Starring James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
X-Men: First Class is a fun, mindless little comic book story, despite its limitations. Of course, when it comes to movies like these, you can’t beat a good origin story – and anyone with a working knowledge of the X-Men will find this story, and the birth of some of its central characters, interesting.
Here, we go back to Nazi Germany, where a young concentration camp prisoner named Erik is discovered for his supernatural ability to psychically manipulate metal. Of course, those Nazis being the sick puppies they are (they tried to steal the Ark of the Covenant, for Christ’s sake!), they decide the best way to foster this “gift” is through pain and torture, starting with the murder of Erik’s mother by the evil Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon).
Flash forward to 1962, where Charles Xavier has become a professor at Oxford, specializing in the study of mutants. His area of expertise attracts the CIA, who enlist his help in studying and dealing with the very, very evil Sebastian Shaw (who was once – you guessed it – the evil Dr. Schmidt). Worlds collide when Xavier crosses paths with the aforementioned Erik (Michael Fassbender), now all grown up and hell bent on seeking revenge on his former Nazi captor. Erik agrees to join forces with Xavier and they begin to recruit more mutants for the cause (the montage scene where they find and pitch the mutants disappointingly falls flat – mostly, I think, because they find just about the lamest mutants possible).
It doesn’t exactly “kick ass,” but it ain’t half bad.
On the plus side, director Matthew Vaughn keeps the pace moving and adds a lot of light-hearted moments, much like he did in his previous film, Kick-Ass. Another huge plus is Michael Fassbender, so good in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Here, he delivers a performance seldom seen in comic book movies. You can actually feel him struggling with his light and dark sides throughout the film – so even though you know he’s destined to transform into the bad guy by the end, you still kinda root for him to reconsider.
In fact, the movie’s cast is fairly strong throughout, including James McAvoy’s solid turn as Professor X and Kevin Bacon as the uber-bad guy (note: I liked Bacon’s performance, but hated his character. A flaw of the comic book system, I always hate the near-unstoppable bad guy with powers greater than anyone else’s. Bacon does the best he can with it, which is admirable… but ultimately, you wish he was more of a brilliant mind than a… well, you can watch for yourself to find out).
Unfortunately, the movie’s plot sputters and groans almost the entire way – whether it’s the mutants being responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis to the parallel to the civil rights movement. And of course, the primary mission of the bad guys is right out of the James Bond Villain Handbook (destroy the world, of course!). I think the mutants forget that in wiping out those pesky humans, the resulting melted goop of a planet left over wouldn’t be the coolest place to set up the New World.
But all that hardly matters. This is a comic book movie, after all… and not a bad one at that. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll most likely exit smiling. If all things inked don’t appeal to you, this movie won’t exactly convert you. It’s as simple as that.
Mike’s verdict: B-
[Rated PG-13 for “brief strong language, some sexuality, and a violent image.”]