DVD Review: Thanks to a swinging ‘60s style and two fine actors fleshing out comic-book characters, X-Men: First Class pumps some much-needed life (and new mutant blood) into a promising franchise that was slipping away from us. The result is one of the better superhero movies of recent years.
I used to think the best way to reinvigorate the once-sagging James Bond franchise would be to take the films back to their roots and set them in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, when the Ian Fleming novels were written. (Or just get Daniel Craig to play 007. That works, too.) Turns out I was off by a franchise or two—instead it’s the X-Men who get a solid boost from a Cold War prequel.
X-Men: First Class starts (as did 2000′s X-Men) with Auschwitz and Nazis in 1944 and then follows the very different paths and experiences that shaped the philosophies of vengeful young Erik Lehnsherr (Inglourious Basterds and Jane Eyre’s Michael Fassbender) and privileged academic Charles Xavier (James McAvoy).
The two young men (and mutants) become friends during a brief post-war period when they thought their Malcolm X and MLK approaches to mutant rights and pride could coexist. That is, before they became Magneto and Professor X.
Of course, being a blockbuster superhero flick, we also have battling teams of heroes and villains–the good mutants align themselves with the CIA and the bad ones throw in with the Rooskies. They end up tussling smack dab in the middle of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which means X-Men: First Class gets have a stylish ball with swinging skirts, arrogant facial hair, and a villain’s super-sub straight out of a Bond movie.
Leading the baddies are Kevin Bacon and His Amazing Sideburns, and by his side is January Jones In Her Spectacular Underwear. (The always impressively dull Jones is completely out-acted by her own cleavage.) In the opposite corner, the newly recruited X-Teens are a walking special-effects display–an uneven mix of bland, beguiling, sexy, and silly mutant adolescents.
Still, the film’s scenes with Fassbender and McAvoy (playing early versions of the Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart roles) are easily its best bits. These are neither show-offy action hunks nor stuffy hambone thespians, but two naturalistic-but-intense actors who (like Robert Downey Jr) know how to evolve the usual melodramatic comic-book dialog into something with the right amount of wit and gravitas.
Fassbender, sporting the World’s Strongest Jaw, finds a sweet Where Eagles Dare Eastwood-Burton swagger, and McAvoy even pulls off Xavier’s “I-touch-my-temple” mind control mannerism with some dignity.
(It probably says more about my tastes these days, but I’d rather see an evening of Fassbender’s Erik and McAvoy’s Charles just playing chess and talking it out in a stage play than watch them have to hop through exploding orange hoops of summer-action fire.)
As directed by Kick-Ass’ Matthew Vaughn, X-Men: First Class does take half its overlong running time to find its groove, and some action bits (like Magneto vs. the Sub) work better than others. For all his visual verve, Vaughn never quite feels balanced amid the usual superhero sprawl of characters, subplots, and big-budget effects.
But Bryan Singer (who directed X1 and X2, the best of the bunch) is back on board as the film’s producer, and his steady, serious hand helps quite a bit. Like a tightrope act, X-Men: First Class has high-minded, daring ambitions. It may wobble here and there, but in the end it succeeds—and entertains—with great gusto.
X-Men: First Class is available on DVD and Blu-ray from redbox.
More from the cast of X-Men: First Class at redbox:
- James McAvoy in The Conspirator
- Michael Fassbender in Jane Eyre
- Jennifer Lawrence in The Beaver
- Rose Byrne in Insidious and Bridesmaids coming October 18 on DVD and Blu-ray