X-Men: First Class (2011) Movie Review

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Being a mutant can be pretty awesome. Just ask happy-go-lucky playboy/genius Charles Xavier. He uses his mind-reading powers to pick up chicks in bars, cause, hell, what else would you use mind-reading powers for? Exactly. It’s twice as awesome when you land a power that doesn’t involve you turning into a furry blue hairball or a scaley, blue fish-looking lady. In those cases, maybe being able to hop around like a big ape ain’t so hot. Or hey, how about the ability to control metal? Chicks dig a guy who can toss around cars, or so I’ve been told. Of course, there will be people jealous of your power. Heck, they might even fear you. (Guys that can shoot plasma bolts out of their chests can be a tad disconcerting to sit around during dinner.) What then? Well if you’re a Holocaust survivor like Erik Lehnsherr, you crush them; but if you’re more like Charles Xavier, who has grown up in the lap of luxury (albeit with wayward parents), you try to change their minds. Thus, the dilemma. And the conflict. The dilem-flict, if you will.

Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class” explores the dilem-flict through the eyes of its two main leads — well-to-do telepath Charles Xavier, who would later be known as Professor X (James McAvoy), and master of magnetism Erik Lehnsherr, who would eventually adopt the more awesome-sounding moniker Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Vaughn’s “First Class”, written with his familiar partner-in-crime Jane Goldman (with assist from producer Bryan Singer, who at one point was also supposed to direct), charts the early days of Charles and Erik during the ’60s as they are forced by circumstances to form the very first X-Men. It’s a rocky start for the duo, and the growing threat of an all-out nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union hangs in the background. Meanwhile, a nefarious group of evildoers calling themselves the Hellfire Club and led by the charming Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), an old foe of Erik’s, plots to ignite a civil war between humankind and mutants.

With over two hours to play with, “First Class” certainly allows Vaughn the luxury to slowly introduce and then bring his two main protagonists together. When we first meet them, Erik is looking for former Nazi guards to exact a little good old fashion revenge on. Charles, meanwhile, befriends a fridge raiding Raven, and the two become fast-friends and even sister-brother, though Raven seems to want more. Erik’s revenge-minded fantasies and Raven’s “Oh to be like everyone” are major themes in the film, and makes sense given their eventual growth into the Magneto and Mystique that we’ll come to know in later “X-Men” movies. The mundane normals are introduced via the intrepid Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), here changed into a globe-trotting CIA agent rather than as the scientist from the comics. You don’t really get much whiff of a romance between Moira and Charles, who she recruits to help battle Sebastian Shaw and his killer mutant army.

As Origin Stories go, “First Class” serves its purpose to re-acquaint us with Professor X and Magneto, before expanding on their initial meeting (each men going after Shaw’s group for their own purposes), evolving friendship, and eventual parting of ways. The catalyst is Shaw, played with killer charm by Kevin Bacon, whose powers make him pretty much invincible to most forms of direct attack. His soldiers are less charming, but effective as fodder for great action scenes. January Jones looks good in a variety of tight wardrobe as Emma Frost, a telepath who can also, when the need calls for, turn her skin into diamonds. Jason Flemyng as Azazel, a red devil-like teleporter who may or may not be Russian; honestly, he has so few lines that I can’t tell you for sure. And finally, Riptide (Álex González), who has even less lines than Azazel. We know they’re evil and they want to start a war between us lowly mortals so they can “live like kings and queens”, and that’s pretty much it. Hey, they’re comic book bad guys, what more do you want?

