movie review: X-Men: First Class

It’s risky to reinvent an established series with a new cast and a different setting than fans are accustomed to…but the folks at Marvel have gambled and won. Despite its flaws, X-Men: First Class is an effective reboot of the once-solid series that debuted eleven years ago.

Michael Fassbender as Erick Lehnsherr, aka Magneto in X-Men: First Class.

The company’s best decision was casting two solid actors in the crucial leading roles, young men who can fill the shoes eventually worn by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. James McAvoy is the Oxford professor (and mutant) who will eventually be known as Professor X, and Michael Fassbender plays the childhood victim of Nazi torture who is destined to become Magneto. The conviction of their performances, and the growing nature of their relationship, pulls us back on track more than once as we—

—follow this movie’s long and winding road.

That’s because the bloated screenplay, credited to six writers altogether, tries to cover too much ground and introduce a daunting number of new characters to the X-Men universe. Some of them, like Raven (the future Mystique), played by smart, appealing Jennifer Lawrence, are well-drawn, as is her budding love interest, a super-smart scientist (and mutant) played by the likable Nicholas Hoult.

James McAvoy is the powerful telepath Charles Xavier.

Others among the young people with “special skills” who are recruited by McAvoy and Fassbender don’t get enough screen time for us to connect with them on an emotional level.

As a former Nazi turned world-class evildoer, Kevin Bacon goes through the motions, but seems to be holding himself in check, not wanting to snarl or overact. Bacon is a versatile actor, but I can’t help thinking that a more naturally colorful or flamboyant performer would have made the character more fun to watch. January Jones is appropriately sexy as his mutating accomplice.

X-Men: First Class is nothing if not ambitious, attempting to weave its fantastic, comic-book characters into the realm of real life, opening in Poland during World War Two and winding up in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I’m not entirely comfortable with the melding of these two worlds. Director Matthew Vaughn gets the most out of the material he has to work with, but there is something genuinely odd about the integration of historical crises and the fanciful nature of our mutant heroes—and a larger-than-life villain.

My taste runs towards a “less is more” philosophy, which obviously isn’t in line with the way Marvel makes movies. X-Men: First Class weighs in at two hours and twelve minutes, and I can’t help but feel it would have been better had the script been pruned and more tightly focused. But I don’t think fans are going to object, because the movie’s strengths—unusual characters, eye-opening visual effects, and commanding lead actors—ultimately outweigh its faults.


  1. Dan says:

    Excellent movie! I agree some of the characters were not played richly or elaborately enough, but there are always going to be “extras.” This film was first and foremost about Charles and Erik starting the X-Men and trying to get mutants out of hiding. The conflicting attitudes about humanity’s reception to mutant-kind between the two of them that, ultimately, splits them apart, is very integral to the whole foundation of the X-Men and Magneto.

    I think Kevin Bacon did a fine performance. Perhaps a little more energy could have been beneficial, but he was more than satisfactory in my opinion.

    Regarding integrating real-world crises into the story: this is a time-honored comic book tradition! Look at comic book stories throughout the ages, both Marvel and DC, and you’ll find the stories often intertwined with real historical events. Specifically events that shaped our world’s continuity.

    Aside from a little over-indulgence, this movie delivers what’s at the heart of the X-Men universe, very true to comic book form, with profoundly dramatic performances by the lead roles. I can’t think of much that would have made me more satisfied. Perhaps involving Iceman and Cyclops and Jean Gray, but I think it’s obvious they really just wanted to avoid “more of the same,” and for a movie reboot, that’s a wise decision.

    I wholeheartedly recommend this movie for comic book fans and non-fans alike. Go into it with no expectations based on previous films, and you’ll be tremendously satisfied.

  2. Jemma says:

    Firstly who ever wrote this never bothered checking the last 3 films!!!!
    In the ‘last stand’ Charles and Eric go visit Jane as a little girl, Charles is walking around in 1980’s but in ‘First class’ Hes been shot and in a wheel chair in the 60’s!! ummmmm Hello.
    apart from this really annoying blunder it was watchable, i do think they should have used more xmen that we knew and with more intresting powers.
    Well thats my moan done.

  3. Sheldon says:

    As a fan of the comics, I have to point out that the weaving of the X-men into real life events is not a unique innovation to the film, but occurs in the comic quite frequently. And given that this film is an adaptation, it’s only appropriate that details such as Magneto’s tragic youth be included, as they are integral to his characterization. I’m not sure about the Cuban Missile Crisis specifically, but given that super-powered beings do exist in Marvel’s fictional universe, it would make them seem rather irrelevant to not have them involved in such major situations. Personally, I don’t feel that having Marvel’s fictional characters live in a world with events similar to our own is a bad thing; rather it grounds them in a reality that we can identify with, and provides a real world context for their actions and motivations. Having them involved in Marvel’s equivalent of our greatest crises and tragedies just follows logically given that setup.

  4. james west (blimjo) says:

    You are my favorite film scholar and reviewer now (i’m 48) . Superb write ups and reviews . Thanks for being your brilliant self….Sincerely…..James (Blimjo) .

  5. Jill Kennedy says:

    Great review – can’t wait to see it this weekend. Here’s another strong review from the ‘Finnish Pauline Kael’ – Kimmo Mustonenen. His English has improved since his confusing review of The Hangover 2 – but not much.

  6. Jason says:

    I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this film but I do agree that there’s an oddity at using real-world crisis’ in a very fictional (and fanciful) superhero movie. I guess it’s a reflection of our more literal-minded society that we can’t use our imaginations anymore to recognize parallels and symbolism in works of fiction. We have to have it thrown in our faces. I mean the ‘X-Men’ is a thinly veiled creation used to explore real themes of prejudice and paranoia. Why can’t it’s world follow in step?

    Still, I’m sure X-Men: First Class is a great film and I’m really looking forward to seeing it!

  7. DapperDan says:

    I can garuntee that the above commenter “Daniel” hasn’t seen the movie, and is riding the popular nerd hardline that Fox is an evil corporate entity incapable of making a fine film. He also exhibits their pathological hatred of the Twilight films, not based on their dubious merits, but rather on their appeal to young ladies (a group they fear the way ancient sailors feared the edge of the world).
    It’s really sad.

  8. Jason says:

    Excellent review! Glad there’s a superhero movie in theaters that’s worth seeing!

  9. Daniel says:

    OH MY GOD…First of all this movie was made by FOX NOT MARVEL!!!! If it had been made by Marvel Studios you’d know it because it would beed good! This was by far the worst X-Men movie ever! Seriously if there was an Oscar category for worst movie of the year X-Men: First Class would win it.  Maybe if enough people skip this movie Fox will finally lose the rights to the X-Men Movie Franchise, and Marvel Studios will show the world what a real X-Men movie is. I would rather go see a Twilight movie than X-Men: First Class, and that says it all. So please, I’m begging you, save your money for a good movie, like Captain America: The First Avenger, and skip X-Men first class.

  10. Melanie says:

    Went and saw it at the midnight showing last night and absolutely loved it! Hugh Jackman’s cameo was perfection, and McAvoy and Fassbender had fantastic chemistry as Charles and Erik. It was a marked improvement from the disasters of X# and Wolverine

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