Released: June 3, 2011. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Runtime: 132 min.
X-Men: First Class opens with what opened the original X-Men, but Matthew Vaughn adds his own stylish direction to it and extends the story. It introduces what motivates Erik Leshnerr (a.k.a. Magneto) and the main villain – Sebastian Shaw, portrayed by Kevin Bacon – from the get go. How Erik delves into her powers is through pain and anger, it’s shown through a heartbreaking sequence, mostly for Erik. I like it when a film gets right into the narrative. I think it compels from the opening scene – and it’s nice to see how Charles Xavier was good friends with Raven Darkholme (Mystique).
The film then skips to 1962 after staying in 1944 for the opening fifteen minutes. The plot concerns Shaw, who is attempting to start World War 3 in 1962. Charles Xavier, and Leshnerr, team up with the CIA to stop the villains, and they recruit a few cool heroes in the process. I had only heard of Beast of the ones they recruit, but their powers are cool. I especially like Banshee’s (Caleb Landry Jones) sense of humour. Havoc (Lucas Till) is a bit of a total dick at times. The sequence where Xavier shows them how to control their powers is engaging and fun. Matthew Vaughn’s style and the excellent camerawork gives the film an extra fun layer, and engages one’s attention even more.
I think setting this origins story in a very cool age is a smart choice, and Vaughn depicts the style of the age really well. It’s a sort-of Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis film, and it seems to set up an imaginative way of how the Cuban Missile Crisis was started in this universe.The film’s also visually compelling. Prior to Days of Future Past, this is the franchise’s most engaging narrative thus far. It’s great to experience the chemistry shared between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Leshnerr. Some of their clashes in opinions are heartbreaking, but necessary.
The two share a great scene together where Charles shows Erik to find out how to use his power – finding a balance between rage and serenity. What he does to show him how to do it is mesmerizing and emotionally charged. I seriously think it’s some of the strongest acting of the franchise shown in that simple scene. James McAvoy brings charm to his role, and a calm attitude; while Fassbender gives a sometimes chilling performance as Magneto. My favourite characterization for the film is for Mystique/Raven. She’s still coping with fitting in, as she has to use half of her concentration to stay beautiful all the time. It seems like a real struggle; because other mutants can hide and blend in easier than her and Hank McCoy, who has feet that are like an extra pair of hands. Nicholas Hoult (as McCoy) and Lawrence share strong scenes together. What Magneto says at one point about Mystique is thought-provoking: “How can society accept you, if you can’t accept yourself?”
The only boring characterizations are for the CIA characters, largely Oliver Platt’s Man in Black Suit. Rose Byrne’s Moira gets decent characterization, but apparently humans are boring. I think Kevin Bacon is good as the big baddie Sebastian Shaw. He’s critical to Erik’s development. I like his power, but it’s also very lame when he can just flick someone and send them flying, because he absorbs so much energy. (He receives weird visuals at times, but weird in a good way.) At times, he is brilliant and super cool – and the introduction to his power is one of my favourite scenes. My favourite baddie in this film is Azazel – he is so cool. There’s a baddie called Riptide who is boring because I just saw him as a male Storm, and he doesn’t get an ounce of characterization. He’s dressed in a suit and he looks cool, but I don’t remember him having any dialogue other than nodding in agreement. At one point, I thought he might be an angel and Azazel a devil, and they might act those little dudes who show up on someone’s shoulder in a moral dilemma. Geddit? January Jones is awesome as Emma Frost.
One thing is certain: Matthew Vaughn handles his characters as well as Bryan Singer, and lightyears better than Brett Ratner or Gavin Hood. With the film’s great sense of humour and engaging atmosphere, Vaughn directs the franchise back to greatness – and helps re-invent it with a compelling story, too. There’s an endless amount of great sequences, even ones that aren’t primarily action-packed. This is my favourite film of the franchise and it features a great pace and a strong finish. The dazzling film has a musical score that complements the feature well, and it also has some great visual effects. At one point, the visual effects are mesmerizing discovery. They’re sometimes out-of-this world. I am just left astounded by the atmosphere Vaughn is able to create. This is how you make an origins story.