Shaw and the Nazi regime. Upon meeting and realizing they have the same mutual enemy, Xavier and Lehnsherr team up, with backing from the United States government, to form the first class of X-Men, utilizing Xavier’s telepathic abilities to recruit other mutants across the world.

When I first heard about the concept behind X-Men: First Class, it seemed like a good idea, but the last X-Men movie was so underwhelming that my interest in the franchise was pretty moot. Fortunately, this movie is absolutely fantastic. From the story, to the casting, to the action sequences, all the way down to the music, this movie blew me away. I was on the edge of my seat and entertained throughout its entirety. The pacing was great and the character arcs of Xavier and Magneto are so well developed that the film exceeds its status as a pure action flick and dives into the territory of great film-making.

Though James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender aren’t complete unknowns, neither of them are stars. However, the casting in both cases is simply genius. McAvoy is charming, funny, and entertaining as Charles Xavier, turning a character I’ve always found mostly boring into someone compelling. While McAvoy is great, Fassbender as the future Magneto is the star of this film. Fueled by vengeance, Fassbender’s Erik Lehnsherr goes through the full development, reasonably transforming from a conflicted, anti-hero into the next big supervillain. The chemistry between the two actors is notable and its easy to see why, years later, Professor X and Magneto can sit down for a friendly game of chess despite their conflicting–and often deadly–differences. Magneto really is a fascinating character. One of the few villains in the superhero universe whose motives aren’t completely corrupt and self-fulfilling. While Xavier plays the eternal and sometimes naive optimist, Magneto arguably fights for the rights of his people. He’s almost like a violent Martin Luther King, Jr. This film really does a fantastic job of giving a believable identity to that character. Jennifer Lawrence is also great as Mystique.

At this point, you have to credit director Matthew Vaughan for knowing how to make a good action movie. Last year’s Kick-Ass was just the warm-up and this movie exceeds all sorts of expectations. It’s easily the best entry into the X-Men franchise and surpasses Bridesmaids as the most entertaining movie of 2011 to date.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: I’m looking forward to seeing it again and will definitely buy the DVD.
Sequel Potential: This film works not only as a prequel to the previous X-Men movies, but also as the first installment in a new series altogether. I’m looking forward to seeing this portion of the story continue.
Nudity: None… but damn, Jen Lawrence, January Jones, Rose Byrne, and Zoe Kravitz all look fantastic.
Grade: 9/10 (Potential Classic)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 87% Audience: 88%
IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
Recommendation: A great action movie and character drama, X-Men: First Class is not only the best film of 2011 so far, it’s also the best in its franchise.

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