Overview: X-Men: First Class is a sleek superhero epic that proves there’s still life in a decade old franchise. 20th Century Fox; 2011; Rated PG-13; 132 Minutes.
First Class Filmmaking: The best superhero movies have deeper thematic elements within the wonder of watching larger than life characters. The two previous entries in the X-Men film franchise suffered from focusing on spectacle rather than exploring themes of persecution, diversity, and subculture. Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) remembers to keep these ideas present in every frame, but never loses the sense of fun in these characters.
A Hint of Bond: Bryan Singer’s X-Men films adapted important themes vital to the characters; but action was never his strong suit. Thankfully, Vaughn takes us on a globetrotting adventure reminiscent of a James Bond flick. The action scenes are competently filmed and leave you with a sense of astonishment. The film takes full advantage of its 1960’s setting throughout, even placing a truly riveting climax amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis. Without spoilers, the final confrontation involves flying submarines, a plethora of visually impressive superpowers, and nuclear missiles. Sean Connery’s Bond would be impressed.
Bros Before Homo Sapiens: The main reason you’ll want to revisit this X-Men film is to examine the dichotomy between Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier. We’re introduced to a young Lensherr in his pre-Magneto days, played by Michael Fassbender, as he scours the globe hunting Nazi’s. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to a young Xavier, portrayed by James McAvoy. McAvoy’s Xavier showcases playboy style bravado, merely hinting at the great man he will become. Together, Xavier and Lensherr play two sides of the same coin. Both men want equal rights for mutant kind. The manner in which they attempt to achieve this could not be more radically different. There is almost a Malcolm X/Martin Luther King Jr. quality to the two men.
First Class also comes with a diabolical villain – Sebastian Shaw, played by a devilishly hammy Kevin Bacon. Shaw is arguably the best villain in the X-Men franchise to date. While Shaw’s background is interesting enough (master manipulator, seemingly ageless) it’s his stance on mutant politics that affects our heroes. Shaw’s ideology lets the audience see a line Xavier would never cross, and hints at Lensherr’s future as Magneto.
Top of the Class: X-Men: First Class leads the X-Men franchise in a groovy new direction employing wonderful themes, fun action, and interesting character dynamics.