REVIEW: McAvoy and Fassbender Are First-Rate in X-Men: First Class
X-Men: First Class wants to be five movies at once, and it occasionally succeeds at being a few of them: One minute it's a stylish James Bond-style retro pleaser, the next a bitter-edged revenge melodrama, the next your boilerplate "embrace individuality" empowerment brief. It is also, of course, a movie based on a comic-book franchise -- in this case, Marvel's long-running, multi-tentacled X-Men saga -- and for that reason alone, it comes with a million other expectations attached. I don't know what director in his right mind would want to take on such a project, but I admire Matthew Vaughn for trying.
And he tries hard to make X-Men: First Class all things to all people, to the extent that some of it sticks quite well. X-Men: First Class opens in Nazi Germany, just as a young lad named Erik Lehnsherr is being wrest from his parents en route to the death camps. Eric is so distraught at the separation that, even as he's being restrained by Nazi guards, he opens and mangles a set of heavy iron gates seemingly at will. This performance intrigues mad-doctor-type Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, wearing the perfect know-it-all sneer for this sort of villainy), who orders Erik to move a coin on command. When the boy fails, Shaw shoots his mother in his presence, unleashing a storm of rage that reveals the extent of Erik's powers.
Meanwhile, over in Westchester, N.Y., a youngster named Charles Xavier discovers a girl with blue skin hiding out in his kitchen. Fast-forward to 1962: Erik (now played by a dashing Michael Fassbender, in a series of Cary Grant turtlenecks) and Charles (James McAvoy, whose lips always manage to look just-bitten) are hurtling along separate paths but are soon destined to meet. Erik wants to wreak revenge on the man who caused him so much childhood trauma; Charles is an Oxford-educated smarty-pants whose specialty is mutant genetics. (Handily, he can also read minds.) Before long, the two have rather uneasily joined forces and collected a coterie of comely young people with interesting skills, including Havok (Lucas Till), who summons killer hula-hoops of fire from his fingertips; Beast (Nicolas Hoult), a shy nerd whose attempts to "cure" his apelike mutant aberrations backfire; Angel (Zoë Kravitz), a go-go dancer who sprouts dragonfly wings at will; and blue-girl-grown-up Mystique (a subdued but not unappealing Jennifer Lawrence), a willful beauty who, when not completely encased in matte blue scales, can temporarily assume the form of anyone she chooses.
You've seen these characters before, in different, more aged iteratons: X-Men: First Class is a prequel to Bryan Singer's X-Men pictures. (Singer is one of the movie's producers, and is credited with co-writing the story on which the script is based; the screenplay was written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Vaughn.) Fassbender's Erik will eventually become Ian McKellan's Magneto; McAvoy will assume the form of Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier. And Lawrence's Mystique Jr. will stretch out, and fill out, just a bit more to become Rebecca Romijn's cobalt-hued hottie (a transformation that's alluded to in one of the picture's several X-planatory in-jokes).
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