Matt's X-Men: First Class Review
Perhaps more than any other comic book franchise, X-Men could be credited with jumpstarting the comic-book craze that has persisted in Hollywood for over 10 years. The issue with most comic book movies is that they often suffer from redundancy. We’ve seen so many of these films that there really are no surprises left. That was one of the serious problems that I had with X-Men: Wolverine, but X-Men first class overcomes this issue by NOT attempting to use concept as a crutch for entertainment. Instead, X-Men first class relies on characterization and uses the mutants as a backdrop for a story that is really about racism and intolerance. These are the elements that made the X-Men story stand out to me in the first place, add to that a first-rate cast and you’ve got a solid foundation for a reboot of the franchise.
- The story – There’s a noticeable effort to recapture the characterization aspect in this film, I appreciated that, as sequels have a tendency to become increasingly more extravagant, often at the expense of the story. Prequels are not easy to do. You have to line up whatever story you have in mind with the established continuity. This one holds up surprisingly well to scrutiny with only a few nitpicks – mostly having to do with the complicated relationship between Charles and Erik.
- There’s a great deal of grand standing and speechifying in this film. Considering the track record of this series, I was kind-of expecting that. I must admit that by the end of the film, I thought it was a bit much.
- The other thing was that I thought they went a bit overboard with their metaphors. Yes, X-Men is actually a metaphor for a discussion of racism and intolerance, but they could’ve been just a little subtler about it. No need to beat the audience over the head with the message, we get it!
- There actually was some exciting new information in this film. Unlike X-Men: Wolverine, much of the back story for Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr was left untold – we learned everything we really needed to know about Wolverine in X2. Without spoiling anything, there was some really interesting stuff related to those two characters and Mystique that we didn’t know before.
- There’s a bit of messing around with history here, the mutants become involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a history buff, it’s always exciting to see movies set in the past – and of course using recognizable historical events sets up context – but something like The Cuban Missile Crisis is a bit too much. It makes it difficult for me to take the film seriously.
The X-Men series has a history of being littered with exceptional talent, I’m happy to say that this installment is no exception to that trend, and they use the cast to great effect.
- James McAvoy turns in an exceptional performance as a young Charles Xavier (previously played by Patrick Stewart). He plays Xavier with a light, youthful touch, and only when it’s called for does he show the intensity that Stewart brought to the character.
- Michael Fassbender virtually steals the show as Erik Lehnsherr in a way that only an actor of his caliber would be capable of doing. McAvoy is the only performer in the cast that really holds his own opposite Fassbender. His intensity and anger is palpable with every line he delivers, and the tragedy of the character is written on his face with every look.
- The third academy caliber performer in this film is Jennifer Lawrence, who I last saw in Winter’s Bone. It was interesting to see her in something a little more mainstream. I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Music, Cinematography and Special Effects
- The music in this film was interesting. Some cool cues to be found, certainly, but it is a bit heavy handed in certain places. I didn’t recognize the work, so it was no surprise that it turned out to be a new composer – Henry Jackman. We’ll see what he does in the future, but for the most part I like what he did with the music in this film.
- This is a good-looking film, at times too good-looking to possibly be convincing. The ships and the artillery looked a bit too clean to me. Most of it was well-conceived, I liked the Argentinean bar, and the mansion was gorgeous. Some of the set-pieces came off just a bit too polished for my taste.
- The special effects were a bit patchy in this film. True, there’s a lot of stuff that they pulled off beautifully, but there are several effects shots that did not come out well.
The Bottom Line
X-Men first class is a solid installment. I’ll have to watch it a few more times to get perspective on where it ranks among X-Men films, but already I like it better than X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Wolverine. The performances were great, and that’s a good a reason to watch anything. See it! 8/10