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This Review is spoiler free – My history with the X-men is a long one. I would go as far as to say that some of the characters are more like distant family than they are characters at all. No, I’m not crazy, and yes, I know they’re just characters, but I spent a great deal of time with the students of Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters. I started reading the X-books when I was still in elementary school, and only stopped when it was way too expensive to keep up. My wife laughed at me a bit last night because after the film ended I kept referring to the characters by their real names and not their code names; Charles, Erik, Hank, Raven… etc. So, I’ve read a lot of “mutant” titles in the past and know a good deal about the world that they inhabit. As a lifelong fan of the comic series, is First Class worthy of the X-Men name?
The Story – X-Men First Class is really the story of Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr. The relationship between these rivals is one of the greatest in comic book history. Charles, the idealist, wants a world where mutants and humans can live in harmony. Erik, the radical, wants a world where mutants are respected and feared because of their genetic superiority. While these two men have very different agendas their mutual respect, and dare I say, love for one-another makes them more brothers than enemies. Professor X and Magneto are both very much two sides of the same screwed up coin. Charles Xavier wants to teach young mutants and eventually fix the world; he is the band-aid. Magneto operates out of unbridled rage and the thirst for revenge; he is the hammer. X-Men: First class is the simple story of these two men discovering who they truly are, as well as the creation of the X-men and Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Young Professor X – On the ride home my wife said “Professor X was sort of a bad ass“, which is something I never thought that I would agree with. I’ve never been a big fan of Professor-X. He was always the authority figure that stayed out of the action and scolded the X-men when they did something cool. Professor X, wheelchair and all, was a big square. Well, that image of the helpless bald grandpa has officially been shattered. Young Charles is the star of the show, and, is in no way afraid to use his powers to do some pretty astonishing things. James McAvoy does an amazing job making Professor X likable, and for the first time I understood why mutants would want to join his school and fight by his side. Seeing Professor X realize his calling is a one of the great moments in this film, and McAvoy is more than believeable as a young and charming Charles Xavier.
Young Magneto – While Sir Ian McClellan is an excellent actor, he’s also as old as dust and moves like Bernie (Weekend at Bernies). McClellean’s portrayal of Magneto reminded me of an old Hammer horror film staring Christopher Lee. I never once found him menacing, and never once truly felt Magneto’s rage… oh yeah, I also could never escape the sing-songy way he shouted “You should have killed me when you had the chance Charles” during the trailer for the second film. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto is stellar. Fassbender plays Magneto as a sort of bond villain on mission of revenge, and it works exceptionally well. Cold, calculating, hyper-intelligent, and moderately sociopathic; Fassbender’s Magneto is the Hannibal Lecter of the mutant world. Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory the viewer should totally understand why Magneto does what he does and acts the way he acts. If you’re anything like myself, you may actually find yourself on the fence for the first time. Which side of that coin is actually the right side? Hammer or band-aid?
The Hellfire Club – Kevin Bacon’s career is a mutation, it really should not exist. As much as it pains me to pat a Bacon Brother on the back, I have to say the man plays an exceptional villain. As Sebastian Shaw, Black King of the Hellfire Club, Kevin Bacon does a ridiculous job making you hate him, and that’s what a good villain is all about. The Hellfire Club has always felt a little bit out of place in the X-books, but they work incredibly well in the film set in the 1940s-1960s. An aristocratic band of high-powered evil mutants, the Hellfire Club are not afraid to use their powers to accomplish their goals, and in the case of this film, global domination. January Jones does a fine job as Emma Frost, but I would have liked to have seen a little bit more “bitch” and less “aloof”, after all the White Queen knows she’s ultra-hot and powerful. Staring off into the distance isn’t acting, its called looking bored. In comic book continuity Emma Frost eventually goes on to be one of the headmasters of Xavier’s school, which is always interesting when you consider her villainous roots.
The Mutants – The first thing my wife and I discussed on the way home is how this first class, really wasn’t the first class at all. Does it bother me that we’ll probably never get a proper first class film with Cyclops, Ice-man, Angel, Beast, and Phoenix? No, not really. I think this re-telling of the beginning of the X-men worked out just fine, and may even be better than the original. Who is on the roster? Professor X, Magneto, Banshee, Havok, Mystique, Beast, Darwin, and Angel (the female). Also along for the ride are Oliver Platt as an optimistic CIA agent, and Rose Byrne as Moira McTaggert (who is now CIA and is not a doctor). The group gets along quite well, and I would have loved to see more of their training and in squad banter. While there are A LOT of characters in this film, I really feel like director Matthew Vaughn did an excellent job giving everyone ample screen time. Even some of the mutants with smaller roles had a few moments to really show off their abilities… very cool stuff.
The Movie – Director Matthew Vaughn is someone we really need to keep our eye on. The man is a REAL director that relies on the quality of his story and the performance of his actors in order to weave together something special. These days, its very easy for a director to rely on special effects and explosions to hide a flawed and/or weak story, but even without mutants and special effects X:men First Class would be a spectacular film. I don’t know what happened, but it’s as if the studio executives finally realized that all of those old comics, with their thousands of stories, had actual value. Rather than throwing out what makes the stories great, they went back to the source material and updated it so its actually watchable on screen. X: Men First Class is without a doubt one of the best super hero films of all time, and could very-well be one of the best adventure films of the past decade. Even if you don’t like super-heroes, do yourself a favor and check this one out. Screw that… you have to see this movie.. right now.