Saturday, June 4, 2011

Review: "X-Men: First Class" is at the Top of the Class

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 46 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

X-Men: First Class (2011)
Running time: 132 minutes (2 hours, 12 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language
DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
WRITERS: Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn; from a story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer
PRODUCERS: Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, and Lauren Shuler Donner, and Bryan Singer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Mathieson (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Eddie Hamilton and Lee Smith
COMPOSER: Henry Jackman


Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Zoe Kravitz, Edi Gathegi, Oliver Platt, Alex Gonzalez, and Jason Flemyng

X-Men: First Class is a superhero movie and the fifth movie in the X-Men film franchise, following X-Men (2000), X2: X-Men United (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). X-Men: First Class is a combination prequel to the first film and partial reboot of the franchise, but whatever is it, First Class currently stands as the best film in the X-Men series.

Most of First Class is set in 1962. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) are the men who would take the names Professor X and Magneto, respectively. Both are young men and also mutants discovering the extent of their powers, as they embark on their respective missions in life. A telepath with mind control powers, Xavier has recently received his doctorate from Oxford University, and he wants to find more mutants like himself who have special powers. He has lived with one of them, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), since he was a child.

Meanwhile, Lensherr, who is a Holocaust survivor and mutant that can manipulate magnetism, hunts and kills Nazi and German war criminals. One of his targets is Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant with tremendous powers. Now, a scientist and leader of a mysterious group known as the Hellfire Club, Shaw has launched a plot to start a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

After Lensherr makes a failed attempt on Shaw’s life, Xavier brings Lensherr into the CIA’s “Division X” facility. There, Xavier and Lensherr recruit young mutants they will train to stop Shaw, but both men see the world differently. As they race to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known, a rift grows between Xavier and Lensherr, one that threatens everything and maybe every human on the planet.

X-Men: First Class is everything good about the franchise: the mutant vs. mutant conflict, man vs. mutant conflict, the struggle against prejudice and bigotry, the action and intrigue, and the themes of family and brotherhood. But in this film, it is all presented in a more audacious and confident manner. There are a lot of things happening in this movie, and the story presents most of it awfully quickly. Director Matthew Vaughn guides it all with such brisk, efficient storytelling that makes most of it clear, clever, and engaging.

First Class is also a summer movie with something to say. With its Cold War setting, Cuban Missile Crisis sub-plot, and allusions to the Civil Rights movement, this movie places the plight of the mutants within a real world context. The film remains, however, cool and intense, even being sometimes playful about its dead serious elements. First Class’ last act does turn a little too much towards action movie mayhem and away from the emotional motivations, but in the end, this X-Men movie plays for keeps. These mutants want to do the right thing, but what is the right thing, the film asks? And what do you do when the people you are trying to protect and save want to kill you?

All the performances here have a youthful energy, and James McAvoy as Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Lensherr have great chemistry together. Fassbender is Oscar-nomination worthy as Lensherr/Magneto. X-Men: First Class is not just good; it is also one of the best superhero movies ever and, so far, the year’s best film.

9 of 10

Saturday, June 04, 2011


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