Review: 'First Class' Brings Astonishing Back to the X-Men Franchise

June 1, 2011

X-Men: First Class Review

How do you bounce back from a lackluster sequel and an appalling prequel? If you're the X-Men franchise, and you're directed by Matthew Vaughn, you travel even further back, ignore the tropes that didn't work before, and create X-Men: First Class, an origin story that hits all the right marks in terms of character, story, and exciting entertainment. With storytelling that incorporates real-world events in a fictionalized world, the film provides the momentum X-Men fans have been screaming for ever since they saw the Phoenix outline underneath the surface of X2. It does everything needed to re-energize a franchise that both began the current ideologies of comicbook film making and has lost its bearing somewhere along they way. With an exciting fury, it's back!

Beginning where 2000's X-Men began, and in a stunning recreation of those scenes, it shows a young Erik Lehnsherr in 1944 Poland being ripped from his family by invading Nazis. But instead of jumping ahead 60 years as the first movie does, we see the events that transpire directly after and are introduced to Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon, a scientist who wishes to uncover the true nature of the mutant gene. We do then jump ahead nearly 20 years. Lehnsherr, now an adult and played by Michael Fassbender, who has honed his magnetic manipulation, seeks vengeance for the atrocities Shaw committed on his family.

Elsewhere in the world, Dr. Charles Xavier, played by James McAvoy, and his friend, the shape-shifter Raven Darkholme, played by rising star Jennifer Lawrence, are brought in by the government when the mutant abilities begin to surface in the world. They are tasked with discovering others like them, building a team, and uncovering the truth behind a potential nuclear threat that seems to have mutant origins itself.

If it feels a bit loose-fitting, it's because the first half of First Class is quite loose-fitting. There is a lot of story Vaughn and the screenwriters are having to work with here, a lot of whipping storylines that seem to flail about in sporadic movements. Despite the branches and the large number of characters and relationships you are forced to keep in check, it never becomes unbearable. This is especially the case around the halfway mark when stories converge, teams are formed, and the real action of the film is able to come about.

X-Men: First Class is an origin story only in so much as it takes the established arcs we recognize from the X-Men series and shows us the paths taken to get there. Charles and Raven are good friends long before she becomes Mystique. More importantly, Charles and Erik are good friends long before Erik turns his evil gaze on the human race and become Magneto. But what First Class does better than establishing even these singular relationships, it builds on the idea of humans versus mutants and sheds ample amounts of light on either side. If faced with characters such as those found in the X-Men world, would human-kind let our fears drive us against them, or would there be an acceptance? Likewise, would the mutants of the world band together to fight back against humanity, or would they have the same level of understanding?

All four sides on either flip of the human/mutant coin are analyzed, and while consensus tells us who is wrong and who is right, who is good and who is evil, there really is no defining answer to any of these questions. The gray area that builds each and every character in the X-Men universe is what makes them so interesting. Vaughn and his crew fully realize this, and with this realization comes a means of crafting a story that is incredibly weighty and driven with realistic tendencies. Including the US/Russia during the 1960s dynamic enhances the real-world implications to an even further extent.

And the story works even better when the characters involved are so strikingly filled by great actors. Lawrence provides so much depth to the Raven Darkholme character that she enhances what we see of the character in original X-Men movies. No, the continuity doesn't always add up, though nothing is as disjointed as the Tyler Mane-to-Liev Schreiber casting between X-Men and Wolverine. Still, Lawrence, as well as the majority of the cast, not only fills her role, she pushes it to the limit making the other films of the series that much better. Beast, Havok, Banshee and a number of other characters you recognize from previous films or discussion of the comic book flesh out a truly resourceful cast. There's even a nice cameo in First Class that in one line of dialogue establishes arguably the best character in the series better than most of what's seen in the other films.

But the real relationship here is between Erik and Charles, or Fassbender and McAvoy. They become quick friends, and it's never questioned. Just as you never questioned that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen could have been dear friends in their former lives, the actors in First Class expand on their characters to an even greater degree. You want to see these actors playing these characters in even more adventures even though you know the sword that hangs between them is hanging by a very thing wire. While McAvoy gives a stellar performance in his own right, Fassbender is the real star of X-Men: First Class. He gives the Erik Lehnsherr character a realism, a sincerity and a coolness factor that not even McKellen could provide.

And that, once again, goes back to what's already been said. You truly want to see more. More of these actors playing these characters. More establishing origins that gets you from the point A of First Class to the point Z of X-Men. More Matthew Vaughn action, which arrives a bit late but packs quite a blockbuster punch all on its own. X-Men: First Class, like 2009's Star Trek, provides a new look, a fresh take on characters we believe we know from other sources. Just as successful as that film, First Class re-imagines to such a flourishing degree that it makes you almost forget what you've already seen of this franchise. In one film, X-Men: First Class has put the word "astonishing" back into the X-Men franchise.

Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10

Find more posts: Opinions, Review



Solid! I can't wait to see it, there has been so much positive buzz about this movie.

Big R on Jun 2, 2011


What prequal? Ive seen xmen and its' two sequels. are there others?

Anonymous on Jun 2, 2011



T_lynn4 on Jun 2, 2011


Ah yes, the  X-Men Origins series of movies. They were supposed to do a few for several chars. Guess they ditched that idea after the first

Anonymous on Jun 2, 2011


I guess you could call this the Magneto prequel in a manner of speaking

Chris A. on Jun 2, 2011


All that but you gave it an 8?

BBQ BOB01 on Jun 2, 2011


What's wrong with an 8!? haha

Jace on Jun 2, 2011


8 is good, but apparently good isn't that great anymore.

Phontsolo on Jun 2, 2011


An 8 is good. 7 is so-so/average. 6 is below average. 1-5 are scales of how terrible the movie was. 9 is great/awesome/amazing, 10 is perfect.

Daniel Duarte on Jun 2, 2011


If its as good as X2 Then I'm in.

Xerxexx on Jun 2, 2011


I've seen it. It's better imo.

A.J. Meadows on Jun 2, 2011


Really? That's awesome!

Xerxexx on Jun 2, 2011


No foolin'? Well, I'm definitely checking it out, if that's the case.  It's been getting mostly positive reviews, and hell, I dig the setting of the film and the cast, so...I'm in.

Anonymous on Jun 3, 2011


better than X2 imo

Riki Tanone on Jun 2, 2011


please please please fix the "your" in "you're directed by Matthew Vaughn" asap. I couldn't keep reading after that, lol

Alfredo on Jun 2, 2011


on RT it has 53 positives and 1 negative reviews and a 98% Fresh rating with 7 Top Critics WOW

hg on Jun 2, 2011


"your directed by Matthew Vaughn" should be "you're directed..."  (feel free to delete this after fixing if you wish).

Scott Mendelson on Jun 2, 2011


Way to miss the point.

Angry Chief on Jun 2, 2011


I read a review for this earlier and became interested. Now I read yours and I'm foaming at the mouth. It's been a many many years since I've been excited about anything X-Men!

Alfredo on Jun 2, 2011



A.J. Meadows on Jun 2, 2011


Saw this last night. Agree with most things on the article, but I don't quite understand the fascination with Jennifer Lawrence's performance. There were a couple near-cringe-worthy scenes with her in it, though to be fair, she had the hardest role compared to the other "kids". I thought the kid that played Havok did a hell of a job. I really liked how he was able to portray a bond with some of the characters with such limited amount of screen time.  January Jones was fawful. Just fawful.

Riki Tanone on Jun 2, 2011


I'm truly excited about this.

Chris A. on Jun 2, 2011


All these clips they're showing, I feel like I've seen all the good moments. Few things that concern me. Bryan Singer, I don't trust him. He has no love for super hero comics. He's just hopped on the band wagon. Jennifer Lawrence's performance seems rather bland. The Visual Effects looks dirt cheap. Though not nearly as offensive as Green Lantern. January Jones looks like she phoned it in while banging Vaughn. 

Rpin on Jun 2, 2011


Going to see this tomorrow in a gigantic theatre, really looking forward to it. I do hope that this movie will boost the interest of an X-Men 4. If not, I hope First Class takes on some of the great, earlier X-Men storylines. Now, this can be done, but would seem odd, as it's the characters from the first X-Men movies are in these older(comicbook) storylines, but the X-Men movies and the comics are two seperate things; so it might work. Btw, I guess there is a 'hidden scene' after the credits, as in 9/10 Marvel-related movies?

David Banner on Jun 2, 2011


I have faith in Vaughn, none in Singer.

Anung on Jun 2, 2011


I thought Mr.Singer did a not too bad a job for the X-men movies that he made, bring him back for another but stay away from superman tho cos it was well....Meh and Pfff with some tut and tiss here and there.

Plumgiggler on Jun 2, 2011


It was amazing, I thought the acting was brilliant - this had one of the best casts for a Hollywood movie. The story and setting were excellent and not knowing much about the comic origins, it did a very satisfying job of explaining all the back story and fitting all the puzzle pieces together. Lots of connotations and visual action scenes. Well worth seeing.

Dominic on Jun 2, 2011


wolverine has a cameo in the film

Dim2thesum on Jun 2, 2011


seen it, loved it, BOYA

graysheep on Jun 2, 2011


i juz watched it n it was awesome...the cameo makes the audience goes crazy....

lala... on Jun 2, 2011


Just seen it here in Dublin. Was just class. the audience didnt say much when the cameo popped up........i was f@ckin livid. Great flick.

