Naturally, when it came time to create the X-Men movie in 2000, many of the best and the brightest from that original team and many of those that came after, found themselves on the roster of some of the first students from Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters! Needless to say that this created quite a continuity issue for the writers when the focus shifted to the second official prequel to the series, appropriately set in 1963 (for the first time since 1963) and appropriately called X-Men: First Class... the main problem being that they had already officially used most of the actual "First Class" in the trilogy set around forty years later.
How do you like them Eggs?
Thus, this origin story had to be recast with a surreal shelob shebang of multi-generational mutants from the Marvel Universe all shoved into the Far Out 1963 tale that brought us the beginning of the quest of Magneto and the vision of Professor X... as always, not quite mutually exclusive.
That said... the meshing of these generations, though far from flawless and not exactly without its continuity breaches, manages to make for a very fine film, a really cool Superhero origin tale and a mighty groovy period piece to say the least.
Yes, it's safe to say this one is a winner.
The story (by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner and, yes, yes, folks, Bryan Singer) kicks off well before 1963 and stretches all the way back to 1944 for a direct re-creation of Singer's Magneto introduction in the 2000 film. Here we learn more about Erik Lensherr (as played in youth by Bill Milner), his proud Jewish heritage and his early (and even more horrific than we realized) strife with the pig-ass-nasty Nazis during World War II! It's around this same time that we meet young Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher) and tiny little Raven "Mystique" Darkhölme (Morgan Lily) who are most assuredly from opposite sides of the tracks.
By the time the Kennedy Administration rolls around, these three major players are already set in their ways... but manage to keep evolving (they are mutants after all, wise guy). Of course, by this time they're lucky enough to be played by a worthy set of adult actors. Michael Fassbender is perfectly cast as the conflicted anxiety medication poster child Erik "Magneto" Lensherr, while James McAvoy does a great job of bringing us the solid psychic (yet still beer swilling and womanizing) Professor Xavier! And, to warm up that "Winter's Bone", Jennifer Lawrence brings us a VERY sexy Raven!
As a series of mutating events brings these three super-powered beings together (and making Charles and Erik best friends in the process) multiple factions begin to assemble and heat up for reasons both accurate to the comic book and to world history.
But, hey, with Magneto on the good guy's side, we clearly have no Brotherhood of Mutants, so who are our bad dudes? Elementary, my dear flotsam, it's vile, villainous, vermillion varmint Sebastian Shaw (as brough to us by Kevin Bacon) and the dirty, demonic, dastardly, douchebag Hellfire Club! Boo! Hiss!
Yeah, they added Bacon to make X-Men: First Class all that much tastier, zestier, fresh, yet full of life. And with all of these early factions attempt to X each other out, you can guess that that crazy "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game is about to get a whole lot easier, kids! So why wait? Let's dispense with this nasty residue of "Ado" and SEND IN THE MUTANTS!
And those are just the main heroes and villains in this 1963 full color X-Travaganza! Did I mention that Moira MacTaggert shows up in the lovely form of Rose Byrne and runs around in her lingerie for a while? It's true! Even the CAMEO and Bit Part cast is notable. We're talking about everyone from Michael Ironside, James Remar, Ray Wise, Matt Craven, Glenn Morshower and even Tony Curran and Oliver Platt as a couple of bonafide Men In Black! And if the brief glimpse of the lovely Rebecca Romijn isn't enough to get your X-Factor pumping, then stay tuned, true believers for what just might be the new "ultimate X-Cameo"!
Yeah, baby, play your Kevin Bacon game NOW, man!
In truth, often X-Men: First Class can be almost as overloaded as this review is with recognizable faces and cute one-offs. There are times that things do come off as just a bit silly and on occasion some of the montages feel pushed together to move the plot forward. This is not even to mention the continuity problems brought up in both character and plot. However, this is never too much and the film manages to come off not just as a good Superhero film but a good film in its own right.
It's hard to say just what makes this movie a success. Certainly the acting is good when the leads include Fassbender, McAvoy, Bacon and recent Best Actress Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence. The special effects (which includes often seamless work by the great John Dykstra) is almost always wonderful. However just about the best thing that could have happened to this movie came in its director, Matthew Vaughn!
Vaughn seems to know just when a Superhero movie should be Fun and when it should be funny (not always the same thing, pilgrims). He knows when this should be stylish and serious and when this should be action packed and suspenseful. The end result is equal parts James Bond and Cold War crisis. The backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis is similarly balanced to play into this evolving mutant saga without ever trivializing the true history of the event. Vaughn takes the film and its story very seriously and adds the period style and visual influences to make this feel like a good X-Men film for 1963, but he never takes things SO seriously that we get bogged down and fail to have a good time at the movies. The series has had its ups and downs so far and while this isn't a perfect film, it's easy for me to say that Matthew Vaughn has given us the best X-Men film to date!
Yes, yes folks X-Men: First Class is good enough to be worth Four Stars out of Five! It's way better than a fresh tomato... or, at least, from back when people totally thought that tomatoes were poisonous... 'cause they did. Idiots! It's not as great as that "Dirtiest Town in the West" skit from Sesame Street, or that one where a bunch of Beetles got together to sing "Letter B" instead of, you know, "Let it Be" or that one Muppet with the 'fro singing "So good, so good, I got a U!", but it's pretty gosh darned good. Man, you know... R2 and 3PO were on Sesame Street, right? Why not the X-Men? Hell, they incorporated the X-Men into the Cuban Missile Crisis and maybe even the Bay of Pigs invasion... why not the creation of PBS, too? Brilliant. I'm going to go discuss this with Marvel! We'll mutate a MINT on this one! Huzzah!
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