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X-Men: First Class (Blu-ray Review)

2 Sep, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 9/9/11
Box Office $146.1 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language.
Stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Zoë Kravitz, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Oliver Platt.

The fifth installment in the “X-Men” franchise is one of those movies that you want to love, and it tries so hard to earn that love, but something seems off.

Like X-Men Origins: Wolverine before it, First Class is a prequel, documenting how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy here, Patrick Stewart in the other movies) first assembled the team of superpowered mutants called the X-Men in the 1960s.

In a well-conceived story that’s not always in line with the continuity of the previous films, Xavier is working with the CIA to stop a villainous mutant named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from using the Cuban Missile Crisis to start World War III to clear the world for mutant-kind. Xavier encounters a kindred spirit in Erik Lensherr, the future Magneto who at this point is hunting Shaw for killing his mother during a Nazi experiment to unleash Erik’s latent power to control metal.

Erik is played here by Michael Fassbender, who was so good as the English spy in Inglorious Basterds and whose screen presence is, pardon the pun, magnetic. The dynamic between McAvoy and Fassbender is the main reason to watch First Class. The movie sparkles so much when they’re on screen that you almost wish the film wouldn’t cut away to the secondary characters.

Yet just when the movie seems to be hitting its stride, peaking during one of the best cameos in recent movie history, it starts stumbling over itself with hokey special effects and scenes necessitated by the story that play out very awkwardly, as if director Matthew Vaughn had no real interest in them beyond a superficial level and filmed them as an afterthought. The cheesiest is probably the scene of the teenage mutants sharing their powers and coming up with their nicknames, which just reeks of prequelitis.

Still, Vaughn was a good choice to direct, after delivering a hugely fun if over-the-top comic book adventure with Kick-Ass, but he may be too constricted here by the constraints of the franchise. His rocky relationship with the “X-Men” films (he was supposed to direct the third film, X-Men: The Last Stand, but dropped out) is well-chronicled among other behind-the-scenes aspects in a series of featurettes on the disc.

The script also tries too hard to wedge in a motif of tolerance, in particular a metaphor equating being a mutant to being gay that was so prevalent (and effective) in the first two films but is practically missing from Last Stand and Wolverine. That’s probably a factor of the return to the franchise of Bryan Singer, who directed the first two films but had nothing to do with the others. Here he serves as producer and shares a story credit. But the metaphor is shoehorned into the dialogue in such a ham-fisted way the only way it would be less subtle is if Singer popped up to wink at the audience.

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