Directed by Mathew Vaughn
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon
The first X-Men movie was really the film that started the modern wave of super hero summer movies. It doesn’t hold up really great beside the new films but the second X-Men film works a lot better. The final film in that trilogy, X-Men United destroyed the franchise. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a bloated film with a few good moments but it didn’t revitalize the franchise the way Fox hoped. So, X-Men First Class was not only meant to be a reboot to the franchise but it was also meant to be redemption for the filmmakers and the franchise as a whole.
This film is connected to the original trilogy in some real story ways and some winking cameo ways too. These connections represent some of the biggest failings of the film. These connections force you to consider the continuity of the greater story of tying all four films together and it just doesn’t work. Tying all of the films together just rips giant plot holes in the character development of First Class. So, you’ll get the most out of X-Men First Class if you attempt to pretend not to see the ties to the other films. Once you’ve done that you’ll find X-Men First Class to be a fairly satisfying experience.
As the title infers this film focuses on the creation of the X-Men, the school, and of course the first class. The story follows the two principles in the X-Men universe; Professor X and Magneto. These two began as young friends and the film does a really solid job of defining these characters and building a relationship between them. They are true friends whose backgrounds cause their belief systems to diverge when the chips are down. The entire film survives or fails on the backs of these two characters and actors that play them. Fortunately the characters are brilliantly written and owned by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. These two actors are both at the top of their game here and in scenes where they are the only two characters it’s nearly impossible to tell who owns those scenes. The film could have literally been called Charles and Erik: The Early Years and it would have still been riveting without the other X-Men.
The story of the film follows Charles and Erik discovering their powers and deciding to bring others that are similarly “mutated” into their fold. All of this happens with the Cuban missile crisis building in the background. There has to be a bad guy pulling the strings and causing trouble and this time around he’s played by Kevin Bacon. Bacon is a true joy to watch in this film as he totally embraces the role of the bad guy and he chews the scenes in ways that he’s never done before. So, a story about super powered beings is a tough one to ground in reality. Vaughn and his writers made a fantastic decision when they decided to set the story steeped in a real world historic event and even made the characters an integral part of that bit of history. Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw doesn’t quite get the development of Magneto and Professor X but his influence on history, and Bacon’s portrayal of him, make him and the story overall extremely compelling.
Action scenes are suspenseful, exciting and executed near perfectly. There are several battles between mutants and even some with many mutants on screen simultaneously and it all looks great. The only real downfall of the film are some of the secondary X-Men either being somewhat poorly acted or simply getting some clunker lines to deliver. The biggest groaner comes from the scene where the young X-Men decide how they are going to get their codenames and share this information with Magneto and Professor X. There’s also a really painful one liner that plays out a couple of times in the film and it gets more painful each time it’s delivered. January Jones, who is a fantastic actress in Mad Men, is just awful as Emma Frost in this film.
Flaws aside this is still the best installment of the X-Men franchise and it’s the most deserving of a sequel. The ending of the film is exciting and the closing credits leave you wondering what comes next. Oh and there’s a well publicized cameo from Hugh Jackman in the film. That cameo is the funniest moment in the film. Yes it’s one of those winks to the previous films I mentioned but hey, it’s funny.
The 1080p presentation here is one of the best of the year so far. The image is crisp and clean with great attention to fine detail, solid contrast, consistent inky black levels with no loss of detail, and a near perfect rendition of the color pallet developed for the big screen. The only real issue with the video presentation is that it looks so great that a few instances of cheaper CGI are even more obvious on blu-ray than they were in the theater. On the big screen that extra layer of grain from watching the movie on film helped muddy the edges of weak CGI. If you want to show off your new TV this is the blu-ray to throw in though. It looks near perfect.
The DTS-HD Naster Audio track is as solid as the video presentation. X-Men First Class is full of action and those scenes light up the soundstage throughout the film. Special fx whiz from the front speakers to the back and low end rumbles in the submarine. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout the film too. Even the quieter scenes feature some minor ambient noise in the rear speakers making the film truly immersive. This is a truly perfect audio presentation.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
For all of the work put into the audio and video presentation of this film the packaging for the 50 GB blu-ray and digital copy is well in a word, boring. The two discs come packaged in a standard amaray case with a slipcover. The slipcover and actual DVD cover feature Magneto and the bad guys on one side and Professor X and the good guys on the other. The art comes off like cheap teaser poster art and not packaging for a truly deluxe blu-ray release.
The bonus features presentation is similar to the packaging in that it looks boring but what’s inside is surprising in quality. There are in total a couple of hours of featurettes covering the making of the film from special fx, to production and behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews and much more. The menu system for the bonus features really wants you to experience most of the short featurettes as you watch the movie. It’s one of those u control like situations where an icon appears onscreen during the film and you click the remote. The movie will pause and a brief featurette having something to do with the current scene in the movie will play then the movie will start back where you left off. I prefer to watch all of the featurettes together rather than experiencing them while I’m trying to enjoy the movie. The featurettes are highly informative but they don’t fit together in a cohesive way. One lengthy two hour documentary would have been preferable than these brief little snippets.
Outside of the featurettes (seven in all) there’s a gimmicky game and pop up trivia feature. The presentation for the bonus features could have been better but the information within these features is all really great stuff for fans of the film. One question though: where’s the commentary track???
X-Men First Class is absolutely the redemption for the franchise that Fox was looking for. Mathew Vaughn does a fantastic job of balancing character moments with action and grounding the characters. It’s not perfect but the flaws are minor ones. This is the best X-Men movie and one of the best super hero films ever made.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 9/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 10/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an average) 9/10