Movie Review: X-MEN – FIRST CLASS

Let’s take care of our primary worries first: it’s not that bad. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is decidedly superior to THE LAST STAND and WOLVERINE, and is probably also better than the original X-MEN, which was ponderous, over-serious and under-entertaining. But once again we’re stuck with origin stories and more origin stories, taking too much time showing us new mutants and explaining fancy new mutant powers rather than striking entirely into new stories and sticking with its strongest characters.

This film starts with the Holocaust scene first explored in the first X-MEN, where Magneto’s powers first manifest — and are soon tested at the hands of a very evil Kevin Bacon. This sets Erik Lensherr (played by Michael Fassbender) on a course of Nazi hunting and vengeance, like an x-powered Munich. We then spend time with young, ambulatory and coiffed Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), wasting time using his own powers to pick up chicks while hanging out with Mystique. While these early scenes don’t do very much for us in terms of charting new terrain, the acting chops of the principals are solid and passionate, and ultimately the depth of feeling of McAvoy and Fassbender carry the film through some fairly rocky moments. As the film is largely about the relationship between the two mutant leaders and their respective philosophies, these two actors serve as good anchors, although Fassbender’s intensity tends to make McAvoy’s portrayal of Xavier seem at times conceited and a little naive. By the end of the film one can’t help but think that Xavier is reckless and mistaken in his optimism for humanity, and wonder whether Magneto isn’t right. Perhaps that is the intention of director Michael Vaughn (KICK-ASS, LAYER CAKE), which is an interesting notion and could make for a compelling reboot of the series.

But I digress. The plot of the film revolves around Erik’s quest for revenge against Sebastian Shaw, who in WWII ran experiments at Erik’s concentration camp (and killed Erik’s mother). Shaw runs the Hellfire Club, a secret society of mutants who pull the strings at high levels of government and industry (January Jones plays Emma Frost, the White Queen and 2nd in command of the Club, which basically means she looks pouty, wears lingerie all the time and can turn into a chandelier at will). Together with Xavier, Erik joins the CIA, becomes an international super-spy (complete with trappings reminiscent of Austin Powers movies) and they team up with some other random and under-used mutants to bring down the Hellfire Club before they can start WWIII. It’s not a bad plot when you think about it, but the execution is a little predictable and the main story points and primary confrontations were a bit dull (swap out Nightcrawler in X2 with Azazel, and you have an entire action scene that’s basically a duplicate). But the essential conflict — Xavier vs. Magneto — remains taut and finishes well, so on the whole the film’s primary objective (KEEP THE FRANCHISE ALIVE!!!!) is completed.

The tone of X-MEN: FC is lighter than the first X-movie, roughly on par with X2 but with a bit of 60s camp and flair. There are a couple of highly entertaining cameos, and the action scenes are nice and kinetic (if a bit unaffecting). In all, a decent comic book movie, perhaps the best of the X-Men movies, but worth watching until SUPER 8 comes out next week.

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15 thoughts on “Movie Review: X-MEN – FIRST CLASS

  1. Sounds good. My son saw it last night and loved it. We rewatched the first three movies lately and I was reminded how bad some of that was, but overall, I was entertained rewatching it.

  2. I’m shocked at some of the good reviews I’ve been reading about this. A month ago I had zero interest and now I want to see it.

  3. This series definitely needed a reboot. I found all of the X-Men flicks to date seriously underwhelming (although X2 didn’t suck). I am hopeful that this one will give new life to this promising series. It seems a shame that Iron Man is completely outshining the X-Men so far.

  4. Greg, It’s better than some movies, but frankly I don’t think it’s all that great. It’s still not as good as the X-Men deserve.

  5. I found all three original X-Men movies very underwhelming, even the second. And while most fans abhor the third movie, I found it quite in line with the first two.

    Singer has trouble with confrontation. The first movie had two battles, one at the train station and the final battle at the Statue of Liberty, neither of which were terribly exciting.

    I think the trilogy had it’s best sequence during the invasion of the school in the 2nd film, but I didn’t find the rest all that great. I don’t want good and evil mutants on the same side, I want them fighting each other!

    Other issues were with the portrayal of Cyclops as a complete wuss and an over reliance on Cerebro.

  6. I am not sure that a great X-Men movie is even possible. There are too many characters to make it work. The first one was ok, the second one was better but flawed, and the third one was a mess. But I didn’t see potential for any of them to be great.

    Plus, even for a geek like me, some of the mutant powers are not that compelling. How drunk/stoned were they at Marvel when the came up with a guy who throws explosive playing cards as his mutant power?

  7. I saw it and liked it. The flying FX looked pretty bad, but the actual fight sequences had some good effects. I liked the recruited mutants. The relationship between Magneto and Xavier is the highlight of the movie. I’d love to have a sequel that took place before the end of this one just for more of the scene that Magneto plays with the satellite dish.

    Never again can someone tell me that January Jones isn’t a horrible actor on Mad Men, she’s just playing the character that way. This movie combined with her appearance on SNL a while ago confirm she is one of the worst actresses I have ever watched. How is it possible that a woman dressed in lingerie made me wish she’d get off screen as quickly as possible?

    “I am not sure that a great X-Men movie is even possible. There are too many characters to make it work. The first one was ok, the second one was better but flawed, and the third one was a mess. But I didn’t see potential for any of them to be great.”
    Maybe they need to stick with something like the Wolverine movie, but better written? Have Magneto and Mystique go off on their own little adventure or Beast and Havok go to college?

  8. I’m saying all this time I thought she was playing a character, when the Mad Men creators have probably been tearing their hair out for four years because she’s been playing herself.

  9. “How is it possible that a woman dressed in lingerie made me wish she’d get off screen as quickly as possible.”

    It’s not like there’s anything wrong with that, jj. It’s a valid and wonderful lifestyle choice.

  10. If it really was a reboot, then they could have done it right with the real first class of Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Marvel Girl, and Angel. If that was the movie, they could have avoided the problem that John brought up: too many characters. But in trying to keep the movie in line with the others, they had to use less interesting characters that haven’t already been used, like Havock, Banshee, and Pixie. Another result of them using the real first class would be that I would be interested in seeing it.

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