Release date: 2011
Director: Matthew Vaughn
After the absolute destruction of the core franchise via The Last Stand, X-men: First Class brings about sighs of relief. It might be different, it might mess with continuity, it might literally shaft several characters, but the core of the source material is perfectly captured.
This prequel takes an enormous step back in time to the Cuban missile crisis and introduces us to a young Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Magneto (Fassbender) and their blossoming relationship and eventual fallout. These two titans of comic history are perfectly cast and the actors not only drip with charisma but also play off each other so well you cannot help but be entranced. I personally would have found the pressure of following up either Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen unbearable.
I absolutely loved Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw. Cocky and so sure of himself, Bacon is a villain that is so cool you cannot help but look forward to his next appearance. Even if his attire and background differ with the comics, this new take is executed perfectly. With January Jones as the White Queen by his side, the bad guys are not only bad but bad-ass.
I’ve always enjoyed the intelligence of a good X-men story and First Class delivers with great moments of intrigue and well-thought use of powers and character. The ever-escalating drama tightens up right up until the end of the story drives the film at a brisk pace. Of a certain character’s fate any fan of the films, comics or television series already knows what must happen, and the feverish anticipation is not subdued one bit upon the climax.
I must digress, there is some disappointment for me personally, especially as we look forward to the release of Days of Future Past. I felt this re-imagining was so effective that connecting it into the original movies has served only a disservice to its cleverness. Why even connect them at all? I would have much preferred a brand new reboot in this universe. Did we really love Hale Berry that much as Storm? Hugh Jackman continues to impress even in cameo form, but removing the Summer’s brother’s relationship was a mistake. I admit that despite having no connection to the comics, Xavier’s relationship with a certain villain formed an enjoyable thread until its final fruition at the finale.
Musically Henry Jackman’s simplistic score does well to emphasize some of the great moments but was dubstep the answer? Guitar tracks can be effective here and there but this is Magneto! A missed opportunity despite the odd stirring theme.
So finally, as a fanboy, and I do tend to try to not look at comic book movies through biased perspective, I feel my overall opinion on this interpretation will have to wait until the release of Days of Future past to decide whether adjoining these timelines was a good idea. As a standalone film, it excels. Its characters have real depth and their relationships are not only interesting but against the backdrop of the greater story arc, they excel. I just cannot help but feel disappointed at the thought of this fresh, new take not being given the opportunity to flourish. We will see.
(Originally written in 2014)