With a Hollywood budget at his disposal, Vaughn provides plenty of fireworks in terms of action. Most of it is very slick, with Azazel’s teleporting powers in particular put to great effect. Comic book fans will certainly not feel cheated at the big-screen visuals of Emma Frost going all “diamond” (or, ahem, strutting around in those tight outfits) and Magneto throwing things (and people) around make for some cool action sequences. And while there are no cameos by Stan “The Man” Lee, Vaughn and his writers do stuff the film with plenty of other notable uncredited appearances, but of course I won’t spoil any of them for you. One in particular, in a bar, should bring down the house, though it probably goes on for about a couple of seconds longer than it should. And although it takes some liberties with its familiar characters, “First Class” is surprisingly more congruent with the rest of the “X-Men” movies that have come before it, with the notable exception being Beast’s relationship with Mystique, which still makes no sense in context with the other movies. On the other hand, you do see the origins of everything from Cerebro to the X-Jet to Magneto’s famed helmet.

There is a lot to like about “X-Men: First Class”, from the excellent acting by leads McAvoy and Fassbender to the swanky ’60s soundtrack that also includes some inspired split-screen action, especially during the training montages. The mutant high kids that are recruited to battle the Hellfire Club also get plenty of screentime, or as much as can be afforded to supporting characters, anyway. Curiously, all of the young mutants appear to be Americans, including Sean Cassidy aka Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), who has always been Irish in the comics. The kids do alright, although Jennifer Lawrence in her first big role is somewhat grating with her constant sour puss face and bitching. Making a much better impression is Nicholas Hoult, who hits it out of the park as the shy, awkward, but absolutely brilliant Hank McCoy aka Beast. Some familiar X-Men kids that don’t make it into the movie are seen in cameos, so pay attention to Professor X’s first use of Cerebro about halfway into the movie.

Perhaps appropo to the period in which the film is set, “X-Men: First Class” is actually quite brighter and more optimistic than I had expected, especially compared to the tone of Bryan Singer’s first “X-Men” movie. As a result, those looking for moody superheroes will be quite disappointed. Those seeking a good comic book movie that hits all the right notes and makes full use of its budget, though, will love it. Sequels are of course inevitable, unless the film stalls spectacularly at the box office, which given the good to spectacular buzz around the film, seems unlikely. “X-Men: First Class” set in the ’70s (“X-Men: Second Class”, perhaps?), will surely take on a darker, more sinister mood. I can’t wait.

Matthew Vaughn (director) / Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (screenplay)(screenplay)
CAST: James McAvoy … Charles Xavier
Michael Fassbender … Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Kevin Bacon … Sebastian Shaw
Rose Byrne … Moira MacTaggert
Jennifer Lawrence … Raven / Mystique
Oliver Platt … Man In Black Suit
Álex González … Janos Quested / Riptide
Jason Flemyng … Azazel
Zoë Kravitz … Angel Salvadore
January Jones … Emma Frost
Nicholas Hoult … Hank McCoy / Beast
Caleb Landry Jones … Sean Cassidy / Banshee
Edi Gathegi … Armando Muñoz / Darwin
Lucas Till … Alex Summers / Havok


Buy X-Men: First Class on DVD

Author: Nix

Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.
  • Juggernaut

    I still need to see this movie. I really hope that there is a few sequels to bridge the gap between this film and 2000′s X-Men. There are still a lot of cool characters from the brotherhood and from the X-men that could be used to fill out both sides. Another villain is key too. While the Sentinels are more than likely not an option. Sinister and The Marauders, Apocalypse and his Horsemen, Proteus, The Shadow King, The Upstarts, The Reavers. The list goes on and on.

  • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool

    I do believe that this Banshee is Irish american as I could hear a slight accent. Glad iti turned out better than we all thought.

    • Juggernaut

      From all of the reviews and even wikipedia it seems as though both Banshee and Moira MacTaggert were Americanized for the film.

      • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool

        He still has a slight accent. LoL. Better than not having one at all.

        Sent on the go.

    • Juggernaut

      From all of the reviews and even wikipedia it seems as though both Banshee and Moira MacTaggert were Americanized for the film.

  • Lexavi80

    I don´t care about accents. The movie KICKED ASSES!!!!!!!!!.

    Avoid any Tv clip or review with spoilers. There´s good stuff here that I had no idea it was there.

    Another Marvel hit!!!!

