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X-Men: First Class, now available on DVD, focuses on the beginnings of the X-Men and the friendship between Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). It also features the return of Bryan Singer (this time as producer) to the X-Men franchise since 2003’s X2. Excitement surrounded his involvement as Singer’s X-Men films are highly regarded by fans. Sweetening the deal had Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass) in the director’s chair. The pieces seemed to be in place, but did the film live up to its potential?
I think it mostly did. It is a nicely paced adventure movie and a solid summer blockbuster. The last two X-Men films are seen as let downs (although, I personally enjoyed 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand), and this film clearly is trying to make up for that. Like the earlier X-Men films, First Class looks at the issues surrounding mutants and humanity as an allegory for [insert minority group here]. I really enjoyed the philosophical discussions between Professor X and Magneto.
Speaking of which, the two leads are fantastic. McAvoy and Fassbender clearly threw themselves into their respective characters and gave some terrific performances. Fassbender, in particular, has been given some high praise for this movie, and it is very well-earned.
That said, I don’t think the film developed its characters all that well. While Professor X and Magneto are well-defined, their friendship is poorly developed. They go from being virtual strangers to best friends so quickly that it is tough to buy into their supposed closeness. This then lessens tragic nature of their eventual falling out.
Besides Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who is also nicely developed, the rest of the characters had no depth at all and come off as if the only reason they were in the movie was so they could be a part of the action scene at the end. People have complained that this was a problem in the third X-Men film, but I think the issue is much more apparent here.
A lot was made of the fact that the film is set during the 1960s. I think this was a good idea. Like Captain America: The First Avenger, making the movie a period piece set it apart from the other superhero movies that came out this summer. However, I don’t think they did enough with it. Beyond centering the climax around the Cuban Missile Crisis (and the general aesthetics of the period), there is nothing in this movie that made setting it in 1960s absolutely necessary. Given the film’s story, it could have easily taken place 2011, and no one would have noticed the difference. Given the rich setting of the ’60s, I just wish they could have done more with it.
Overall, X-Men: First Class is an enjoyable movie, and I see it as one that will grow on me with future viewings. I recommend it if you want a see a summer action flick that actually has something to say. It is not perfect as I feel that many of the characters were underdeveloped, there are a couple of stupid things that happen, and the end tries a little too hard to wrap everything we know about X-Men up in a nice little bow. However, you can argue that those are minor complains in an overall fun movie.
Aside: I want to give this movie kudos for not giving into the current trend to simply restart the franchise from scratch within a few short years from the previous entry. While there are reboot elements in First Class, it still takes place within the fictional universe begun in 1999’s X-Men. Being a prequel, we know where some things will end up. However, being a part of a larger series gives the film more of an epic feel to it than it would have had if it was a straight up restart. Good job movie!