By Skip Tucker
June 6. 2011
I thought “Thor” was good.
But I walked out of “X-Men: First Class” with two primary, gut feelings. The first was that I’d just seen my New Favorite Movie of the Year, and the second was that I had to pee – really bad! When a film is this action-packed, with chemistry working on almost all the levels, it’s certainly an exercise in bladder control (especially after downing a Turbo Chug of Diet Coke).
XMFC gives us the mutant back story, before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr became known as Professor X and Magneto. The movie opens with them as kids – Lensherr at Auschwitz and Xavier at his Westchester mansion (which would later become The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters). Fast forward to 1962. The US and USSR are gearing up for their nuclear pissing match over the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the mutants are being recruited by the CIA.
There’s a lot more gruesome violence than in the first three movies, and the action is intense – but the real super power here is the chemistry between the two stars. James McAvoy ("Wanted" - he was also Mr. Tumnus in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe") as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds") as Erik Lehnsherr both add an earnest weight to their roles, without taking it over the top. They’re playing mutants, but their performances are very human and relatable.
Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw is actually surprisingly understated. He could have easily gone off the deep end into the Evil Bad Guy caricature, but he instead kept his performance quietly sinister. Jennifer Lawrence is also excellent, taking the Raven character from a scared, shy little girl to the über “Mutant and Proud” Mystique.
The same can’t be said for January Jones ("Mad Men"). Her portrayal of Shaw’s sidekick and face candy Emma Frost was flat and uninspired. Riptide comes off like a second-rate magician, and Azazel sort of looks like a cross between Hellboy and Darth Maul.
My favorite scene in the movie was a cameo by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. That quick bit had me howling out loud.
X-Men fans will love it (although some of the purists are going to be pissy little bitches about some of the later characters in the comics showing up here), and even a lot of those new to the franchise will be roped in. The violence is much more explicit and brutal than in the first three films, so you might want to heed the PG-13 rating, but other than that, “X-Men: First Class” is a fun ride.