Before I get into this movie, I feel duty-bound to set my perspective on the X-Men franchise, which has been ineptly managed, in my opinion. For the most part, I love the first two movies unreservedly, and they manage to deliver healthy slices of mutant mayhem without descending into overt silliness.
Where it all goes wrong for me is the third outing, The Last Stand, which entirely trashed some superb storylines, like the Dark Phoenix arc, and delivered some diabolical dialogue in a disorganised story that did little to progress the characters. I won’t mention Wolverine, and what I thought of that, just in case I ever meet Hugh Jackman.
After seeing X-Men soar and then go down in flames, it was with some trepidation that I approached X-Men: First Class. The idea of a story about young X-Men isn’t a new one, as it’s been covered already in both the comics and even in animated adventures with X-Men Evolution – but that’s to suggest that what was done with First Class was as derivative as what Sony appears to have planned for the Spider-Man re-launch.
It isn’t, because X-Men: First Class shares something with the original movies: it’s about the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, except in this adventure set in the early 60s, they’ve yet to take on their monikers of Professor X and Magneto.
With this friendship at the heart of events, it was critical that the audience likes these two, and the casting choices for both are immaculate. James McAvoy is the overly optimistic Charles, and Michael Fassbender is the traumatised and darkly driven Erik. They’re both brilliant, even if Fassbender gets the choicest scenes and darkest moments to inhabit.
The story is essentially how Charles and Erik become friends, but share a disparate view of the future that’s almost upon them, and how this eventually drives them apart. To support this odd love story, there’s a finely crafted narrative that weaves the Cuban missile crisis and the emergence of mutant powers cleverly together. We get to meet various young X-men, characters that we’ve not previously encountered, and it’s all been elegantly assembled by Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn, along with the producing skills of previous X-Men director Bryan Singer.
They manage to deliver a satisfying slice of superhero fun, nicely peppered with memorable performances and some stunning special effects. If it wasn’t for the exceptionally good Thor, this would have easily been the best comic book movie of the year, and it kicks both Last Stand and Wolverine to the kerb.
If it does have a weakness, it is that it takes the period aspect of the movie and paints the prevailing sexual attitudes of the day onto the female characters like gold paint. They mostly appear for their visual appeal, and Rose Byrne’s first scene as Moira MacTaggert involves her spontaneously undressing. Her character is badly served in general, as the romantic relationship she had with Charles is mostly consigned to the cutting room floor.
In the same vein, January Jones appears as Emma Frost, or is that Emma Peel? As much as I enjoy the physical splendour of both of these actresses, along with Jennifer Lawrence who plays Mystique, I soon began to wonder if they couldn’t have been given more narrative impact and less revealing outfits.
That point aside, I was deeply impressed with First Class, which for the most part, put the X-Men back where they should be: a franchise with a story and characters that are worth following. I just hope they move rapidly on the next chapter, and can find more for James McAvoy to do in the next film other than stick two fingers on his temple.
In terms of the transfer to Blu-ray, there is very little complain about here, as it’s bright, sharp, and well saturated throughout. The big money-shot sequences, like the sub being pulled from the ocean, look marvellous, and while I’d have liked slightly more contrast in some scenes, that’s a personal choice, and not a reflection of the skill with which this was converted to the medium.
The sound is on a par with the visuals, exploiting all that the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track has to offer. If you’re a detached home owner, you’re going to want to bump up the volume and enjoy the roar of the X-Jet and the excellent Henry Jackman score. In addition to the DTS-HD track, there’s also an English descriptive audio in Dolby 5.1.
We’ve seen some woeful extras on summer movie discs recently, but this one is an exception, having some genuinely interesting supporting material that I enjoyed sitting through. The best of these is a 70-minute-long documentary, Children Of The Atom, a seven-part exploration of the X-Men, their history and how the film slots into the comic and movie lore that already exists. There are also some revealing deleted scenes, an isolated version of the score in Dolby Digital 5.1, an interactive mutant database and a pop-up viewing mode for the movie which provides extra information at key points about the production. They also linked this to BD-Live, and for once, there was some extra material already in place to explore.
You can rent or buy X-Men: First Class at Blockbuster.co.uk.