X-Men: First Class

OK, this post would have been better timed for the weekend X-Men: First Class came out on Blu-Ray and DVD, but I didn’t have the blog set up then, so deal.

I saw X-Men: First Class a couple of times in the theater, and re-watched it when I got my Blu-Ray copy. I had been rooting for the film to be good before I’d seen it. I was a huge fan of the first two X-Men films directed by Bryan Singer, and felt the franchise had hugely gone off the rails with X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I had high hopes as the film came together and I saw that Singer was again attached, and Matthew Vaughn was signed to direct after his success with Kick Ass. Vaughn nearly directed X3, and I’ll always curious if the film would have been much better had he stayed on, or whether it was doomed by it’s story and super-tight production schedule, driven by a studio desire to beat Singer’s Superman Returns to the screen.

X-Men: First Class isn’t a perfect film. The villain’s plan doesn’t make much sense, and there are some issues caused by its efforts to ride the fence between being a prequel or a reboot, but overall I enjoyed the heck out of it. The strengths of the film are unquestionably its stellar cast and the satisfaction of seeing the arc of the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr. Michael Fassbender just owns as the badass Erik on his dark path to becoming Magneto, and James McAvoy’s young, vital Charles Xavier who uses the science of mutation as a pick-up line before finding his higher calling has become my favorite version of the character ever. The only young mutant as fully developed as our protagonists is Charles’ adopted sister Raven (Mystique), who is torn between Charles and Erik, symbolizing their struggle to reach mutants with their own individual world views. Would I like to have had more thorough development of Xavier’s “First Class” of X-Men? Yes, absolutely. But there’s only so much time in a two hour film, and yet you can’t do the story without a team for Charles and Erik to try to mentor on their contrasting styles. So the movie is mainly the story of Charles, Erik and Raven.

But the main thing that strikes me about X-Men: First Class is how different it is from its predecessors. And this is really the direction I want to see future X-Men films go. It’s not just the sprawling plot or the period setting. The main thing is this: As much as I like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine – and I really think that pairing of actor and character is lightning-in-a-bottle amazing – I like the X-Men better when it’s an ensemble rather than the team being a back-up band for Wolverine. If there has to be a stand-out, I’d rather it was the guy in charge rather than a member of the team. To use Patrick Stewart’s other franchise as an example, I’m happy to have time given to the ensemble, but if only one of them is going to be the star, I’d rather it were Captain Picard than Worf.

In spite of the box-office for X-Men: First Class being down from it’s predecessors (speculation for that dip would double the length of this post), from what I hear they’re moving forward with a follow up to First Class with the same core cast members and a period setting. I hope they have the freedom the make the movie they want to make, with the time and budget to equal or surpass the sense of scope found in First Class. It would be easy for that dip in box office numbers to give the studio cold feet and move in to slash the budget and micro-manage. If you feel the same way, support the franchise by picking up X-Men: First Class on DVD or Blu-Ray.

And no, I’m not on the payroll. But if we want these films to be GOOD, we need to support the good ones when they come along.