- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by David Medsker
oin us for a trip back in time to the early 2000s, when superhero movies boiled down to a battle between the “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” franchises. (There were others, of course, but the less talk about “Daredevil” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” the better.) Both started off with flawed but entertaining debuts, followed by an exceptional sequel, and a third installment that could kindly be described as less than satisfying. Curiously, both franchises are receiving a reboot and, true to the original release dates, Fox is hitting the theaters first. “X-Men: First Class” is a ‘60s-era origin story of the world’s first mutants, and for the first two acts, it works rather well. When the characters choose their inevitable fates in Act III, it feels like "X-Men: The Last Stand” all over again. This is not a good thing.
The movie begins in the 1940s, where we see the decidedly different upbringings of privileged telepath Charles Xavier and prison camp survivor Erik Lensherr, the latter of whom is subjected to cruel experiments by Dr. Klaus Schmidt (Kevin Bacon) in the interest of unleashing his abilities. Cut to the early ‘60s, where Charles (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Charles’ shape-shifting adopted sister, are recruited by Special Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to investigate the criminal activities of Sebastian Shaw, a.k.a. Klaus Schmidt. Charles uses the government’s technology to seek out other mutants, though Erik, whom Charles saved during an attempt on Shaw’s life, does not share Charles’ sentiments about human/mutant relations.
You can see a bit of a struggle in terms of directorial voice. The film’s opening scene is, if not the actual footage, a frighteningly accurate re-enactment of the opening scene from “X-Men,” and it takes a while before director Matthew Vaughn is able to make this movie his own. Eventually, we see some signs of his personality, particularly the back-of-the-throat shot, and in the meantime, the script is brisk and quite efficient at setting up the alliances that would form in time.
The movie’s biggest problem, though, is the third-tier nature of its mutants. The fairy princess who shoots spitballs of fire and the guy who can use his voice as a propulsion device and sonar are not quite as interesting as Storm and Wolverine (though the fairy princess, played by Lenny Kravitz’s daughter Zoë, is quite lovely), and that point is even more apparent when they’re engaged in an airborne fight. Shaw’s most formidable henchman is a malicious version of Alan Cummings’ Nightcrawler from “X2: X-Men United,” which gives the movie a been-there-done-that feel. Worse, the dialogue loses its personality, and the discussions about individuality versus conformity become leaden. McAvoy gives it his best though, and Lawrence does a good job at capturing Raven’s desire to be accepted as she is. Bacon, meanwhile, makes for a surprisingly fun villain as Shaw. Props to his dialect and foreign language coach as well.
“X-Men: First Class” is a step up from “X-Men: The Last Stand,” though that’s not saying much. It’s a movie more focused on the long-term financial health of the franchise than the short-term benefit of simply making a good movie. You would think that they would have learned not to make that mistake a second time.