When I first heard there would be a movie called X-Men First Class, I expected to see something that looked a lot like this:

That’s not what I’m getting though, not here at least.  In fact, of the characters shown in this image, only one, Beast, is an active character in the new movie (Scott and Jean are seen briefly).Look!  Movie Poster!

First of all, yes, James McAvoy is playing Charles Xavier despite trading in a wheelchair for hair.  Also, the guy in the jacket next to him–Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender.  I point these two out because they are the nucleus of X-Men First Class.  Not only do their characters set the drive and pace of the narrative, but these two actors do a phenomenal job, easily giving two fantastic performances.  McAvoy’s Xavier has a much more active role in events, going into the field with his students.  The focus actually skews more toward Magneto through the film, showcasing his nature as a tragic hero more than a simple villain.

Honestly, Magneto isn’t the villain of this movie at all.  His motives are dark as he is a man set on an elaborate path of revenge.  Fassbender’s first scene sells the tragedy as it shows him levitating a coin while studying a conspiracy web topped by a drawing of… Kevin Bacon?  Does Magneto just not like Footloose?  All fun aside, Kevin Bacon plays the manipulative Sebastian Shaw, leader of the secretive Hellfire Club.  His aims and motivations are in character, though more overt than his print counterpart.  Regardless, Bacon gets to play a rare sort of supervillain, one who is powerful, resourceful, and capable of taking on the heroes in a personal and intimidating way.  I would never have thought Kevin Bacon would be right for this sort of part, but he really surprised me.

Along with Magneto, the other tragic tale of the movie belongs to the shapeshifter Raven–Mystique.  Jennifer Lawrence gives a complex presentation of Mystique, despite a very clunky introduction (a ten-year-old version stealing food from the Xavier kitchen).  Mystique is presented as Xavier’s oldest friend and wants nothing more than for someone to love her; to varying degrees, she charms no less than three characters in her desperate search for affection.  Whether intentional or not, Jennifer Lawrence pushes her portrayal of Mystique into the heart of the movie, making the plot, in many ways, a battle for her soul.

The rest of the cast is quite diverse, given the range of X-Men characters available.  Beast, Mystique, Havok, Banshee, and Moira MacTaggert make for an odd not-quite-X-Men team along with Magneto and Xavier, but it works. especially since this is also that Magneto origin movie Fox threatened to make several years ago.  I would have liked to see more of Darwin since he was presented accurately and well acted by Edi Gathegi.

On the Hellfire Club side of the equation, in addition to Sebastian Shaw, is Emma Frost played by January Jones.  She’s very attractive and clearly a bitch, just like she is in the comics.  Emma Frost is also clearly older than Scott Summers in this movie.  Also present is Riptide, who is more devastating in X-Men First Class than at any point running around as one of the Marauders.  A surprise serves as the Hellfire Club’s teleporter and assassin, Azazel, Nightcrawler’s father who was in exactly one reviled X-Men storyline, “The Draco.”  Finally, there’s Angel Salvadore, the turncoat fly chick originally created by Grant Morrison.

For X-Men fans, X-Men First Class seems to be a condemnation of developments in the comics and movies.  Director Matthew Vaughn and writer/producer Bryan Singer know what they like about the X-Men, just as much as what they don’t like.  Having long-time X-Men like Banshee and Havok beat up on Angel Salvadore almost feels like an attack on Grant Morrison’s (terrible) contributions.  More obvious is the way that X-Men First Class clashes with the continuity of X-Men The Last Stand, which I refuse to see, and X-Men Origins Wolverine.  With the new film taking place in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s impossible for Xavier and Magneto to meet with a young Jean Grey in the 1980s.  A pair of developments that I don’t want to spoil separate X-Men First Class from the Wolverine spinoff.  (The Emma character in X-Men Origins Wolverine is Canadian, has no psychic powers, and is the sister of Silver Fox.  Emma Frost is American, psychic, and bears no relation to Silver Fox, making this her only screen appearance).

Even though the story is really good, you could easily get caught in a game of “find the cameos.”  Playing small character roles are a plethora of character actors, from Ray Wise to Michael Ironside.  I won’t say any more about the small parts so you can enjoy playing the game when you see the movie!  There are two cameos featuring previous X-Men movie actors, which are quite interesting since they are playing the exact same characters they have played in other X-Men movies.  Both put a smile on my face since they fit with the story and the scenes they’re in.  Look for one on the eve of the final battle.  The other is easy to find, as it features X-Men First Class‘ single PG-13 approved use of the word “fuck.”

Finally, I should say X-Men First Class is an A superhero movie even though it might not seem that way on the surface.  The presentation, the acting, the story, even the 1960s setting make for a fun movie that’s highly enjoyable.  Which is saying a lot since I originally wasn’t going to see this movie.  Now if we could just get a good X-Men movie where Jean Grey gets to be the heart of the team and Cyclops gets to the be awesome leader…

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