First Class flows fluidly and gallantly, and while often quickened in pace, it's never "rushed". Soft as a feather, and as hard hitting as an A-bomb, the parallels drawn here are fantastic and visceral.
The film opens in a somewhat expected way, featuring a young Erik Lehnsherr suffering at the hands of the Nazi's during one of many Jewish liquidations throughout Europe. One specific "Nazi", Sebastian Shaw (played in top form by Kevin Bacon), takes a special interest in the boy that seems to harness the ability to manipulate metals. Confronting the young Erik, Shaw presents the boy with a test, and upon failing said test, the boy is given a drastic ultimatum in the hopes of inspiring him to achieve the required task. Should he fail.. well, lets say all he loves will be taken from him. Now, as soon as the boy does fail, we figure that either the threat will be followed through by Shaw, after some slight postponement, or he just won't carry out his promise at all. However, instead of an over-dramatic build (I say over-dramatic, because it was somewhat dramatic, but not too much that it hurt the scene), Shaw simply executes his promise to the boy, and the young Erik does what I thought only one type of mutant could do: he goes into beserker mode (to the best of his current abilities).
Now, why do I focus on that scene? It's simple really. The rest of the film basically inhabits this 5 or so minute opening in both body and construct, however, the film is far superior to this somewhat dabby introduction. It's far more stylish, far better written and acted, and far more efficient, but the direction is still the same: no twists, no turns, or proloungement. We get what we knew we'd get. What we got just happens to be handled extremely well, and those scenes are delivered so fluently, and at other times so abruptly, that it hits us hard and fast, without allowing us to get sappy or sentimental. That may or may not be the films hindrance for some, but I felt it was a rather stunning direction for the feature to take.
Now, we all know the story here. Call me lazy, but I hardly dish out actual plot points or full on synopsis' in my reviews, as all we need to know about this film is presented in the trailer. I mean, frankly, if you don't know what this film is about before reading this thing, I don't know what business you have on this site. Alas, I can not sing any more praise for the feature than any of the countless other viewers of the film can, and I can't necessarily put a spin on revealing any of the films flaws, as others have already done that too. However, as this is a review, I entitled and required to try, to the best of my abilities, to share my complete and honest opinion on the film - redundant, or not. (So basically this entire last paragraph was unnecessary, but w/e... lol.)
First off, I would like to applaud the willingness to tackle this somewhat complex project by Herr Direktor Vaughn and comrades. They have definitely proved nay-sayers wrong about this project, and while some of the simpler minded audience members will not quite catch the extra mile ran in this feature (some were complaining about the lack of action as soon as the credits rolled), I do believe that those whose opinions matter (yes, I went there) will see the film for what I, and many others believe it is; a landmark for mainstream comic-book films, as well as stylish summer tent-poles in general.
While it wasn't as demanding of its audiences as Inception was, or any other thought-evoking film released during the usual bustling season these past few years (yes, I added another comparison to Nolan's latest film. So what, f*ck off), the film did have a heart and soul, and I am glad the creators came through with that. Many a time producers and such promise something and don't deliver it, much to the disappointment of fans (and eventually studios). That, however is not the case here. The film moves fluidly, and while some may complain it's cutty, I wouldn't, because they managed to fit in quite an experience into a nifty little (aprox) 2:20 film, with quite a few of sub-characters playing their part in the conflict, without losing us as a viewer. While I would have preferred further fleshing out of certain characters and events, I'm sure that the creators did the best they could at the time given, while still giving the action crowd something to chew on.
And boy, did they receive a bone or two. While some may not appreciate the time and effort that went into making these action sequences in the film, they were well done by my standards. From fun choreography for a certain teleporting character, to daring mutant dog-fights, to mega tons of metal being moved on demand of a single man (or mutant) the power house sequences in this film, as well as the fantastic sound editing, were definitely something to behold.
