X-MEN: FIRST CLASS Review

"X-Men: First Class" has a certain element of cheese to it, but in a weird kind of twist it completely works. Not in the way that it laughs at its own campiness but in a way that re-enforces the time period and the ideology of the characters in this world. It is one of many elements that give this re-boot of the X-Men franchise a fresh feel. I am by no means an expert on the X-Men mythology from the comic books, instead I first heard of the mutant team when I saw their Saturday morning cartoon in the early 90's. I welcomed their arrival to the big screen eleven years ago and it is to them we credit with the wave of superhero films that have graced our movie screens every summer since. I loved the first film and think "X2" is one of the better super hero films ever made, and while "The Last Stand" and Wolverine's origin tale tanked in terms of direction and storytelling, "First Class" is the re-boot this series needed. And what better way to go about this then give us an origin story? Answer those burning questions that have always loomed over this franchise. Director Matthew Vaughn delivers answers and much more.

The biggest thing Vaughn's film gets right is the casting. He nails the two key roles, that without credible, able actors would have caused this film to immediately fail. As a young Xavier, James McAvoy is smooth and spot-on. We would have never though of Professor X as a ladies man, but McAvoy makes it believable and he gives him grounding. We see a young man with huge aspirations and a level-headed, if not slightly cocky, leader. He takes on the task of aiding the American government in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis. In the process of this he comes across another young mutant, a tortured one who is out for revenge on the same man who is responsible for inciting this conflict between America and Russia. As a young Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto, Michael Fassbender not only inhibits a young Ian McKellan, he exudes the tragically torn dilemma with which Magneto has always dealt. All over his face and in his every movement, Fassbender shows how bad he needs to kill the man that killed his family. After meeting Xavier and learning his ideas and vision we see Erick begin to feel more at war with himself. Both McAvoy and Fassbender command the screen every time they are on it, whether together or apart, they drive the movie and complete the grand idea of what this origin story could have been into a concrete reality.

Director Vaughn has also taken care of his supporting players by choosing a fine ensemble of young and experienced talent. We have the soon to be Katniss of the "Hunger Games" trilogy, Jennifer Lawrence as a young Mystique. Who would have guessed Professor X and Mystique were once like brother and sister? Nicholas Hoult who made his debut nearly nine years ago in "About A Boy" and resurfaced last year alongside Colin Firth in "A Single Man" is perfect as a young Hank McCoy/Beast as well as Lucas Till as Havok and possibly Cyclops dad? And an up-and-coming Caleb Landry Jones as the appealing Banshee. While the younger cast fills out the early X-Men team, what is even more surprising is the caliber at which the more seasoned talent takes this material. It was a pleasure to see Rose Byrne here even if she was given the least to do, though I hope her character is included in sequels (and is a possible cause for Xaviers more solemn mood later in life). Having January Jones in the cast just feels like an excuse to put her in skimpy outfits while Kevin Bacon makes a turn as one of the better screen villains this summer. As Sebastian Shaw this man isn't just responsible for almost causing nuclear war he is indeed the inspiration for what we see Magneto as in the first three X-Men films. He is the cause for the rift in Charles and Erik's relationship, he gives Erik the push to do what Xavier had begun to suppress within him and Bacon is absolutely devilish throughout all of it.

Setting this origin tale against real, historic events is another smart move by the makers. This, along with delivering the answers to many questions we may have never thought to ask and Vaughns knack for quick paced, fun and insightful storytelling combine to make his film two hours and ten minutes of pure fun. He manages the large cast well focusing in on the stories the audience would be most intrigued with while giving us excellent action sequence breaks at just the right time. It is the meaning behind these actions that make them all the more painful to watch and exhilarating at the same time. Vaughn flawlessly flows through connecting the dots and by the end of the final frame we are hoping there is more to come. Sadly, as we see the reasons for why things ended up the way they did fall into place we can only hope there are even more curtains to pull back and more mystery to the history of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr that can be unspoiled in the next chapter.