X-Men: First Class (2011) Review

Rating: 4 Stars

The following review contains spoilers.

Overview:

Professor Charles Xavier gathers a team of young mutants, training them to defend humanity from a team of evil mutants who want to wipe out normal humans and make mutants the dominant species on the planet. At Xavier’s side is his best friend, Magneto. Twist!

Best Parts:

Fassbender and McAvoy are fantastic, and all the more impressive considering they are playing the same characters played by arguably the only good actors in the previous X-Men films and still completely make those parts their own. Fassbender’s early scenes, first between him and the banker, and then in the bar with the “pig farmer” and “tailor”, are the tensest in the film. McAvoy deftly walks a line with his Xavier, playing him as well-intentioned—even noble—but so blithely unaware of his own privilege and how his life has been so different from his fellow mutants that you totally get why his closest friends turn against him in the end.

There are so many striking visuals in this movie. The first time the camera changes around in Schmidt’s office and you see the big room full of terrifying “medical” equipment. Azazel dropping CIA agents out of the sky. Magneto gleefully leaning into a gun held by Xavier (and, nice touch, if Xavier had had the stomach to practice shooting at Magneto maybe he wouldn’t have been paralyzed by a deflected bullet at the end). Magneto pulling a submarine out of the ocean and basically throwing it at the shore. I was incredibly impressed with the flying battle between Banshee and Angel, which never looked (to me) like CGI.

Kevin Bacon gives one of the best super villain performances in any comic book movie.

The only X-Men movie to do cameos/easter eggs/callbacks well. The obligatory Wolverine cameo is legitimately funny and well-done, and Rebecca Romijn’s brief appearance is handled perfectly. Even little jokes like Xavier refusing the shave his head to work Cerebro are successful. Also, the entire first scene of this movie is a perfect remake of the entire first scene of the first X-Men, which is a crazy thing to do, but again it works.

Banshee: “You truly believe I’ll fly this time?”
Prof X: “Unreservedly.”
Banshee: “I trust you.”
Prof X: “I’m touched.”
Banshee: (to Beast) “I don’t trust him.”
Prof X: (to Beast) “Say nothing.”

Is our group of colorful super villains entering a submarine and immediately putting headsets on and knowing how to drive the thing an homage to the 1966 Batman? Because if it is I love it.

Worst Parts:

January Jones is the Halle Berry of this movie. I will defend Betty Draper and Jones’s performance in Mad Men all day long, but she is a cardboard cutout in First Class. And once again one of the best (female) characters from the X-comics is a disaster.

There is no foreshadowing or setup that justifies Angel’s heel turn. She witnesses Shaw’s team murdering dozens of people, and then murdering her new friend Darwin, and has absolutely no reaction. Later she learns Shaw wants to cause a nuclear war and kill hundreds of millions of people and still has no reaction. Just one scene of her being angry or resentful about humans early on would have helped here. As it stands, she is less a character than a plot device.

All the women in this movie show skin and none of the men do. The only black character is the first main character killed to show the bad guys mean business. For a 2011 release, it comes off as old-fashioned and regressive.

Beast’s make-up once he turns blue is not as good as it was in The Last Stand five years earlier.

The Hellfire Club concept is kind of wasted.

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