X-Men: First Class – Top of its Class

2 Jun , 2011,
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X-Men: First Class - Poster Art

After the third X-Men movie spiraled into the same dark oblivion that sucked in so many other movie franchises, I expected First Class to be the same.

The trailers were dull enough, characters appeared to be cookie cutter rip-offs, Professor X had hair (ZOMG ACTUAL HAIR), and Magneto looked like a lost lamb with issues (well, technically he is). It didn’t help that the posters and promotional materials plastered everywhere said a whole lot of nothing either, which was why I was really, really surprised that the film turned out to be decent, if not good.

It’s obvious that all First Class needed was a reboot, and not just in the story department. Matthew Vaughn, the director behind comic book hit Kick Ass and the big screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, lent an air of skill and nerdistry to the production, while Bryan Singer, in his role as writer (rather than director), wove a tight enough script that, while formulaic, was mostly true to form.

X-Men: First Class retells the formation of the X-Men. Set in Cold War era America, it has Charles Xavier and Erik Lensharr chaperoning young mutants Havok, Darwin, Beast, Angel (later known as Tempest), Banshee and Mystique as they race to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis and to foil the machinations of Sebastian Shaw, the Black King of the Hellfire Club.

The story is plain enough, but James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who portray Prof. X and Magneto respectively, shoulder the plot  and carry it along at a dignified clip. Their performance is arguably the most impressive, though Kevin Bacon, with his portrayal of Sebastian Shaw, comes close with the right kind of megalomaniacal intensity.

The supporting cast wasn’t particularly bad either. The casting, admittedly, wasn’t as strong as I would have liked, and it disturbed me that Shaw’s lackeys Azazel and Riptide weren’t really speaking roles (they had pretty kickass powers though) but hey, you can’t have everything.

Also, while First Class worked with only half the budget of the X-Men: The Last Stand, it was still a visual treat. Though the films color treatment with its muted colors had a ’60s look, the effects, especially with Magneto’s many hijinks, proved impressive and modern. There’s something to be said about freezing a volley of missiles in mid-air, and deflecting them, or levitating a submarine out of the oceans very depths.

I enjoyed the archive footage and inserts, and while it might seem ludicrous for the X-Men to be hunched over a television set, watching the news with trepidation, it was a scene that evinced just the right kind of feel that fit right in with earlier X-Men comics and the realities of that era.

So what’s on First Class’s report card? Me, I think i’s not quite an A movie, but it acquits itself well.

Generally, First Class is a great geek’s film with decent pacing, smart storytelling, and strong characterization. It’s pleasantly different from its predecessors, and deserves some top class accolades for the acting and directorial effort.

Now who wants to take bets that there’s gonna be two more sequels to this prequel, making X-Men the second film sextet of the century?