Ryan on Jun 2, 2011


I'm totally in!Can't wait!

jah p on Jun 2, 2011


Just saw it at night, im in Australia.. Was awsome, took the time to develop the characters, story line was spot on, this was exactly what a 'origin' movie should be like. Me and my mates lost our shit when we saw the cameo, the rest of the audience didnt react much tho, dunno why..

Kegrkjs on Jun 2, 2011


Lucky you!  Well...I know how you feel about loosing it over a cameo or shout out, and the audience is going, "Huh?  What's the big deal?" Happened to me a few times....not much one can do about it.

Anonymous on Jun 3, 2011


This is why I wouldn't ever rate films with a score. You end up having people either bitch because you gave it an 8 instead of a 9, or you have people bitching because their favorite movie was one point below some other movie. Plus, the majority of films just end up in the middle somewhere, and it just makes them all seem like boring piles of shit, when even a really bad movie will often have things worth seeing it for.

Anonymous on Jun 3, 2011


So i have seen it yesterday..firstly..its a very good movie, great actors, great director, great visual effects.....but.....too often change of scenes in completely different areas with different meanings what can confuse people....its jumping from one story to another and comes messy....its not better movie than x-men or x-men 2....but its much better than third and wolverine.....8/10... SPOILER: btw, a bar scene : go fu*k yourself is the best scene from the movie !!! 😀

David Darida on Jun 3, 2011


its not better than X-2 but it is just as good and puts X 1, 3 and Origins: Wolverine to shame.  The only issue I had with the film is the continuity of Emma Frost.  In 1962 she is in her mid 20's but in 1979 when Wolverine rescued her from the 3 mile island containment facility she is roughly 17. 

NerdAlert on Jun 4, 2011


one  of the  best hero movies if  not the best i've seen in a very long while. PRIEST disappointed me, Thor got me hohummm.  Sorry guys, but this is the way to do movies that respect their creators.  Stan Lee rocks.  Bryan Singer redeemed himself way too far with this one.  Superman sucked.

Delicatasdaddy on Jun 7, 2011


why was this called X-Men First Class? it should had been called MAGNETO.

A Villa88 on Jun 7, 2011


I gotta say I was impressed. I'm a fanboy (was into xmen since mutant massacre but dropped it after age of apocalypse) and truth to say, I had to let go of preconceived notions and timeline issues and enjoy the film for what it is. Nick hoult, Kevin bacon, Jennifer Lawrence had commendable roles in it. The action was good, effects good as well. But it really was charles and erik's show. James mcavoy was great but michael fassbender was truly amazing as magneto.Thor, IMHO, was not bad but first class really blew my expectations out of the water. Really enjoyed it.

Autobow on Jun 8, 2011


X-Men 1st Class rocked!!! The acting was amazing. The film went to different time periods at a good pace. We got to learn about the characters Xavier and Erik btw McAvoy and Fassbender and Bacon were fantastic actors. Also me and my friends were the only people cheering when we saw the cameo with Wolverine. This is the way to make origin films people where you gradually learn about the character through interesting scenes not like in Wolverine where you skip crucial parts in favour of showing action scenes. I was so scared that I'd be like the Star Wars prequels but nah this was fantastic. 1st Class wasn't better than X2 but still it redeems Wolverine. All we need is two more good sequels then I'll be happy.

Fuckyourselfbitch on Jun 10, 2011


Anyone else feel that Vaughn needed to back the camera up in a lot of the "people talking scenes" ? It just seemed a bit distracting to be so close. That being said, when the did back up a little bit, the set decoration was lacking in style (except the "swag pad" part of the submarine), so maybe that is why they decided to shoot very tightly. thoughts?

Joseph Bridges on Jun 11, 2011


My favourite hero flick this year but the it didnt overwhelm me so much that I could close my critical eye. I agree with all the positives here so I'll just ask why these questionable moments went through. If you can explain or if I misinterpreted, please let me know Despite Xavier admitting to seeing everything in magnetos mind/history he says the one thing do the least to change his mind in turning the missiles against the fleet; "They're only following orders" Come about pressing his buttons! Raven tricks Azazel by morphing into Shaw with his helmet but she had never seen that before and he's still in the sub. Xavier pleading with Magneto not to kill Shaw despite the fact that he's the one incapacitating him?! The random mutations/evolution resulted in a mutant that looks Exactly like a storybook devil? A Nazi became a mutant by irradiating himself? Never explained past this assumption yet they want us to suspend our disbelief of common medical fact?

Bryan Duke on Jul 6, 2011


She saw him when they invaded the CIA Base

Philipp Burkhardt on Jul 14, 2011

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