X-Men: First Class (2011)
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Quite easily the greatest “X-Men” movie yet, “First Class” tracks the effect a band of mutants had on the Cold War, circa ‘62, changing history as we know it. Charles Xavier (a brilliant James McAvoy), still on his feet, is a fly, groovy telepath looking to change the world (who wasn’t in 1962?). Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has been using his metal-morphing powers sparingly since he was released from a Holocaust internment camp. All this time he’s been searching for the man who killed his mother, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) – he compares himself to Frankenstein’s monster, looking to kill his creator. When Erik and Charles run into each other, they team together—along with familiar friends Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Havok (Lucas Till), and Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones)—to find and kill their common enemy. As relationships crumble, the X-Men begin losing their closest allies to the enemy—and then even the U.S. and U.S.S.R. militaries work together to destroy the mutants. Who will remain loyal to the cause, and who will let their power take control of them?
Director Matthew Vaughn couldn’t have found two better leads than McAvoy and Fassbender—apart they’re terrific, but together they’re an unstoppable super-duo. Spectacular effects rival that of Marvel’s other marvels, but the drama goes beyond petty superhero crises and teen angst. McAvoy and Fassbender are both familiar with legitimate drama—McAvoy’s “Atonement” and Fassbender’s “Shame” are both tragic. The action is immediate, and the powerful score by Henry Jackman (whose credits include “The Dark Knight”) moves it along quicklydespite its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, witnessing what we assume are her first murders, shows a realistic reaction of tears and awe. It’s rare in superhero movies to see our heroes cry, but Vaughn doesn’t hide these men and women from the emotions the rest of us feel—plus, he gives us a Hugh Jackman cameo; who can argue with that? I did have one complaint: the young Beast looks a bit like Sully from “Monsters, Inc.”—but thankfully he was only featured in the latter half of the movie. Regardless, “X-Men: First Class” makes me look forward to the next “X-Men” movie, to be released in 2014 – this franchise is starting to look up.