A friend of Sean’s responded to Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class with the raving that it was better than Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). Already interested, and with the daughter away, why not catch the Early Bird ticket price at the theater with that kind of encouragement? It was not a regrettable purchase, but X-Men: First Class is not better than Batman Begins. Perhaps it was its necessary scope that held it just short. There were just too many heroes, anti-heroes and villains to juggle amidst historical events, warring agencies, and youthful angst. Just the same, I can’t see how Vaughn could have gone any slimmer to meet mass audience expectation. And for a summer flick, I can see why he mightn’t have gone a bit darker and moodier—despite how grim the beginning was.
Beginning with parallel story lines, we meet a young Erik Lensherr (later to become Magneto) in a Nazi concentration camp and in the United States living in a massive mansion lives young Charles Xavier—and Raven/Mystique. We see where the men they become form their polarizing ideas about Mutants amongst the non-. (James McAvoy as Charles and Michael Fassbender as Erik do better than what they are given to work with.) Placed in the middle is the much more conflicted character of Raven/Mystique who grows up to be played by Jennifer Lawrence—warring with beauty and identity, as any normal young person would. It was a bit startling to try to re-imagine Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique as younger (babyish) and rounder. It works in the sense that Raven has yet to develop some sophistication. Lawrence’s Mystique is what Anna Paquin does as Rogue in Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000), she provides the character development for the majority of the other mutants you come to meet. The Charles and Erik you meet are much the same as the Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto you have already come to know in previous films played by older men.
However, the relationship formed between Charles and Erik is a compelling one. And Raven/Mystique’s struggles play nicely into their philosophical warfare, too. Theirs is the weight of the film (to include the acting). It’s just a shame we had to meet so many other mutants and conflicts as well. Ah well, this is a superhero film of blockbuster proportion, and we go for the entertainment, right? And there is plenty of skin and explosion to satisfy. General silliness is available, and a marvelous cameo by Hugh Jackman as Logan (pre-Wolverine).
And then there is Kevin Bacon. How did I not know he was in this film? I was so delighted to see his deliciously villainous face. As Sebastian Shaw, he was perfectly cast to lead the enemy powers where, again, the bad guys have the cooler mutant abilities. If anything, that fact would’ve ensured Raven/Mystique’s turn to the darker side. But alas, there is more.
What I enjoyed, besides seeing the First Class, was how both Professor X’s and Magneto’s perspectives were validated. And how the victorious ending was Magneto’s—if there was any sense of victory to be found at the end—because really, this was just the beginning. A fine beginning for a reboot. And a fine beginning for the Summer blockbuster season, (ignoring Thor’s failed attempt).
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Produced by Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer
Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Story by Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on Characters by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Chris Claremont
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon
Music by Henry Jackman
Cinematography John Mathieson
Editing by Eddie Hamilton, Lee Smith
Running time: 132 minutes, Rated PG-13
Manohla Dargis’ NY Times Review
Roger Ebert’s Review wherein he amusingly begins:
“The best acting in X-Men: First Class is by President John F. Kennedy, who in his Thanksgiving 1962 message to the nation, expresses gratitude for the successful end of the Cuban Missile Crisis while suppressing what he surely must know, that American and Soviet missiles spent a great deal of time flying back and forth while mentally controlled by the awesome powers of mutants. The movie’s use of the missile crisis certainly serves the purpose of establishing this prequel in the early 1960s and answers a question I’ve always had: Does the real world overlap with the histories of superheroes?”