I am extremely happy to say that the X-Men movie franchise is back and kicks all kinds of ass! X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is directed by Matthew Vaughn (KICK-ASS, STARDUST) and stars James McAvoy (WANTED, ATONEMENT) as a young Professor X, Michael Fassbender (300, CENTURION) as a young Magneto, and Kevin Bacon (TREMORS, HOLLOW MAN) as the villainous Sebastian Shaw who all share the screen with a solid supporting cast. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a prequel/reboot of sorts for the franchise that honors the movies from the past (even with some subtle tie-ins and fun cameos) while presenting a fresh new direction for the film franchise. I highly recommend you approach this film as a “re-imagining” of the X-Men universe rather than comparing it to the original source material or the previous films in the series. What we get here is a fresh start with a great cast of characters all portrayed well by the cast, a wonderful story that brings some depth and emotion previously unseen in any X-Men film, and some amazing visuals in the form of awesome locals and some completely bad ass moments that gave me multiple nerdgasms throughout the lengthy 2 hour and 12 minute run time! X-MEN: FIRST CLASS simply rocks and has positioned itself as the best movie of the year as well as one of the best movies based on a comic book that I have ever seen.
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS boasts a leading AND supporting cast that really helps make this film something special. McAvoy as the young Professor X and Fassbender as the young Magneto each portray these characters flawlessly while having the required chemistry these two iconic characters demand. Watching their friendship blossom and then slowly deteriorate throughout the film due to a moral fork in the road is truly engaging and really is the central focus of this story. Seeing Bacon back in action is also a welcome addition and his portrayal of Shaw is a fantastic comeback role for him. His history is tied in splendidly to Magnetos creating a villain that audiences will truly want to see go down! The character Mystique played by Jennifer Lawrence (WINTER’S BONE, THE BEAVER) is featured here quite a bit and has unexpected ties to Professor X that date back to their childhood. Lawrence brings some depth to the character never seen before and does a great job as a mutant torn between Professor X’s kindness and Magneto’s plan for domination. We also see The White Queen/Emma Frost played by January Jones (MADMEN, UNKNOWN) quite a bit here as she joins Sebastian Shaw in a group of evil mutants called the “Hellfire Club”. All of these main players bring depth and emotion to their characters and are a complete blast to watch!
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS also boasts a fun supporting cast that includes Nicholas Hoult (UK’s SKINS) as Beast, Caleb Landry Jones (TV’s FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) as Banshee, Lucas Till (BATTLE: LOS ANGELES) as Havok, Edi Gathegi (GONE BABY GONE) as Darwin, Zoe Kravitz (TV’s CALIFORNICATION) as Angel Salvadore, Jason Flemyng (HANNA) as Azazel, and Alex Gonzalez (THE GOOD BOY) as Riptide. All of these supporting mutants have awesome powers that each get their moment in the spotlight. I especially love how the film handles Beast’s transformation and Banshee turned out to be a great deal of fun as we witness how he learns to fly by using his power to emit loud bursts of energy from his vocals. This is a true ensemble cast that never ignores its main OR supporting characters; which is a hard thing to do considering the amount of characters needing to be developed. Since this movie takes place during the dawn of mutants, it is fun to watch all of these mutants divide their alliances as they decide if they are the next step in evolution with Magneto or if they should peacefully coexist with humankind with Professor X.
As I mentioned before, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is both a prequel and reboot for the franchise. We start the film off the exact same way as the first film X-MEN back in 2000 with a young Magneto being separated from his family in a concentration camp. We then shift gears as we see what happens next with the introduction of Sebastian Shaw and then fast forward to 1962 where Magneto, as a young adult, is driven by revenge seeking out the man who molded his villainous ways. The connection was welcome and the tie-in was the perfect way to get fans familiarized with the new setting and time. While fans of previous X-Men movies may know the fate of these characters, the film manages to stay amazingly fresh. I’d say that has to do with not only the great characters but the welcome 1962 setting. Most comic book movies are set during”current day” in order to relate to the audience more. Vaughn realizes that to actually connect with a movie you need engaging characters that you actually care about. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS does a great job of making you care for these mutants forcing you to ask yourself what you would do in their position. The setting is a total blast, and seeing the beginning of Cerebro (the machine Professor X uses to locate mutants), the X Mansion, the X jet, and the formation of a team of super-powered mutants is extremely fun and captivating. I must reiterate that there are a number of fun cameos in this film that help tie into previous movies as well as a great deal of references that will have nerds shedding tears of joy!
My only real complaint with this movie, and it’s a bit of a nitpick, is the lack of a completely true sense of continuity between this film and the previous installments. I wish they would have just rebooted the franchise completely and used the original team of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel, and Iceman. While I appreciate the tie-in opening, the cool cameos, and the setup for a sequel, I just feel a bit discombobulated when imagining how all these movies connect. Maybe I’m just too big a nerd who thinks too much about these things AND I am admittedly a HUGE fan of Cyclops who is known for being the original X-Man. I have a feeling any tie-in used here are just put in place to make the audience more comfortable and the franchise will hopefully move forward with this fresh start and possibly reintroduce some key characters such as Cyclops and Storm in the inevitable sequel. If not, I would love to see an X-MEN 4 that somehow ties into FIRST CLASS and finds a smart way to (spoiler alert for those who have yet to see X-MEN: THE LAST STAND) bring back Cyclops, Jean Grey AND Professor X. That said, I really do appreciate all the nods to past movies and the absolutely fresh take on the franchise itself. I had such a blast with this movie and would love to see the momentum built here continue with a sequel. Fun stuff.
In the end, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is the fresh start this franchise needed and one hell of an entertaining film. My minor nerd complaints aside, I had an absolute blast with this movie and cannot recommend it enough to anyone. I am going to take my own advice and view this movie as a fun re-imagining of the X-Men universe. I admittedly had no idea I could enjoy an X-Men movie this much without Cyclops. The characters are all engaging and each one has their time to shine. The story is well crafted, well paced and it all managed to make something familiar feel fresh again. The action is spot on and offers up some truly bad ass moments. When I walked out of the theatre I could not help but smile at just how satisfied I was with the whole experience. Minor nitpicks aside, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is simply a great film that has me excited for the X-Men franchise again! Highly Recommended.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10