McCoy on Movies: X-Men: First Class Movie Review PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tabari McCoy   
Monday, 06 June 2011 09:34

McCoy on Movies: X-Men: First Class Movie Review
Marvel's premiere mutants are back in theaters in an origin tale pre-dating their first four films. Read on to see whether or not it's a beauty or a beast.
"In 50 years, all these clothes we will have on will be back in fashion again ... Damn hipsters!" Cassidy - a.k.a. Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Erik "Magneto" Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), Raven Rakholme - a.k.a. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Dr. Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), Hank McCoy - a.k.a. "Beast" (Nicholas Hoult), Charles "Professor X" Xavier (James McAvoy) and Alex "Havok" Summers (Lucas Till) ponder a future where mutants can determine the fate of the world - and mankind's place in it - in a scene from X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Credit: Murray Close © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Lucas Till, Nicholas Hoult, January Jones, Oliver Platt, Álex González, Jason Flemyng, Caleb Landry Jones, Edi Gathegi, Zoë Kravitz, Glenn Morshower and some nice cameo work by a big star and some character actors.


WRITER: Ashley Miller (as Ashley Edward Miller), Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (screenplay); Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer (story); Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (characters)


DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn




THE PLOT: Set in the early 1960s at the height of the "Cold War" between Russia and the United States, X-Men: First Class goes back in time to reveal the origins of some of the comic book world's most storied (pun intended) heroes.


Much easier to watch than it is for me to relay in text, the story begins with young Erik Lehnsherr being abducted from his parents in a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. It is here where a German doctor (played by Kevin Bacon) tries to first bring Erik's metal-bending powers to light.


Meanwhile, over in West Chester, New York, young Charles Xavier is living a luxurious life where he can explore all of his telepathic mental powers. It is also here where he encounters the powers of his "adopted" sibling Raven, who is struggling to deal with her true sense of self and takes to frequently hiding from it. (If you are at all familiar with these characters, this already makes total sense to you; if not, just hold tight.)


Fast forward to the 1960s and Charles (James McVoy) is now a young adult graduating from a prestigious university in the UK and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence is still struggling with her identity issues. Erik (Michael Fassbender), however, is now on the hunt for the German doctor that essentially ruined his life. What Erik doesn't know, however, is that that German doctor is not who he originally thought he was ... For his true identity is Sebastian Shaw. And like Charles - a.k.a. the future Professor X , Erik (the future Magneto) and Raven - the blue skinned, shape-shifting femme fatale that will become known as Mystique, Sebastian is a mutant. And not only is he a powerful mutant, but he's also got henchmen in the form of the devilish Azarel (Jason Flemyng), the aptly named Riptide (Álex González) and his true "gem" (sorry - these puns write themselves!), the telepathic Emma Stone (January Jones).


Sebastian is so powerful, in fact, that he would probably be able to execute his plan to bring nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia easily to fruition if it weren't for one little problem: His dealings with Colonel Hendry (Glenn Morshower) and his crew's mutant powers get discovered by Dr. Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), a CIA operative assigned to follow the colonel. This prompts her to seek out a human mutation expert ... Which leads to her attending a presentation that Charles just so happens to be making on the subject ... And well, you can likely see where this is going.


So what happens when the CIA needs to recruit its own mutants to fight off a rogue mutant before the world at large knows mutants exist while at the same time facing off with Russia on the brink of nuclear war? You'll have to watch to find out!


THE TAKE: Now, when you come into a movie - especially a movie based on a comic book that is already an established film franchise - knowing what will eventually happen, it can be very daunting to create a film that is (a) intriguing (b) offers introspect on its characters, motivations and most importantly (c) keeps your attention from start to finish, especially when the film is over 2 hours in length. X-Men: First Class takes all of these challenges head on and succeeds via a fairly exceptional script, solid acting across the board from its leads and tight pacing mixed with good visuals that draw out emotion, adrenaline and intrigue throughout the film.


To be concise, First Class works because it does what a lot of films of its type fail to do: [1] It shows the causes for its respective characters' motivations so that long-standing questions are answered while at the same time [2] showcases how the relationships between the characters you have known for so long and so well came to be what they are. Now, there are plenty of movies that explain how superheroes come into being, but much like the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight films, First Class does so without pandering to your senses, respecting the characters and the audience in sharing the struggles they face and doing so that you are drawn in to their world.


I'm not going to spend much time speaking about the cast's performances in the film other than to say they are very good as a whole, with Fassbender and McAvoy really embracing and bringing out the qualities of their comic book counterparts. The film essentially doesn't work without the duo's exceptional performances and chemistry, which illustrate the conflicts that have long been the staples of the X-Men in both print and film: [1] Mutants unsure of how to handle their own abilities/identities; [2] Being tired of hiding in the shadows once they discover their abilities; [3] Whether or not humans and mutants can live in peace and [4] Handling being extraordinary people.


Despite its lengthy run time, there is rarely a wasted moment in First Class. Whereas Marvel's first 2011 spring release Thor goes a bit too comical for its own good at times, lacks any memorable action or self-discovery sequences and generally fails to capture your imagination as it has with many of its other films, First ClassX-Men: The Last Stand, for example. But those type of complaints notwithstanding, Vaughn does what he says he would have done wen he criticized Last Stand thankfully does not. Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn deserves much of the credit for bringing the best out of his actors, script and special effects department. Sure, some of the die-hard fanboys may have their qualms with certain aspects of the film – "Tempest" is called only by her real first name of Angel, not to be confused with the Warren Worthington III character Angel as featured in 2006's director Brett Ratner's work: Delivering a quality movie based on a comic book and not a comic book movie that only its dedicated fans can appreciate.


PARTING SHOT: A movie that does a better job than most prequels (and comic book movies in general) at providing a satisfying story to explain its stars' origins, X-Men: First Class is the latest Marvel Studios release worthy of summer blockbuster status.



Tabari McCoy -

Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. You can check out more of his work on his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy


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