By Chris Campo
X-Men is one hell of a franchise. It's arguably the start of this superhero obsessed age of film we live in, a film saga spanning over fifteen years, and with a handful of great films. The prequel, X-Men First Class is one of those great films. Serving as both a prequel and a soft reboot of the franchise, First Class had a lot riding on it before its release in 2011. It was following the two worst X-Men movies, The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine. It was meant to not only get the franchise back on track, but also point it in a new direction, and it did so in strides. This film also launched the new X-men trilogy we got, and that's a good thing as Days of Future Past was incredible and Apocalypse looks promising.
X-Men First Class follows both Eric Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), before they were known as Magneto and Professor X. When evil mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) shows plans to start a nuclear war, Xavier and Charles unite to form a team of young mutants to work closely with the government and take down Shaw, forming the X-Men in the process. Not only is this an origin story, but it's a plot very different for the franchise. The story is dark, all while still painting a sense of fun. It's exciting, action packed and it's one of my favorite X-Men films.
This film is very well cast, with one exception. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are simply incredible. They hit the dark moments and the comedy with such ease, plus they nail the characters previously set up for them by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart Their characters are vulnerable and dynamic, easily the most interesting aspects of the film. The other X-Men are very well cast, for the most part. Honestly, I'm not a fan of Jennifer Lawrence in these films. Something about her presence takes me out of the film, and when under all the makeup she needs to play Mystique, she just comes off as goofy. She's a great actress in her own right, but she never belonged in an X-Men film. Kevin Bacon, however, is highly underrated in this role. He plays an awesome and terrifying villain and I'm sad this is the only X-Men film to feature his character.
I'm also a big fan of how this film plays out as almost a young adult film (better than almost any YA film). The recruitment and training of all the X-Men is both fun and exciting. It truly feels like this group is forming before your eyes, and these kids are growing as characters. The recruitment of the X-Men is a stand out scene, featuring one of the best moments in the franchise, Wolverine's cameo. The training montage is a highlight as well, I'm usually not a fan of the training montage, but it's just so much damn fun here. Following the majority of the X-Men as kids was ballsy, but it makes the characters much more realistic and easier to relate to. Director Matthew Vaughn took this formula and applied it to 2014's Kingsman The Secret Service and it worked just as well as it did here.
Speaking of Matthew Vaghn, he is easlily the star of this film. He makes you aware of his style throughout, but he never makes it too flashy. His style fits like a glove here. Astheticlally, this film is beautiful, especially everything with the X-Men's powers. Also the costumes! The costumes! They're colorful and bright and so much better than the costumes in the other films. I seriously wish they would have looked like they do in this film throughout the series, I would have loved to see Wolverine in this style of costume. Nearly every decision by Vaughn works and I go to bed at night wishing he would return to the franchise. Okay, not literally, but I really do want him to direct another X-Men movie.
The thing is, I would have liked more action. There's not that much. There are some cool scenes here and there, but I just expected more, especially considering the director and the franchise. I just watched this film a few days ago and I can only recall handful of memorable action set pieces. The fight where Shaw and his crew attacks the young X-Men is amazing. It's exciting and really shows off those cool powers and visuals I mentioned earlier. The final action scene is decent. It's nothing too breathtaking, however, which is rather unfortunate seeings as how this is a superhero movie, and an X-Men one at that.
Overall, First Class is a great X-Men movie. The casting, for the most part, is spot on, including incredible performances from Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. The film may not have too many mind-blowing action scenes, but nearly every other creative decision made is spot on. I long for Matthew Vaughn to return to the franchise, because I believe he has the power to top this. Also, that Wolverine cameo... Nuff said.