Marvel's reply to The Dark Knight
Writer(s): Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Bacon
X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn is not a newcomer to badass or to comic books (he directed the 2010 smash hit Kick Ass). With a bigger budget and on a much bigger scale, Vaughn outdoes himself with X-Men: First Class, the latest Marvel installment; and he and a cerebral group of young, topnotch actors do so with style and-forgive me-with class.
The prequel (or as it will become, the reboot) to Bryan Singer's X-Men begins very much like the first film, with young Erik Lehnsherr being ripped away from his parents by Nazi guards at a concentration camp. What Singer did not show us was Erik's tie to Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), Nazi scientist and soon-to-be baddie. Cut to a brief scene with a young Charles Xavier meeting Raven, also known as Mystique, the sexy blue and naked creature who can shift shapes, and then flash forward once more to 1963 where we meet an older, charming Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) with hair and a spring in his step, and also the now vengeful Erik (Inglourious Basterds actor Michael Fassbender).
The still young and ever evil Shaw (he has powers too, duh!) and his Hellfire Club, a few mutants hell-bent on suppressing the inferior race, you and I, the humans, begin the usual bad-guy "let's take over the world scheme. But wait! There's a twist: Unlike other films the plot is smoothly integrated with the story's Übermensch Nazi background. High five Vaughn!
You can guess what happens next. Xavior and Erik, with the help of Dr. Henry "Hank" McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), and a smart and very sexy CIA covert agent (Rose Byrne)-her introduction was drool-worthy-recruit a group of mutants to aid them on a two-front war: one against Shaw and the other against Americans and the Russians. Did I forget to mention the period? It's set in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis-although an excellent storyteller, Vaughn makes for a poor historian. We forgive him.
Props go to McAvoy and Fassbender for helping the story evolve. Amidst the backdrop of stylized action, humor and fun, Vaughn paints a dramatic, almost wrenching relationship between Xavier and Lehnsherr. We sympathize with their struggle-Xavier believes in humans; Erik knows their nature-mostly because we've foreseen (or already seen rather) the outcome, but also because we recognize how human the two mutants are. Vaughn tells the story, McAvoy and Fassbender sell it.
The rest of the cast matches McAvoy's and Fassbender's abilities. Jennifer Lawrence backs her Oscar nomination (best supporting actress in last year's Winter's Bone) as Mystique; she reveals that there's a lot more beneath the skin, blue skin that is. McCoy, or the Beast or the big guy with even bigger feet, played almost poignantly by Hoult is endearing, as are the other X-Men.
My only complaint is that the character development for the rest of the team was tepid when compared to other members. Make no mistake: They are still fun to watch in their blue and yellow vintage garb. A cameo of a certain character had the audience buckled over, so strain to hear the humorous, one-sided exchange of dialogue, which will only make you laugh harder.
Vaughn throws in a few gags-Xavier jokes about going bald-, clips from the period, such as a presidential address from JFK, and the nostalgia, or pre-nostalgia, runs high. I lost count of how many times my film companion poked me in the rips pointing out the numerous connections to the later films and to general X-Men lore. Also, the resemblance between Fassbender, when in full Magneto costume, and Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto) is not just uncanny, it's legit. Feel free to geek out now.
Nothing needs to be said about the effects except that they were awesome, Inception style: meaning that they will blow your mind. If the climax and last line of the film do not give you chills (think: "I am Iron Man"), check your pulse.
Forget the barrage of lackluster summer blockbusters and even most superhero flicks (yes, I mean the ones where they kill Cyclops and butcher Deadpool). Marvel has found its Dark Knight in the group of extraordinary humans on and behind the scenes of X-Men: First Class.
X-Men: First Class? More like X-Men: Badass!
Aside: There's nothing at the end of the credits, but it's encouraged to stay and observe the men behind the X, even if it's like reading the phonebook.
An Average Joe (ZanyZap) production