Now, build is everything for fight sequences and drool-worthy moments. I can run up to a guy, kick him (in slow-mo if you like), have him fly off the roof, and it might be cool. But then picture the scene differently. What if you were aware that I was fighting for something daring, honest, and passionate, and that this man didn't just happen to be on that roof, but was waiting for me; taunting me, standing in not only my way, but in the way of those I care about. Say that every step I took was something I enjoyed, I craved, as I grew closer to achieving my long sought-after goal. Say I'd just beaten up twenty of his lackeys to get to him, and now, after so long a wait, I'd deliver the blow that the man deserved. Then in ultra slow-mo, with passion in my eyes, I kick his stunt-man ass off the roof, and am done with it. I don't know whether or not that was a good example, but hey! I tried. I hope you see the point of "build", and this film definitely got it (look at Magneto's epic submarine lift as an example).
Now all the well-planned action in the world would be useless without the tools required to uphold them: actors, vision, and effects. The effects, of course, being the least necessary of these things, but still very important in a film like this. Too much, and it'll hog the screen and the viewers mind. Too little or done too poorly, and it won't capture their attention needed for this type of story set in this universe. I'd like to say that the numerous companies associated with the film (Digital Domain, WETA, a few others) have done a splendid job granting us eye canny action from opening to closing. True, a few sequences here and there were shoddy, and could have been worked on further. So what? They had a deadline, managed to meet it, and it never hindered the film. Yeah, the common viewer may not see the same time and effort put into the film as we do, but that's to be expected. Overall, great renderings of key moments, and use of practical effects on characters like Beast, Azazel, and Mystique overshadow the more thinly woven segments of the project, providing us with maximum entertainment.
Now to the acting. Every film would fail, no doubt, without decent actors on which to put the burden of relaying the story to us on, and this film was obviously no exception. The cast was as successfully assembled as the very characters they portray were, with each actor bringing something tangible to their mutant, or human, or what-have-you. We must remember that X-Men stories have and always will be ensemble pieces, and the fact that there are so many different and unique mutants out there is what helps make the series so fun and constantly refreshing. Without decent performances, these characters would have fallen flat, or been overshadowed by the effects of the film. Thankfully, that's not the case here, as everyone carries their weight in the project, and I believe that there was great chemistry off screen as well, which seems to always help the overall project.
The leads in the film are undoubtedly James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, playing Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, respectively. Each brings something new and natural to their roles, while still maintaining a slight resemblance to the characters previously seen on screen, played by the well done Patrick Stewart, and fantastic Ian McKellen. While there are similarities to be drawn, the actors and director have already gone on record to state that these individuals are rather different than what we see of them forty years down the line (or ten years in the past?), and because of this, the leads chose to tackle these mammoth roles in their own fashion, in a way that would please everyone (fans, filmmakers, and newcomers alike) while still keeping in tone with the film. Not an easy task, but these two titans make it seem easy, and I now find it hard not to regard them as the official youthful versions of these amazing characters. They're authentic, they're hard hitting, and they're engaging to watch - McAcvoy showing us a side of Charles we weren't aware existed, and Fassbender channeling what has been hailed as a darker and more exacting version of Bond. Both were mesmerizing and both got the job done.
Luckily, the rest of the cast did equally as well with their roles. First and foremost is Kevin Bacon. I'm really not a Bacon fan. He's not bad, he just really doesn't appeal to me. But I have to admit he killed this role, and made it his own. Throughout the majority of the first act, I didn't take his Shaw character seriously. That all changed soon enough, with the raid on the CIA headquarters. Let me say this: he personified evil, was fluently narcissistic, and channeled arrogance to the tee, and while I hated his character (a sign of good acting), I found myself awaiting his presence on screen more and more. The rest of the supporting class manages to hold their own with these bigger names. Hiring a cast of mostly C-listers and B-listers was a smart move by Vaughn. As the budget was already sufficiently hard-pressed, and the cast still needed decent actors, Vaughn turned to solid, less experienced or renown young actors to take on the weight of the team, and relied on numerous, yet sufficiently satisfying cameos by more experienced actors for the human roles, to add weight and presence to the film. And aside from January Jones (who captured the essence of Frost okay, but definitely didn't deliver on the sexual factor) I felt the cast was near irreplaceable, all things considered.
Speaking of looks, the set designs were absolutely fantastic. Luscious architecture, detailed interior designs, and completely in tune with it's setting in time. From Bond type lairs and equipment, to exquisite mansions, to the well lit Hellfire Club, the locations were great, and the thought put into them is even better. I must say, I haven't seen this type of work put into sets since the likes of Watchmen, and Lord of the Rings before it. However, what good are sets, when they look shabby on screen?
