Guest Post – ‘X-Men: First Class’ Review

[WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS]

Despite my high expectations and fear of being disappointed, I really liked X-Men: First Class. Director Matthew Vaughn did serve up the Bond movie/political thriller cocktail that he promised, and, contrary to his own statement, there is no sappy love song to gum up the works [rtm’s note: see comment in this post if you’re curious what this is about].

In case you don’t already know the basic premise: Charles Xavier (James McEvoy) and Eric Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) team up with a young bunch of their fellow mutants (Jennifer Lawrence, Zoë Kravitz, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till) to stop Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, making “Six Degrees” even easier to play) and Emma Frost (January Jones) from starting World War III by playing the USA and USSR against each other.

For a first half crammed with exposition, this is a film that moves at a good clip but isn’t too fast-paced to follow. We see Eric’s and Charles’ deeply different childhoods. Later, as Eric smoothly liquidates truly evil ex-Nazis, always looking fine and sometimes in a three-piece suit, the Bond references fly fast and fierce. We are in Cold Wartime as well, so CIA agents and shady Russians abound. When the two founding fathers seek out their fellow mutants, the film gets really funny — probably my favorite sequence in the picture. With the team assembled, they begin their training and the latent conflict begins to develop: the future Magneto runs on anger and defiance; Professor X’s MO is peace and collaboration.

Before I saw the movie, I thought the casting was excellent and it proved to be so. As Xavier, McAvoy has the reserve and steadiness which contrasts perfectly with the restless energy Fassbender gives Lensherr. Jennifer Lawrence has a sadness that is perfect for Raven/Mystique, the girl caught between the two paths. (One of her scenes with Fassbender is a definite homage to the Bond series.) Although the childhoods of the younger X-Men aren’t explored, I thought they all did well with roles that are necessarily supporting. Even January Jones’ cool blank quality works well for Emma Frost.  There are a couple of well-placed cameos but you’ll have to see those for yourself.

The film is really about the conflict between Magneto and Professor X, and the larger question of whether it’s better to fight discrimination with violence or with reason. Possibly this would be overkill for anyone who’s really into the actual comic books. Even as they team up to stop a nuclear war, these two are on different trajectories and we see why and how their split is inevitable. Fassbender and McAvoy have a lot of chemistry and I found myself wanting them to stay together for a whole series of movies, though it was a foregone conclusion that they wouldn’t.

The carefully planned structure of the film falls apart a bit near the end. i don’t want to throw any (more) spoilers out there but the denouement seems a little rushed, though there are some satisfying shocks. I give it 4 out of 5 stars and suggest that if you are at all interested, that you see it on the big screen.

4 out of 5 reels

[rtm’s note: My review will be up later this week, but I’d agree with Paula on the rating.]

So did you see it this past weekend? What did you think of the movie?