Entries Comments

X-Men: First Class the First Legitimately Good Movie of the Summer

X-Men: First Class
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Vaughn, Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Jane Goldman from a story by Bryan Singer and Sheldon Turner based on characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Chris Claremont
Fox, 2011

Several years ago, Matthew Vaughn was hired to do X-Men: The Last Stand, but didn’t think he had enough time to make a good movie in the time allotted.  So, he dropped out, and in came Brett Ratner, the director even people who love Michael Bay don’t like.  Now, Vaughn gets a crack at it, this time with a prequel, a notoriously bad sub-genre.

Why are prequels so bad?  Well, I’ll let this article from Cracked do the talking.  I think prequels suffer from the same syndrome that biopics do, in that the stories they tell offer a hit-list of how the characters became the people they are today.  We know all of this stuff; it doesn’t tell us anything new.  And as Patton Oswalt beautifully demonstrated in his stand-up act concerning the Star Wars prequels: I like what I like…I don’t need to know where they came from.

What appealed to me with the trailers for X-Men: FC was that this looked like a stand-alone story, not just a “here’s how we got to where we are now” meandering origin story in which many first-time comic book adaptations suffer.  Origin stories are so bogged down with the “how it came to be” part that we don’t get enough action.  It takes very little demonstration to figure out what a power is and how it can be useful.  And sure, we’d like to see these guys honing their skills, becoming better…they’re not going to be experts overnight, but that’s why we will root for them if, say, something happens to them.  They’re the underdogs.

X-Men: First Class begins by showing us young Erik Lehnsherr, the would-be Magneto (first Bill Millner, then the movie’s de facto badass, Michael Fassbender of Inglorious Basterds) in World War II Poland, being recruited by Nazi scientist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) to use his (accidentally demonstrated) skill of transporting and bending metal.  The child doesn’t know how to consciously do it, and it ends up costing his mother her life.  Once the war is over, Shaw goes into hiding, and the grown up Lehnsherr is on the quest for revenge, trying to find any information as to Shaw’s whereabouts.

It’s now the early 60’s during the Cold War, and Kennedy is President, and Russian/American tensions are high.  Shaw, who has gathered mutant powers himself, has found other special mutants over the years and they all work for him: Janos Quested, known as Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), the amazing devil-like Azazel (Jason Flemyng), who is the eventual father of Nightcrawler, and Emma Frost (January Jones).  Shaw is trying to convince the Americans to put missiles in Turkey, and oh yeah, convince the Russians to put missiles in Cuba.  The idea being that eventually, tensions will run so high that nuclear war will happen and the mutants will rule the world.

The CIA is interested in Shaw, and they are represented here by Moira MacTaggert (the welcomely ubiquitous Rose Byrne).  She eventually finds Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), the future Professor X, to help her.  Xavier is life-long chums with Raven/Mystique (Winter’s Bone’s Jennifer Lawrence), a mutant he helped out long ago.   Their first attempt at grabbing Shaw is thwarted in some part by Lehnserr’s attempt to kill Shaw in the middle of the operation.  Xavier uses his telepathic abilities to capture Lehnserr and recruit him to the good side.  Xavier promises to help the CIA by finding as many other mutants in the world as possible to help them stop Shaw.  It begins with the already-found Hank McCoy/Beast (About A Boy’s Nicholas Hoult), who has invented the device known as Cerebro, the helmet worn by Xavier to find fellow mutants.

Those that get recruited are: Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), a guy with special sonic abilities, Armando Munoz/Darwin (Edi Gathegi), a guy who can adapt, learn powers, for almost any situation, Angel (Zoe Kravitz, yep Lenny’s daughter), a girl who sprouts wings and shoot fireballs, and Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), who can shoot plasma blasts.  Shaw, directly or indirectly, makes them all face a decision: should they help humans, who will instantly shun them when everything goes back to normal, or should they fight for the greater good?

We couldn’t have better players here.  With a few exceptions, almost every character here is cool and is played by a capable performer.  Michael Fassbender is a great Magneto, his need for revenge driving him in every scene, and when his character is put into action, it’s always thrilling.  McAvoy pulls off a sort of Ewan McGregor-as-Obiwan vibe here, only not boring.  He has a good sense of humor and is good to a fault.  This Azazel character…damn he’s awesome.  Fans of Nightcrawler will be dazzled here.  He’s a bad guy you almost root for he’s so cool.  And how can we forget Kevin Bacon?  Bacon, consistently one of the most underrated actors of all time, makes an excellent chief bad guy.

With such good characters with cool powers, the action scenes play very well.  The physics of what happens will surprise you many times over in this movie.  All against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s revisionist history, but works.

After all the ridiculous critical darlings like Fast Five, Thor, and Bridesmaids, I finally agree with the consensus here.  This is a level below the gold standard of comic book adaptations like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2, but I think most of you would accept that.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: June 2, 2011, 5:21 pm

I saw “Bridesmaids” this past weekend, and while it is not the best comedy ever or anything, it’s a very funny movie that does not deserve to be lumped in with “Fast Five” or “Thor.”

I had no desire whatsoever to see this movie as of just a couple of weeks ago, but with all the great word don’t know how I can resist. Good to hear a good prequel can be made. Although I guess were given that proof a few years ago with “Casino Royale.”

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.