Best ‘X-Men’ movie to date? Sure, I’d say so but I’d also have to tell you that I’ve been lukewarm, at best, in regards to the previous four ‘X-Men’ movies. I haven’t hated any of those movies by any means, but they all seemed as if they could’ve been better somehow. Now I’m no comic book snob, even though I’m surrounded by them, but I do have a healthy working knowledge of the comics these movies are based on and I think I would consider the style in which Fox Studios bastardized this version of the ‘X-Men’ universe as the best so far. About those comic book snobs who tragically are among some of my very best friends on the planet, one of them actually owns a Bryan Singer voodoo doll. No joke. I was going to tell him how stupid that was and that he probably takes his superhero movies far too seriously but I was afraid he might make a voodoo of me, and I don’t want that.
The year is 1962 and you may have read in the history books about the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis that came this close to ending life on earth as we know it. You probably read in that history book that it was those commies Castro and Khrushchev behind this nonsense, but it was mutants. Stinking Muties. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Say hello to newly christened Doctor of Philosophy Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who like most college aged males likes to drink at the pub and run game on the ladies. Charles’ game, if you can call it that, consists of discussions of theoretical mutation synthesis. Worst game ever. Probably why Professor X is single to this day. Today is a good day for Charles because he’s getting a visit from CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) who needs an expert in genetic mutations on her side because she’s seen firsthand that Homo Superior mutations are real and the mutants she observed were up to no good. So it’s off to D.C. for Charles and his defacto little sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) who will grow up to become the shape-changing Mystique.
The situation is that Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), leader of the notorious Hellfire Club, is trying to do something or another with nuclear weapons, though no one is
quite sure what this is, but we know it can’t be good. Charles, probably the world’s most powerful psychic, can’t read his mind because Shaw has his own psychic in Emma Frost (January Jones) protecting him. Regardless, whatever he’s up to, Shaw must be stopped. Somebody else wants Shaw stopped as well, and that would be one Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) who holds Shaw personally responsible for everything bad that has happened to him in his life, because he is responsible for everything bad that has happened to him in his life. Just know that Sebastian Shaw isn’t somebody to be trifled with, and even a man with the amazing powers over all things metal, such as Erik Lehnsherr, even he will need some help to achieve his goal.
And thus the Professor, who believes in peaceful resolutions, and the single minded angry guy with one purpose in life will unite, and in the process gather their own small group of gifted young people, to stop the greatest threat that man has ever seen. At least to this point. Because The Man would tell you that the mutants, now in the process of trying to save the planet, are greatest threat that man has ever seen.
The glory of this latest ‘X-Men’ movie, at least for me, was in the discovery and less so in the action. In fact the least entertaining part of ‘X-Men: First Class’ for me was the knockdown, drag out, mutant / battleship/ submarine battle at the end. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with it, and we realize that this was completely unavoidable because there is a budget that needs to be blown, but it was just another big time, explosive, CGI laden action sequence, all of which we’ve seen before. And dare I say we’ve seen it done better.
No, what made this movie entertaining for me were things that are relatively inexpensive. Being introduced to Charles Xavier and learning the origins of the rose colored naiveté that he exudes. Sitting in on the conversations Charles was having with Michael Fassbender’s amazing emotional turn as the future villain Magneto, and how every word that came out of Erik Lehnsherr’s mouth, no matter what other character he was speaking to, or what he was speaking about seemed to possess some kind of greater meaning. We enjoyed watching the teenage Mystique coming to terms with her unique blue-ness or observing Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), the future Beast, and his inability to come to terms with his jacked up feet and impending blue-ness.
While it is true that ‘X-Men: First Class’ is no bastion of fidelity when it comes to the X-Men comic universe… heck, it doesn’t even respect its own universe its created in the previous films… but it was still awfully cool to see the Hellfire Club in action, to watch Kevin Bacon strut like some kind of 1970’s era pimp as Sebastian Shaw, and observe Emma Frost in her Emma Frost Gear. Who knew you could get away wearing that kind of thing in 1962?
As I mentioned before, while I didn’t find the full-blown action sequences to be particularly thrilling, but the subtext occurring between the characters while the action sequences were occurring was far more interesting and a clever narrative device implemented by director Matthew Vaughn. You can’t have a movie this big without lots of stuff blowing up real good, but at least there was more to it than simple pyrotechnics. Another issue is that it felt to me as if this movie was ‘edited for length’, meaning that it seemed as if some scenes were missing or shortened which left me with odd feeling that I was missing on something. I mean you can’t have three and half hour movie so maybe a Blu-Ray directors cut will be in order in a couple of years. And does Charles really need to touch the side of his head every time he does some psychic stuff?
‘X-Men: First Class’ is a first class summer film. There are solid performances, it pays a healthy respect to the X-Men comic book universe, the early sixties setting was a nice touch and most importantly it was a lot of fun. If you own a big movie studio and you positively, absolutely feel the need to reboot a franchise… in lieu of actually thinking of something new and original to do, then this would probably be the best way to do it.