Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass) has done it again. In what goes down as an epic battle between differing philosophies and alternate histories, Vaughn has delivered the perfect comic book movie (let me stress that: the perfect COMIC BOOK movie) that will unite haters and fanboys alike. There is plenty to love about his handling of the X-Men universe – an origin tale if you will – that tells the story, wrapped in what feels like a Bond movie circa 1963, of when two Titans of the mutant world first bumped heads.
Beginning with what was hinted at in earlier installments, X-Men: First Class shows how, as a boy, Erik Lehnsherr (eventually played wonderfully by Michael Fassbender), discovered his unique ability to control metal while in a Nazi concentration camp. This ability does not go unnoticed and Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon in a GREAT performance) finds a way to motivate the young Eric and his powers (linking them forever to his hatred), eventually inspiring him – as a young man - to crisscross the globe in search of Nazis.
In a separate narrative, Charles Xavier (soon to be charismatically played by James McAvoy) discovers a young girl, Raven, in his parent’s estate. The strange girl – eventually renamed Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) – introduces a whole new world to the young boy and sets him off on a globe-trotting mission of his own courtesy of the United States Government: find and stop Shaw.
Quickly moving into the world of the early 1960’s and one narrative, Erik and Charles discover each other and their fates at the hand of Shaw whose political theories about mutants being “children of the atom” become dangerously put into motion as Shaw works to bring fire to the Cold War. His secret weapon? His own mutant abilities…and a cool submarine (a tip of the hat to the megalomaniac villains of the Bond world). Yet, the focus of the narrative remains on the humanity of the characters and the relationship that unites them as partners/friends/bitter enemies.
Taking the comic book characters very seriously, X-Men: First Class places our heroes in the historical events of our recent past and provides the well-rounded humanization the earlier X-Men movies were largely missing. Not that they didn’t try, but the earlier trilogy could never escape their lack of depth even when they argued otherwise: mutants are people, too. Of course, back then – when Bryan Singer was at the helm of the franchise - we didn’t have The Dark Knight or Watchmen as a template for what you can do with comic book characters in the real world. Certainly, Vaughn’s X-Men feels more akin to The Dark Knight’s sense of purpose and trifocal narrative but it does one thing better: all three of its leads are perfectly developed by its script alone and then, thanks to fabulous casting choices, performed equally well.
Vaughn – through a damn strong narrative and moments of gritty violence – has made the universe of the X-Men finally speak confidently about its own humanity. Yet, as strong as the script is, that doesn’t happen without a cast who understands the fragile balance of humanity inside a comic book movie. Here, with McAvoy, Fassbender (in a career-making role if ever there was one), and Bacon all united in bringing charisma not camp (when they easily could have) to the X-Men universe, the film succeeds in being a triumph of the comic-to-cinema world. Constantly engaging with clashing ideals and thrilling sequences of action, Vaughn’s sense of character throughout X-Men: First Class drives the film toward its clear vision of recognizing people and not their powers.
Like Watchmen before it, X-Men: First Class will challenge its audience with moments of heavy thought in an unsure world. Vaughn has made sure that this is a summer film with intelligence. I know, I know, the worst type of film for the no-brainer summer months. And, with a less than stellar marketing campaign behind it courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, the only real question is - with a narrative this smartly well-rounded - will people show up to be challenged during the summer months?
I hope so. We need more films like this.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language.
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz
Cast: James McAvoy; Michael Fassbender; Bill Milner; Kevin Bacon; Rose Byrne; Jennifer Lawrence; Morgan Lily
Genre: Action | Adventure | Drama | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Memorable Movie Quote: "Peace was never an option."
Tagline: Before he was Professor X, he was Charles. Before he was Magneto, he was Erik..
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Official Site: www.x-menfirstclassmovie.com
Release Date: June 3, 2011
Blu-ray Release Date: September 6, 2011
Plot Synopsis: X-Men: First Class charts the epic beginning of the X-Men saga, and reveals a secret history of famous global events. Before mutants had revealed themselves to the world, and before Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Not archenemies, they were instead at first the closest of friends, working together with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to prevent nuclear Armageddon. In the process, a grave rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-Men.
Available on Blu-ray - September 6, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); Digital copy (on disc); BD-Live
Playback: Region A locked
Damn, if this puppy isn’t the slickest-looking transfer I’ve seen in a long, long while. Colors are comic-book vibrant. Details are fully engaged and ripped with texture. The hair of actors (both in and out of make-up FX) is insanely visible. Black levels are never too inky and keep their edges nicely. Skin tones are deep and saturated and never orangey or a distraction. The sound – presented here in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track – will shake and rattle the walls, the floor, and your heart. The cross-channel effects are nicely done and well-presented throughout the running time.
- Unfortunately, Director Vaughn never gets his moment in the sun with a commentary track. Easily, the disc’s only weak link.
The shell of the blu-ray boasts of 2 hours total of supplemental material. While this is true, quality seems to be the issue. There is a pop-up feature that runs throughout the movie and, while filled with interesting facts and sprinkles of information, the feature is more of an annoyance than anything else. Inside the Cerebro feature, you can track your own mutants and play Professor X for awhile. Which brings me to the incredible documentary that closes out the special features. AMAZING. This seven-part series highlights the origin, the mutant selection, the differences between the comics and the films, make-up effects, sound and score design, mutant costuming, the influence of the early Bond movies, and the sequel.
- Children of the Atom Documentary (70 min)
- 13 Deleted and Extended Scenes (15 min)
- "Dogfight" Stunt Test (2 min)
- Composer's Isolated Score
- X Marks the Spot Viewing Mode
- Cerebro: Mutant Tracker