“X-Men: First Class,” written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner (story) and Bryan Singer (story), directed by Vaughn, 132 minutes, rated PG-13.
The formula for a successful superhero movie begins with its director and trickles down to its cast and crew. We’ve seen it time and again in movies like “Batman Begins” and “Iron Man,”
We have the pleasure of seeing another such film in “X-Men: First Class.” With Matthew Vaughn behind the camera, and James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender leading the cast, it’s no wonder that “First Class” has set such a high bar for the remaining comic book movies this summer.
We meet Professor X and Magneto as children, Charles and Erik, one in a mansion, the other subjected to traumatizing Nazi experiments. They’re perfect foils to each other, and knowing they will grow old and philosophically butt heads just sits anxiously in the back of your mind throughout the whole movie.
But enough about the future, for now they’re just Charles and Erik, and as they grow older, the two become bound by their uniqueness. It’s one of the most fascinating relationships in comic book history, and until now, film audiences had only seen glimpses of how deep their ties run.
It’s a mutual enemy, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, always surprising), who brings the two together. An ageless mutant with the power to absorb energy, Shaw was borne from nuclear radiation, and he wants to see the world under the rubble of a nuclear holocaust, leaving only mutants alive. He’s cunning in his planning and political manipulation, and evil at his core.
One more thing about Shaw: He was the Nazi behind the experiments on Erik.
For Charles Xavier, stopping Shaw’s master plan is a mission for peace. For Erik Lehnsherr, it’s war. Here, we find the crux of their troubled friendship.
Fassbender (“Hunger”), one of the best actors working today – and that’s no exaggeration – is perfect as the man who will become Magneto. He’s haunted and emotionally fragile despite a rugged facade, but he’s also charismatic and incredibly persuasive.
Because of the caliber of its two leads, “First Class” is in a class of its own when Fassbender and McAvoy are on screen together. The two run the gamut of acting, going from friends to enemies, laughing to crying, and talking over a game of chess. Most of all, they have to be paradoxically understanding and frustrated with the decisions of the other.
Watching actors sink into the material as these two do is a rarity among blockbuster movies.
If you’ve come looking for action and special effects, however, there’s plenty to go around, and Vaughn, whose 1960s setting is a breath of fresh air in the comic world, handles it like a pro. The result is an exciting comic book movie that actually has depth.
There’s also an incredible young cast of mutant recruits with Jennifer Lawrence at the forefront playing a young Mystique.
Whatever “The Avengers” throws at audiences (in 3-D, no less), it’s going to have a hard time beating what Vaughn has done with “First Class.”