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MOVIE REVIEW: X-Men: First Class

Posted on June 3, 2011

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Screenplay: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon

Release Date: June 3, 2011

Based on the comic "X-Men" by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

This latest X-Men movie is our first glimpse of a reboot to a franchise that failed to meet expectations in their third film. And if you have no clue what I'm getting at, I'm talking about Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand. While they did make a boat load of cash, they didn't quite win the favor of the critics. So, just like this movie, they went ahead and rebooted the series... except this movie isn't necessarily a reboot. X-Men: First Class is the prequel to the X-Men trilogy, which was something I did not initially hope for. Luckily, this prequel was actually pretty good. So good, in fact, that I could just disregard the last movies and call this a reboot.

The movie begins similarly to the first X-Men. We see a young Erik Lehnsherr watch his parents get taken away to Auschwitz. In a fit of complete rage, he begins to bend the metal gates that separate him and his loved ones. This gets the attention of a German scientist named Sebastian Shaw, a mutant who plans on training Erik to control his power, turning him into a weapon. After the movie fast forwards twenty years into the future, Erik begins his quest to kill Shaw. We are then introduced to Charles Xavier, another mutant who has ability of telepathy.

For the most part, this story practically revolves around these two characters: Erik, who becomes the series villain, Magneto, and Charles Xavier, the founder of the X-Men. Both of these characters add a really great dynamic in film's overall story. We have Erik, who was brought up to be a mutant weapon, used by Nazi's and driven in fear, and Charles, who was brought up in a rich family, going to school at Oxford and eventually becoming a professor in genetic study. It is when they meet, this dynamic between the two become evident. They are both proud mutants, fascinated with the abilities and the potential that their kind possess, and while they end up working together, they both realize at the end that their motives and goals aren't the same as they thought.

While Charles is made out to be the good guy, you don't really end up rooting for him. He's too much of a straight edge to like, always aiming to do what is morally right. Erik, on the other hand, is out for vengeance. We see him watch his mother die, and we witness his horrible past (all while Charles is free to run around his huge mansion). Because of this, we sympathize with Erik, leaning towards the side of the antihero. No matter how much he kills or commits an act of violence, you just can't help yourself but think, "go Erik! Kill those guys." That, and it just looks pretty cool whenever he does anything with his powers.

Which brings me to my next point: Michael Fassbender's Erik (or Magneto), was probably my favorite thing out of the whole movie. He was a man on a mission, placed between discipline and complete and utter rage. Whenever he went off to do his thing, I was completely rooting for the guy, and I'm going to say it had a lot to do with Fassbender's performance. There is this one moment in the film where he begins to move a satellite dish. As the camera begins to keep steady on his face, we see a man with an ambitious struggle to control his power, and I just found that pretty empowering. Then the moment were he lifts a submarine out of the water... he gave off such an aura determination, nearly grasping his revenge for the death of his mother. It was incredible. That scene was one of those rare moments where we see an actor's performance, not just accomodate a visual spectacle, but top it.

As for the rest of the characters in the movie, I can say they weren't completely developed. You have several of these individuals hating their mutation because of how it altered their appearance, and some who just feel they can't go out in public because they're afraid to hurt people. That's pretty much the gist of it all. Of course, none of these guys want to lose their special abilities, which bring us to the question: "is being a mutant a blessing or a curse?" This is the universal theme that the movies and the comics both have in common, and this film does a great job in applying it. So, while none of these characters were developed as much as I hoped, I didn't mind that as much. They served well during the last couple of fight scenes.

OH, and that reminds me. This movie had a pretty good amount of action. When I first saw the trailer, I was thinking that it already showed all the action we were going to see in the film. I was completely wrong. Surprisingly, there was a lot of action. Overall, the movie ended up being an intelligent, action-packed film that was both entertaining and fun to watch. I guess the only thing the movie didn't have going for it was humor. I mean, it had its moments, but it wasn't as funny as Thor.

Another thing I should mention was how the movie referenced the last movies. There are a bunch of easter eggs in First Class, and we even get to see several cameos from characters in past installments. Of course, most of it was for comedic effect, and not for story purposes. That's a good thing too, because the continuity amongst all the movies just doesn't add up. There is a plot point at the end of this film that involves Magneto and Professor X, and when you watch the opening scene from The Last Stand, neither scene would make any sense (after watching First Class, watch the opening scene to The Last Stand and you'll know what I'm talking about).

Walking into this film, I completely rejected the last movies. Prequel or not, I took this movie as a complete reboot, and it succeeds in that. My only problem with this film would probably be the writing. Some of the dialogue was cheesy and completely laughable, but I didn't mind it too much.

Initially, I was completely doubting this film. The last two X-Men movies didn't do as great as I hoped, and Fox seems to just disappoint with every Marvel movie they pump out. Even when they got Mathhew Vaughn on board to direct the film, I was still unsure. Yes, I loved Vaughn's Stardust, and Kick-Ass became one of my favorite comic book adaptations. But even then, I didn't give any hope to First Class. Luckily, Vaughn was able to impress me in every way with this new movie. It's not perfect, but it is so refreshing to finally see a good X-Men film. By far, X-Men: First Class is the best film in the series.

8.5 out of 10
Review by: Richard Fagel

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