I like comic book movies. I don’t read comics, but as far as movies go, there is always something entertaining about one character, or a group, going through or adapting to an unimaginable change.
X Men: First Class is an excellent comic book movie, for those expecting nothing more. Great action sequences, interesting character chemistry and hints of humor make the Professor X’s clan (or shall I say Magneto?) a very enjoyable 130 minutes.
Let me not give you the wrong impression, this is Magneto’s movie… The rest of the characters live in the world, but in a way, they seem to revolve around him, whether right from the beginning or towards the end.
As we start the movie, it feels like we are watching two movies intersecting one another, and it works beautifully thanks to director Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, Layer Cake), who like Bryan Singer (the original director for this and now producer), has developed a very keen sense of showing parallel stories that later convene.
It’s Poland, 1944, and the scene is practically the same as the one we saw in the first X-Men movie. Kid gets separated from his parents, bends fence, gets knocked down… but, what happens next? What follows clearly states what will happen during the rest of the movie, along with witnessing how Erik/Magneto’s evil psyche is born right in front of us because of Kevin Bacon’s character Sebastian Shaw.
Kevin Bacon… he really does his best to be an evil villain, but I liked him as a villain more in the movie “Super”.
On the other side of the world, Westchester, New York, we simply see how Charles Xavier, as a young man, discovers an intruder that looks like his mom, but it’s really Raven/Mystique. And… yes, that is his introduction and Raven’s as well. How Raven ended up in his kitchen, in the middle of the night, in that same house that is in the middle of a forest, is beyond me, but let’s move along.
James McAvoy is charming as Charles Xavier. In the following scenes about 20 years later, his innocence, which will eventually be a character trait that will separate him from Magneto, is clearly established as he tries to chat up a girl at a bar in Oxford using his powers. While this happens, Erik, with a very dark, but bland portrayal by Michael Fassbender, is trying to hunt down the person that created and destroyed him, Sebastian Shaw. This takes him to France and Argentina, where he finds out more information about his nemesis.
As if this were not enough, Rose Byrne (who seems to be in every movie lately), is a “sexy” CIA agent tracking down Sebastian Shaw, and while she gets close, she witnesses Shaw and his crew of mutants displaying her powers. Where did Sebastian find this crew of mutants? Again, we don’t know. He seems to have a pretty close relationship with them, but let’s move along.
After seeing this, Byrne’s character, Agent MacTaggert, literally says she needs an “expert in genetic mutation”, and who you gonna call? Charles Xavier. She follows Charles to the same bar, and he uses the same line he used previously to pick up MacTaggert. It doesn’t work, she goes straight to business. Charles willingly joins her team, along with Raven. In the CIA’s operation to catch Sebastian Shaw with the mutants help, they meet Erik as he tries to stop Shaw as well, but fails and Charles saves his life.
The movie takes a comedic turn after their meeting as they formalize the mutant team and Oliver Platt, in a very minor character, helps them settle into a research base. The recruiting sequence is a highlight and Wolverine makes an expected cameo with what is probably the best line of the movie, which I can’t say here (he was being rude).
The last unexpected turn of the movie is Sebastian Shaw’s visit to the research base where the young mutants are, which feels like a bit too long of an action sequence. I found interesting that he does not want to kidnap them, or tries to hurt them, he simply gives them a choice to choose sides, much like Magneto’s character. Some go, some stay, but since it is Magneto’s movie, these choices at the end seem irrelevant.
From here on forward, it is a simple evil vs. good training and fight sequences while establishing the crucial role Charles Xavier has in developing and caring for his “students”.
The relationship between Erik and Charles takes a hit at the very end, and while Charles tries to maintain the peace, it is too late for Erik to go back and not hate the humans (although his nemesis, Shaw, was a mutant too… but let’s move along), so they split sides.
Matthew Vaughn is a good storyteller, and while the second half of the movie lacks the same interest than the beginning, he knows how to handle it. The movie is consistent, and if I were a comic book fan, I am pretty sure I would have liked it even more. Two things before I leave you: look out for a Rebecca Romjin cameo, it’s quick, but amusing; and there is no additional scene after the credits roll, so you get to leave to the bathroom early. I only tell you because I wish I had known…