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X-Men:  First Class - the review
My first exposure to Marvel's X-Men came here.



My grandmother and aunt gave me that book sometime in the late 70s. It reprinted Uncanny X-Men #1. That book told the tale of Jean Grey's arrival at the X-Mansion and her introduction to the true “first class.”

A few years, and a huge family move, later, I began my X-fandom in earnest with this:



That's right, I became an X-Fan with the issue AFTER the Dark Phoenix Saga. Timing is everything.

From that point I read the X-books religiously, until their increasingly convoluted and expensive crossovers drove me away.

My dismay with the comic franchise wasn't enough to damper my excitement when they began production of the X-Men movies. The chance to see the characters I had followed for over a decade come to life on the screen was to enticing.

Things started out well enough. The first X-Men movie was solid. X2, the last movie I saw before I became a father, is still my favorite of the trilogy. The less said about X3 the better.

I went to see Wolverine, mainly so I could review it here. I should have stayed home.

So, when they announced a reboot of the franchise with a prequel I was, to say the least skeptical. With four superhero movies hitting theaters in the summer of 2011, First Class was the one I was least interested in seeing.

Turns out my skepticism was misplaced.

This movie was just what the franchise needed.

The producers play free and loose with continuity. That's a big deal for my Geek brethren I know. Still, in this instance it works. Of the original “first class” only Beast makes an appearance. That's okay. The producers made some bold choices, mixing in characters from the X-Men's 40+ years of continuity to create a brand new starting point for the movies. Familiar characters like Havok and Banshee take their place alongside lesser known characters like Riptide and Azazel.

If you can let go of what you “know” about the X-Men and take this movie for what it is, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Set at the height of the Cold War 60s, First Class has a funky James Bond vibe which serves it well. The times and their tension serve to accentuate the MLK/Malcolm X dichotomy of the Xavier/Magneto relationship. The movie also answers the question of what the US and Russia would have done had they had a common enemy to point all those nukes at instead of each other.

This seems like a good time to discuss Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw. As the leader of the shadowy Hellfire Club, Shaw is the man moving the global chess pieces behind the Cold War. Its not often that Bacon plays a villain. He really sinks his teeth into Shaw. By the time he has his ultimate confrontation with Magneto, you are really rooting for him to get his comeuppance. Bacon lost himself in the role and that's hard to do when you're as famous as he is.

Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique brings a surprising soul to the movie. Her character, with the mutant ability to alter her appearance from her natural blue-skinned self to the more acceptable blond Lawrence anchors the conflict both within and outside the mutant community. Lawrence brought a surprising amount of depth to a character who, for my money, has always been fairly one-dimensional. In doing so, she takes another step toward superstardom.

James McAvoy is solid as Charles Xavier. To see Professor X using his mutation thesis to pick up chicks at Oxford is a guilty pleasure.

My favorite performance was that of Michael Fassbender as Magneto. In a X-movie without Wolverine, Magneto fills that loose cannon role. Initially out to right the wrongs done to him in a German concentration camp, Magneto puts aside his mission of vengeance to help mutantkind. When he finally embraces his destiny, for better or worse, you see a man at peace with a horrifying decision. Fassbender owns the screen when he is on it.

All told, X-Men: First Class was a tremendous surprise. By challenging expectations, the filmmakers have created a movie that ties nicely into the previous films, but most importantly, stands on its own.

Highly recommended.
Posted in: Movies
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