  • Lexavi80

    I don´t care about accents. The movie KICKED ASSES!!!!!!!!!.

    Avoid any Tv clip or review with spoilers. There´s good stuff here that I had no idea it was there.

    Another Marvel hit!!!!

    • Hailiehatin1

      You’re killing me! I more than likely won’t be able to see this for another week :(
      By then all of the easter eggs and cameos will be spoiled. GGGGRRRR!

  • Lexavi80

    I don´t care about accents. The movie KICKED ASSES!!!!!!!!!.

    Avoid any Tv clip or review with spoilers. There´s good stuff here that I had no idea it was there.

    Another Marvel hit!!!!

  • Ironfist fan# rogernator5000

    OMFG so good, this movie was the best X-men movie ever I loved it so much *SPOILER FOR JUGGERNAUGHT*

    The wolverine scene was the funniest most epic thing in the world
    “Hello I’m Charles Xavier” “And I’m Eric Lensherr” “Go fuck yourself!” lol

    • Juggernaut

      Thanks for that spoiler alert! I did see the movie yesterday afternoon. AMAZING!!! Not only the best X-Men film in my opinion one of the best comic book movies of all time. I had really, really low expectations going in. That may have had something to do with my level of enthusiasm. However, this movie had it all. Avtion. Intrigue. A great cast and a soiid plot. There were a few issues that I had but I chalked them up this film being what one person referred to as a pre-boot. Most of it fit into the cannon of the previous three films but there were some minor continuity problems and certain liberties taken with the characters and plot points that I could have done without. Overall it was a really cool movie. Magneto and Charles were the focal points of the film and both McAvoy and Fassbender were superb. 7/10 for me.

  • Anonymous

    Easily my second favorite of the 4 (or 5 if you count “Wolverine”) in the series and maybe even a tie for pole position at #1. Sebastian Shaw as a Bond-style villain (with matching playset toys) was great along with January Jones’ palette-swapped Emma Peel. Just wish she’d been given an action scene or two to show off her diamond powers. And while we’re fully made aware of the 60′s setting, the movie didn’t shove the period down the audiences throat by loading the soundtrack with Top 40 hits or sitting characters down in front of the TV to watch “The Twilight Zone” or “Gunsmoke”. Except for one glaring example, I thought we got a decent display of the kids and henchmen using their powers and the scenes for Banshee and Azazel were probably my favorites. I think we all know by now that McAvoy and Fassbender kicked ass, but for two very different reasons. Fassbender plays Magneto exactly as I had expected based on Ian McKellen’s version and McAvoy actually gives movie-Prof. X a personality. And I couldn’t help notice that the ending pretty much retcons “X3″ and “Wolverine” out of existence.

  • Anonymous

    Easily my second favorite of the 4 (or 5 if you count “Wolverine”) in the series and maybe even a tie for pole position at #1. Sebastian Shaw as a Bond-style villain (with matching playset toys) was great along with January Jones’ palette-swapped Emma Peel. Just wish she’d been given an action scene or two to show off her diamond powers. And while we’re fully made aware of the 60′s setting, the movie didn’t shove the period down the audiences throat by loading the soundtrack with Top 40 hits or sitting characters down in front of the TV to watch “The Twilight Zone” or “Gunsmoke”. Except for one glaring example, I thought we got a decent display of the kids and henchmen using their powers and the scenes for Banshee and Azazel were probably my favorites. I think we all know by now that McAvoy and Fassbender kicked ass, but for two very different reasons. Fassbender plays Magneto exactly as I had expected based on Ian McKellen’s version and McAvoy actually gives movie-Prof. X a personality. And I couldn’t help notice that the ending pretty much retcons “X3″ and “Wolverine” out of existence.

  • Lexavi80

    I think exactly the same.

    Seems to be X-Men 3 and Wolverine were just a bad dream according what I just saw.

    I can live with that.

  • Jhongardz

    x-men 1st class to me seems to be best x-men movie so far.. good story and nice effect!! looking forward to the next xmen movie.