That was my first concern upon seeing the trailers for the film. I know, I didn't focus on the dialog, or the character details, but rather the cinematography. That's me for ya. I went into the flick, thinking I'd begrudge much of the close-up shots, and bright lighting, but I can't help but admit that its uniqueness gave this film life, despite it's lack of overly-added contrast which other films use so often. It's well lit, it's wide, it's independent looking. I loved it, and while I wouldn't necessarily like this tone on many other flicks, it definitely worked in this case.
But alas, all these things fail, if the people completely behind the screen don't do their jobs. I'm obviously referring to the writers of the project, as well as the ships captain - Mathew Vaughn (the whole captain thing is tired and over-done, I know, but it felt fitting coming out of this film). While there were a few discrepancies surrounding the script, and re-writes were needed and re-written again and further tweaked, I am more than thankful for the final result. It was well paced, it provided great character moments, and left us with (hopefully) a bigger picture mentality. Morally conscious films are old and worn out with super-hero flicks, yet the creative team managed to reinvigorate the age old act, and force me into not only feeling for these fleeting characters, but for their causes as well. While others did not make this connection, I hope most do, as it helps the film, or rather you view of it, immensely.
Sure, there are once again huge differences in between the film, its predecessors, and its mythology from the comics. We all knew this going in, so I don't want to hear any X-Men fans throwing a hissy-fit (yes, I use that word) over a few changes here and there. Just swallow your damn pride and enjoy the frickin movie.
Each character is presented with a difficulty and a trial worth visiting, as well as a solution for some. Looking back, it's beautiful really, as the two chosen to guide this motley crew are the ones whose inner conflicts are subdued the least, and brought to the surface all the more. It's been said that the two leads are what gave the film flow, and drive, and it's more than true. The opposites/brothers/enemies thing going on is potent and, dare I say it, FUN. The supporting characters not only do their job, but keep us interested in their side-issues as well, which is more than can be said for most other ensemble acts. The writers and Vaughn never forget the big picture and constantly implement it in our brain with well done character moments between our leads. The ultimatums are delivered and timely, and the overall sentimental moments are shown just long enough for us to care, and then snatched away into the bigger picture, leaving myself and a few others, boggled and lost. My brother turned to me a half hour from the end of the film. and wished the film wouldn't end. I can not help but agree with the man.
It's all great stuff, but I believe I'm already hyping this for some, and I don't wish to do that. Vaughn and company have created something deserving of praise, but not without its flaws, and should it be credited too much, it will fall to its ruin by hose whose desires are unmet and unsatisfied, like Erik and Charles quests for their respective dreams, neither of which will be fully realised. It's a breath of fresh air to Fox's super-hero franchise, and comic-book flicks in general, so take it for what it is, please.
DEFINITE SPOILERS AHEAD. Those who haven't seen the film shall not pass:
This film, while maintaining a strong narrative, had quite a few stand out scenes that made the rest of the film flow better. Among them were Darwin's unnecessary but somewhat disheartening death, Erik's revenge scene in Austria, Xavier's crippilization post-quarrel with Erik over the missiles, the amazing scene in which Erik exacts revenge on Shaw while Charles was helpless, and my personal favorite scene - the scene in which Charles and Erik meet for the first time. These stand out moments hit us hard, fast, and give us enough time to begin to savor them before the story kicks in once more, and we just have to swallow what we've seen and move on. All well done, well acted, and well built, giving us all the more reason to pay attention for the remaining segments of the film, which also hold well on their own.
Overall, the bad guys are bad, the good guys good, and most enjoyable characters are those teetering in the middle, just as it should be in a film like this. Expect greatness, but don't set yourself up for disappointment with eye canny wonders and great dialog, etc. It's not in the details, folks, although there is plenty of detail to be seen. No, it's in the big picture. Something, unfortunately, that both of our main characters think the other is missing. Unfortunate for them, splendid for us. Where this road takes us, I don't know. But they've definitely managed to hook me for more. Enjoy.