X-Men: First Class' charts the epic beginning of the X-Men saga, and reveals a secret history of famous global events. Before mutants had revealed themselves to the world, and before Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Not archenemies, they were instead at first the closest of friends, working together with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to prevent nuclear Armageddon. In the process, a grave rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto's Brotherhood and Professor X's X-Men.
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
. Starring: James McAvoy
, Laurence Belcher
, Michael Fassbender
, Bill Milner
, Kevin Bacon
, Rose Byrne
, Jennifer Lawrence
, Beth Goddard
, Morgan Lily
, Oliver Platt
, Álex González
, Jason Flemyng
, Zoë Kravitz
. Music by: Henry Jackman
Despite the common verdict that puns represent the lowest form of humour, they are ever popular. So, has this clever movie title earned its place? The exalting praise of "first class" is usually over-used. Still, "X-men: First Cast" can arguably be considered the best in the franchise to-date, as generally agreed by movie critics and audience.
As an action flick, this movie is exceptionally rich in themes and sub-texts. Consistently in the background and coming forth to the forefront at suitable junctures is the franchise's main theme: the place of mutants in the world of "normal" human beings, a variation of the familiar minority issue. Very cleverly superimposed onto this movie is a chapter in modern history that the world well remembers: the Cuban Missile Crisis, but with a twist -' as ex-Nazi Sebastian Shaw's conspiracy. And then, there is a brief but distinct sub-text on recklessness when one is young ("youth will have its fling", W. S. Gilbert's favourite lyrics), as exemplified in the young mutant recruits' party-making when they were left to themselves in the CIA research centre where they are accommodated.
Those are at the macro level. On the intimate personal stories, there is ample evidence of close attention paid in development of characters and relationships, absolutely devoid of often-seen sloppy laziness in many lesser movies in this genre. Most prominent is the friendship and eventual falling out between Charles Xavier (young Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (young Magneto). Another key character Raven (young Mystique) is also thoughtfully conceived and positioned, in a sort-of triangle, "sort-of" because although Xavier had discovered her since they were young children, what he had for her is sibling love. Mystique's gradual shifting and eventual allegiance with Magneto is convincingly plotted with strategically places scene throughout the movie.
Equally sensibly, contrary to the meticulous care given to the key characters, some minor characters are treated almost if they were mere props, notably Sebastian Shaw's pair of bodyguards (as if he needs any) who are little more than weapons in human form -' Riptide and Azazel. This is necessary because there is such a proliferation of characters in between, requiring varying degrees of depth in handling. These will be addressed later in conjunction with the various actors playing these parts.
As a prequel, "First Class" is among the best in carefully establishing "what happened before", such as Magneto's helmet, Xavier's wheelchair ("I'm not going to move. I can't even feel my legs"), Xavier's school for mutants etc. The most important question is of course what made Magneto what he is today. While the preludes of Star Wars take three movies to chart Anakin Skywalker's transformation to Darth Vader, Magneto's dark side is fully explained in "First Class" (reportedly the first of the X-men prequel trilogy). Except for the three key characters mentioned, no others from the franchise appear except for 20-second cameo of Logan. And what an uproar of mirth Hugh Jackman's one-liner extracted from the audience! Casting this movie must have been a huge job, and it was a job well done. James McAvoy is a believable young Xavier (not because he says "Maybe I'll go bald some day") with just the right amounts of doses of compassion, brilliance and authority. Michael Fassbender is probably better remembered in his military role in "Inglourious Basterds" than as Connors the gentle but immoral seducer in "Fish Tank", two performances that testified to his diversity. To Magneto, he brings an explosive intensity and a subtly perceptible humanity. Latest Oscar nominee from "Winter's bone" Jennifer Lawrence makes a good job of Mystique as a teenage girl, blue-skinned or otherwise. Kevin Bacon is iconic chief villain Sebastian Shaw is a natural.
Of the assortment of other mutants on both sides, two have been given heavier roles. The name Nicholas Hoult may not ring a bell but those who have seen "About a boy" (2002) should remember the boy. A few years later, in "The weather man" (2005) he played Nicholas Cage's titular character's gentle, introvert son. He now plays the equally timid young scientist Hank MaCoy, timid until his full Frankenstein complex is released, turning him into Beast. January Jones is a name that will be remember on its own, but the actress also showed her worth in the recent movie "Unknown" (2011) as a wife who suddenly and mysterious denies all knowledge or recognition of her husband (a role played by Liam Neeson). Here, she is Emma Frost, who is to Sebastian Shaw what Mystique is to Magneto.
Two "minority" characters (to be interpreted here as one without mutant power) deserve mention. Rose Byrne has appeared in a good number of movies with a variety of roles. The one I remember most is "Adam" (2009) in which her character has a bitter-sweet romance with an endearing autistic young man played by Hugh Dancy. In "First Class" she plays endearing CIA agent Moira who discovered Xavier and the rest of them. Oliver Platt, who needs no introduction, plays a character with no name, a CIA researcher identified as "Man in black suit", and obvious tribute to "Man in black" (1997).
The special effects in "First Class" are excellent. The sets are slick, in a very pleasing sort of way.
Review by Harry T. Yung from the Internet Movie Database.