Review: X-Men: First Class

After Last Stand and the Wolverine movie, I was reluctant to revisit the X-Men universe. X2 was the only really good film from the franchise, with X1 being hit and miss. Fortunately, First Class lives up to its name… not just as a sequel, but as a judge of quality.

The great thing about First Class is that it doesn’t feel like a prequel. It IS. The film starts with Magneto as a boy tugging at the gates as his parents are lead into a concentration camp. But the story stands alone just fine, as well.

Make no mistake. The title may imply a full fledged X-Men movie, but this is really the story of Magneto and Professor X. We finally get to see both Charles and Eric develop their ideologies and have them tested down to their core. The centerpiece to their struggle is Mystique.

The great thing about the story is that it’s told with enough care so that our knowledge of the ultimate ending only enhances it even more. This isn’t a film about surprises. It’s about inevitability. Charles and Eric are on different sides of a struggle, and both of them are right to some degree. It’s not good vs. evil. It’s really a struggle of world view. Who’s to say that Prof. X wouldn’t be in Magneto’s place if their upbringings were similar?

The X-Men aren’t actually assembled until the second half of the movie. Most of their screen time is limited. Beast and Banshee make the most impact.

Of particular note is the film’s nod to the earliest members of the X-Men. Not only do we get the yellow and black, but we get a human beast. We get Banshee with his glider wings. It’s not exactly the ’60s X-Men from the comics, but it captures the spirit.

The only disappointment I had was with Beast’s late movie design. I know he’s supposed to look young, but it just didn’t work for me. He looked more like a Thundercat than anything else.

Kevin Bacon’s turn as Sebastian Shaw is solid, but he didn’t quite have the ammo he needed to craft a great villain. His role as an intercontinental blackmailer felt forced. The idea is that he forced the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I think the truth of the event speaks volumes more about humanity that the movie’s version ever could. I know I would sleep sounder thinking a submarine full of bad guys was to blame rather than cultural insanity.

I guess the best thing I can say about this movie is that it doesn’t feel like it was designed to sell toys. Oh, I’m sure there was plenty of thought given to that, but everything unfolds as it should.

It’s cinematic proof that the X-Men can power a good movie without Wolverine. I like Wolverine, but he eclipsed much of the other X-Men movies. They felt like Wolverine and the X-Men instead of simply, X-Men.

There are a few cameos and nods to the other X-Men movies. They are pretty much perfect, so I won’t spoil them here. I’m still trying to decide if I like this film more than X2. It’s a tough call.

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