X-Men First Class
When we first heard that the reboot of the X-Men film franchise was being set in the 1960s, there was a lot of head scratching going on. But once you stopped to consider the ages of the characters, a lot of it began to make sense. Of course, the first thing you need to do is totally forget about the source material. There are just too many elements that have been radically changed from the comics that it would just hurt your head. Instead, focus on the film as a prequel to a trilogy that more often than not has done a fabulous job adapting the merry mutants to the silver screen.
I’ve been a big fan of Matthew Vaughn’s work for a while now, so I was thrilled that he finally got a chance to try his hand at the X-Men. His work adapting other comics, Stardust and Kick-Ass, prove he has a good handle on what to keep, what to toss, and what to change. Here, he keeps the friendship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr at the core of the story. Thankfully, Vaughn cast Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy as the leads because both do superb jobs.
Erik manifested his powers amid deep pain and sees his mastery of magnetism as an extension of anger. Charles, on the other hand, was born privileged and was therefore kindly disposed to help others, as seen when he encountered the young, scared Raven Darkholme. Their separate paths become one and then the story really takes off.
X-Men: First Class, out on DVD now from 20th Century Home Entertainment, may well be the best of the four super-hero movies even though it is the one furthest from the source material. It all comes down to story and execution and here, Vaughn and his partner Jane Goldman took a script from others and made it shine. There’s action aplenty but even as the cast expands, few are given short-shrift. Instead, one by one, we see them assess the threat posed by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his acolytes and respond by locating mutants and training them. Some are incredibly obscure such as Riptide (Alex Gonzales) but all fulfill a role.
Vaughn as a director, lets his characters actually speak with one another and some of the best moments come when the mutants hang out with one another, enjoying their company for those brief happy moments. Still, not only is this the story of Erik and Charles, but it’s the story of Charles and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), as she steps outside his shadow and forges her own identity, ironic for a shape-changer.
Supporting the leads are a strong ensemble, led by Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggart, recast as a government agent and smart enough to recognize that understanding the mutants gave them an edge. The other government personnel are one-dimensional cyphers who feel flat compared with the rich main cast and Oliver Platt is totally wasted as the Man in Black.
Set in the early 1960s allows Vaughn to scratch his James Bond itch and there are tons of echoes to the first Sean Connery films. One of the extras details the Bond-inspiration with plenty of scenes to demonstrate how sets and costumes evoke those early days.
There are Easter Eggs aplenty, including two uncredited cameos firmly tying the prequel to the trilogy with one providing the film’s best laugh.
The film transfer is excellent with terrific audio, letting the film shine on your home video screen. The Blu-ray comes packed with about two hours of extras including some insightful commentary, and an hour-plus “Children of the Atom” series of vignettes that explores everything from inception to casting to make-up, music and effects. It’s fun watching the younger crew learn tricks from the great SFX artist John Dykstra. There’s a baker’s dozen of deleted and extended scenes are well worth a look as well.
The movie comes with the pop-up X Marks the Spot Viewing Mode with about 20 minutes of details.
Cerebro: Mutant Tracker lets you maneuver through a collection of mutant heroes and villains then provides you with clips from the four films to date letting you see them in action before ending with a statistics page. Consider this your scorecard to the mutant movie universe.
The disc comes with a code allowing you to access ten digital X-Men comics which is a nifty bonus.