This is what the first X-Men should have been.
That lone thought kept popping into my head as I sat through X-Men: First Class. The continuity has been jumbled with enough over the years that I could get over my qualms we wouldn’t get the original class that kicked things off from the books. The last two abominations of X-Men pictures did more than enough to hurt hopes that the series would ever be redeemed. Enter Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn, who have helped craft a picture that gets the stench left by the previous two, and give the best Marvel picture since (arguably) Iron Man.
The greatest improvement here is there is no Wolverine for the film to focus on. He now has his own franchise to be the star of, so focus is now regulated to the entire team. While it’s true more members get more screen time than the others, each is allowed a moment to shine and allows the audience to get to know them and why they want to be a part of Xavier and Erik’s new squad of mutants. Point being, they’re not there for fan service (hello, X2) and mostly feel like they belong in the picture.
They’re helped by a cast that mostly knocks it right through the goal posts, starting with Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr (a.k.a. Magneto.) He stole every scene he had in 300 and was just as terrific in Inglorious Basterds. Here, he plays Magneto as if this wasn’t his first time out. He’s the best thing in the picture, and with a blockbuster that has so much going for it, that’s a pretty tall order.
Mr. Fassbender isn’t the only tremendous actor on display, as James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is stupendous. McAvoy’s take on Professor X is superb, playing him as an overconfident genius as opposed to sympathetic father figure. The best example of this stems from his relationship with Raven Darkholme/Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence. While she’s ten times better at this role than Rebecca Romijn was, she also happens to have incredible chemistry with McAvoy where you almost want to see them end up together.
It’s the main aspect of the film that Matthew Vaughn gets completely right; the relationships. First Class does skip forward in time in some areas, and maybe in lesser hands the friendship of Xavier and Lehnsherr would appear rushed, but Vaughn doesn’t need an hour to build it. To a lesser extent, he also handles Xavier and Mystique’s relationship fairly well and uses it as a catalyst for her eventual turn to evil. It’s a bold and tremendous change in continuity that really helps round out Raven Darkholme into something more than “that badass blue chick.”
Vaughn also brings it when it comes to his action scenes. There’s nothing overly crazy here, but it never ne Save eded be balls out nuts like the last film attempted. The bulk of it is saved for the third act with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the sprinkles in between provide solid enough entertainment. On the whole, theses sequences are engaging and are believable within the confines for the film. For me, I loved the quieter action scenes where Magneto hunts Nazi’s, yet I could truly appreciate how each X-Man gets a moment to shine during the Cuban Missile Crisis. No one should walk away disappointed with what Vaughn and his team where able to construct as set pieces.
For a movie that does so, so much right, there are a few things that try to kill one’s enjoyment of it. Chief among these is Rose Byrne, who almost gets a pass for looking so great, and looking even better in lingerie. She’s genuinely regarded as a fine actress, but it’s just not there. She gives one of the most unnatural reactions when she, Xavier and Lehnsherr return to check on their mutant protégé’s. She tries to come off authoritative, but ends up with a “You’re in big trouble, mister!” demeanor. I cringed the first time she showed up on screen and shook my head even more when she parted her lips to speak.
While the Vaughn’s team of writers deserve all the praise in the world, the only sin they commit is how rushed the ending does feel. For a move that successfully covers a lot in a short amount of time, it seems to be too much to overcome by the third act. The turn of Magneto to the dark side definitely could have been saved for the next film and only been foreshadowed here. It’s as if they made Star Wars, then condensed The Empire Strikes Back into fifteen minutes and sold it as one picture. Maybe the producers were just testing the waters in case they never revisit this new universe.
It’d be a shame if they didn’t, because X-Men: First Class is the Marvel movie to beat (so far, at least) this year. It also happens to be the best X-Men film and the first one that truly feels complete. The care that went in to making this movie is apparent on-screen and everyone involved should feel proud of it. It’s not without its flaws, but none of them kill the movie and can easily be overlooked by all the greatness on display. In my eyes, I say forget X4 and restart the series here with the wonderful cast in place and a leader who can handle all the chaos and wonder that surrounds the franchise.