We would be remiss without starting with the astonishing work of Michael Fassbender. The actor wowed in Jane Eyre earlier this year and proves he is a talented force of nature as he tackles the role of Erik Lehnsherr, who becomes Magneto after meeting up with his fellow mutants led by Professor Xavier (James McAvoy). Fassbender gives the pop culture legend a depth unseen in both page and screen.
Kevin Bacon is an everyman whom audiences pull for regardless of the film, from Footloose to Frost/Nixon. Yet in X-Men: First Class, he personifies evil incarnate. Bacon has always excelled in every single one of his roles, but in X-Men, he devours the screen inhabiting a character bent on world destruction.
When the film commences, director Michael Vaughn gives us the only background we need in a scene echoed in earlier X-Men films, with Erik Lehnsherr in a Nazi concentration camp as a young boy forcibly separated from his parents. The emotional turmoil that ensues is what first clues audiences into the fact that this character has supernatural powers. Meanwhile in America, a young Charles Xavier realizes he is not alone in his own gifts that defy reality.
Where Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men movies, went for gloss, in X-Men: First Class, director Vaughn brings emotional power that comes with an attachment to characters that are equally deep and delicious. The earlier X-Men films presented the world as a given, whereas this latest incarnation delivers mystery, mayhem, sizzling suspense from beginning to end and, most importantly, a palette of character colors that run the gamut.
The big question on many a moviegoer's mind is whether this film is more than a geek fantasy come to life. Is X-Men: First Class a popcorn summer movie franchise simply trying to reboot? Hardly... it fires on all cylinders, forgetting completely in the most delightful of ways that it's a genre film.
The creative team behind it, accompanied by a stellar cast operating at their best, have produced a movie worthy of the must-see title, regardless of the season of its release -- summer, winter or otherwise!
There is no weak link in X-Men: First Class, yet we do wish there was more for Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence's Raven/Mystique to utilize her vast talents. The new star of The Hunger Games and ingenue from Winter's Bone has the tough task of, in many ways, centering the film. Lawrence's character represents the good that mutant power can provide to humanity and the feeling that humans may choose to destroy or disintegrate them once the mutants' presence on earth is discovered.
The backdrop of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis adds a layer of suspense, realism and groundedness that only enhances Vaughn's storytelling. Whether a potential for a history lesson or a simple backdrop for a blockbuster, taking the X-Men characters back to the beginning circa 1962 is a stroke of genius. Two superpowers had their weapons of mass destruction pointed at each other. The reality that the world could end was palpable. X-Men: First Class navigates this landscape by both paying tribute to another time while simultaneously sending off a franchise on the cusp of a resonant rebirth.
X-Men: First Class is the rare film in a franchise that could easily be seen as its best when it is the latest. Between the questions that get answered (Why is Xavier in a wheelchair and how did the X-Men mutants come to be?), the film is a fortune trove of information meets thrilling plot for fans and newbies alike.
Out of five stars...
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