X-Men: First Class (2011)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn

Earlier this week I sat with a friend through an X-Men marathon, wherein we watched the first three films in the series (the Wolverine film excluded). I did this because I had yet to see any of the films. I do not think those films are necessary viewing for this new, prequel, but I had a good time with them, though none of them really blew me out of the water. This particular film is blowing a lot of people out of the water. It has around a 90% on Rottentomatoes.com, which is astounding, and I have also heard good word of mouth just in opening weekend. I, however, was not blown out of the water, although I would agree that it is the best, strongest entry into the X-Men series.

The film is a prequel, therefore it sets up the backstories for many characters that fans have come to know and love. We see both Erik Lehnsherr, “Magneto” (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier, “Professor X” (James McAvoy) as children, but the real film takes place when these two are young adults in the 60s during the Cold War. Xavier, along with longtime friend Raven, “Mystique” (Jennifer Lawrence) begins to uncover an evil plan by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who is also a “mutant”. Shaw has a history with Lehnsherr and that is how “Magneto” is brought into the fold. Working with the CIA, including an agent played by Rose Byrne, Xavier and Lehnsherr recruit other mutants to help combat the evil plans of Shaw to prevent World War III.

What is fascinating about the world of X-Men is that its potential is endless and I think they do a great job of utilizing this attribute in this film. When I say the potential is endless I mean that the amount of mutants is unlimited and the breadth of their abilities is endless, which can make for some really neat characters, and the screenwriters here really use their imaginations and come up with some cool abilities and are able to tie them all into the story somehow. The only one I didn’t really like, from a character as well as acting standpoint, was Emma Frost (January Jones). She was a telepath that could turn to diamond and was Shaw’s right hand woman. I felt like her powers weren’t that interesting and January Jones really played her quite wooden and flat. On the other hand, the rest of the cast was great and I especially loved watching McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence, though my favorite character was “Beast”, played by Nicholas Hoult.

Matthew Vaughn was a good choice for this film because he brought just the right amount of style in his filmmaking for a story like this. The only overly stylized part was the training montage segment, where split screen was used. It felt odd because it was so different from the rest of the film, but it wasn’t strange enough to really distract me and for that reason I was okay with it. The rest of the film was fairly straightforward, with some nice shots, but nothing too fancy. What I loved, however, was the focus on character and story. In superhero films too often the action trumps story and character when, I feel, story and character make the action that much more rewarding when it happens. We really get to know Magneto and Xavier and Mystique, which really helps fuel the rest of the film.

There really wasn’t much I didn’t like about this film, but for some reason I was not as taken with it as its RT score seems to indicate. I supposed I will chalk it up to being a very good film that is super solid, but did nothing that made me go “wow” or make it very memorable. The score was good as well, but again, not overly memorable. Fans of the series will certainly get a lot from this film, and I think even people who aren’t fans might like it. Also, they seemed to throw about 18 “That Guys” in this movie. Anyway, it is a fun movie worth checking out, maybe just not as great as the reception it is getting in my opinion.

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