Movie review: X-Men First Class
June 7, 2011
Prequels have a reputation for being less than satisfying. After all, who goes back and reads the prologue after reading through the book? The allure for X-Men: First Class is not solely the story but more so the fresh cast of characters and the big action visual effects. By those standards it fulfills the expectations of a summer movie, one which can be watched but not critically lauded, enjoyed without the necessity of interpretation.
True fans of the X-Men movie series will be happy to see some familiar names paired with the familiar personalities of the staple X-Men players like Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique, all before they get their cool mutant names. Those who have seen the other four installments will love the cameos, which I’d tell you about but then you wouldn’t like me anymore.
The themes of X-Men: First Class are those which are ever so familiar to any X-Men follower: mutants hiding in society, where is the line between good and evil, and does Magneto really represent the bad guy? This story just happens to take place before the full on assimilation of mutants into the general public has occurred, before the rampant fear of the other takes hold, and before Magneto and Professor X part ways philosophically and otherwise.
During this stage-setting film, the young mutants begin defining themselves by the same standards any other young person would. The questions of fitting in, having overt differences or hidden ones, deciding which peers are allies, and which are potential enemies, are all explored to some degree in the film, which is particularly surprising because one wouldn’t automatically think, “Oh that X-Men movie, it is a coming-of-age film.” But it is, really, just with the coming of age done by young mutants.
Since Magneto is going about his own self-discovery and is not yet a foe, who then would serve as the über mutant bad guy? Who else but Kevin Bacon. Really. Underwhelming? Possibly. Made better by Miss January Jones in lingerie? Absolutely. But back to the story.
Bacon is cast as mutant Sebastian Shaw (who doesn’t get a cool mutant nickname), and his power is to absorb energy to redirect at his opponent. His goal is to start a nuclear war from the Cold War so he can harness the boom to radiate non-mutant humans in order to create a new mutant ruling race. Not surprisingly, Shaw was a Nazi. While part of the Third Reich, Shaw killed Magneto’s mother, so there you have Magneto’s motive for hunting him down.
January Jones plays Emma Frost, Shaw’s right-hand woman and a telepath (who can also morph into a diamond form, which apparently is easier to do in her underwear). While Jones has never been known for her acting, her more bankable assets give the movie an adult visual edge. New Hollywood It-Girl Jennifer Lawrence fills the blue skin of the adolescent Mystique fairly well. James McAvoy delivers a young Charles Xavier very nicely, while the angst of Magneto is represented perfectly by Michael Fassbender.
X-Men: First Class is fun to watch while delightfully fun to like, Kevin Bacon and all.