X-Men: First Class – 2011

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

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

Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stenz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

The eternal chess match has a starting point

Somewhere along the way, they decided to step it up a notch.  The last couple of X-Men films, while entertaining, lacked the gravitas that the first 2 had acquired.  It seemed to be a collection of one note wonders, running across the screen, blasting someone or something, then running off.  In the midst, piecemeal plot points and patchwork character development contributed to a general malaise over the franchise.  With First Class, we have a fresh new day.  First and foremost, the primary strength of the movie and the franchise is the friendship of Magneto (Fassbender) and Professor X (McAvoy).  The story starts with a resumption of a scene that we first saw in the original: the internment of Erik Lensherr and his family.  From here, we get our first glance of Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) as a delightfully evil Nazi.  His treatment of Lensherr and his mother creates a resonant effect on the rest of the story.  It is dark: darker than anything that has been seen anywhere in the series so far.  Move to Westchester, New York, and we see somewhat the opposite.  A perfectly comfortable existence for Charles Xavier interrupted one night by a discovery of a little girl in his kitchen.  This, too, will have an effect on the rest of the story.

As the story moves almost 18 years ahead, we find Xavier using his understanding of other’s minds as a pickup move, and

First class evil Nazi, Sebastian Shaw

Lensherr mercilessly seeking out Shaw for purposes of revenge.  Their paths eventually cross a female James Bond, Moira McTaggart, who has discovered that Shaw is in the midst of a Machiavellian plot to start a nuclear war.  The plot would seem a bit goofy, were it not for the crispness of the action, the absolute mercilessness of the bad guys and the magical developing relationship between Lensherr and Xavier.

The history of that silly helmet is actually pretty cool

These strengths are augmented by the writing team of Miller & Stenz.  As the writers of intense and unsentimental shows as  Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Fringe, their effect is shown throughout First Class.  Flawed characters suffer real loss, and make mistakes, often at the same time they succeed.  It is a difficult thing to carry out real consequence in a superhero film, but this one has it in spades.

Vaughn’s direction is economical and downplays the special effects effectively.  He allows McAvoy and Fassbender plenty of

Getting a view of their outfits for the first time...not bad by 60's standards.

room to color outside the lines, and does much to take advantage of the natural gifts of Bacon, Jones and Lawrence.  Nicholas Hoult’s Beast has many good moments of tension with Lawerence’s Mystique.  The cameos are inspired and work well within the context of the series.  There are several moments and items introduced very casually here that become prevalent later in the series.  The only complaints I have with the makers is that they kind of took the easy way out with Azazel and Riptide.  One the father of Nightcrawler, the other a male version of Storm seem kind of repetitive compared to the first 3 films.  It would have been nice to see a couple other special effects employed in an X-Men movie.

If this is the start of a new series, they started off well.   One hopes the tone continues to be of a serious nature.  There is a fertile ground of inter-special tensions that could be mined here, if only they take the opportunity.  The key will be the strong development of characters, and there are no stronger characters than Magneto and Professor X.



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