X-Men: First Class
Feature Review by Greg Bishansky, Blu-ray Review by James Harvey

Class Is Back In Session So, my brother and I went and watched "X-Men First Class." This was the shot in the arm the franchise needed, especially after the previous two disasters. While I have seen a lot of people calling it "The Dark Knight" of the franchise, I'm not going to go that far.

Let's start with my X-Men background. I think X-Men has always been a great concept, but I think it has a history of being very poorly handled, and I'm including and emphasizing the source material in this also. I'm going to be blunt and say it's not a good comic book. Okay, it's had a lot of brilliant moments here and there. Most of what Chris Claremont did during his initial run was good, even if I wish I could have been editor and taken a red marker to ideas like the Shi'ar and other goofy stuff that I felt had nothing to do with the core concept. Grant Morrison's run was largely brilliant, even if I have my disagreements with some of his story and character decisions. And I loved what Joss Whedon did. But overall, 90% of X-Men canon sucks.

But, really, when I think of the X-Men comics, I think of a bloated, mismatched, poorly thought out and executed mess. I think of time travel stories that were abused and pushed to absurdities, as well as stranger and stranger mutant powers that I don't buy. I also see attempt after attempt to re-create Wolverine with mediocre characters like Gambit and Cable, who were introduced as these "kewl, badass guys with mysterious pasts". Not to mention lame villains like Apocalypse who had too many writers trying to explain who they are and what they want, and contradicting each other. If you're going to create a character, know who they are and what they want before you stick them into a comic book. X-Men has been really bad about this.

Oh, and... *ducks while the Gambit fans throw things at him. Listens, waits. Gets up, ducks back down as one more brick is hurled and stands back up again.* That's right, I said it.

I also hated the cartoon on Fox Kids *ducks again as a kitchen sink is hurled at him* and liked some of "X-Men Evolution" and some of "Wolverine and the X-Men" even though I disagree with several of the creative choices of both shows. But they both did the smart thing and streamlined X-Men. Which is what the first two movies did as well, and the less said about "X-Men 3" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" the better.

I liked the plot. As with the first two installments, it's not an idiot plot. Actually, it was pretty ambitious for a superhero film. I really enjoyed the period setting, and how three-dimensionally human everybody was.

James McAvoy was fun as a younger, more playboyish Charles Xavier. I liked his character arc as the movie progressed, as he grows into the man we know he will become. I thought it was well handled.

Michael Fassbender was the real star of the movie as Erik Lehnsherr. He stole the show. If this movie was based on an earlier script for what was "X-Men Origins: Magneto," it really shows. This is the guy I've read in the best comics to feature the character. This is how I've always envisioned Erik's journey to become Magneto. This movie successfully did in one movie what George Lucas failed to do with his three "Star Wars" prequels. If you're a Magneto fan, you will love this movie. Especially the ending.

Okay, I'll admit, I was hoping the name Max Eisenhardt would be worked into his origin, with Lehnsherr being his alias, as the comics did (because Erik Lehnsherr is not a Jewish name), but I can understand that would have confused people to give him three names (although, movie goers can easily accept Kal'El, Clark Kent, and Superman)

Kevin Bacon was nice and sleazy as Sebastian Shaw. While Shaw will not go down in history as the best comic book movie villain, he served his purpose exceptionally. I liked how they interpreted his powers, and how he influenced Erik. And I smiled that they even got the name "Hellfire Club" into the movie.

Mystique was always awesome in the first two X-Men movies, but this is the first time she really gets any characterization, and I liked it. If you wanted to know why she was Magneto's lieutenant and lover in the first two movies, this movie will show you. Her character arc was very well done. In a sense, Erik was really the only one who accepted her for who she was, and encouraged her to be herself.

There are way too many characters for me to go through them all point by point. But I thought they were mostly well done. I was wondering how they would justify Emma Frost's usual attire, and they did.

Speaking of the costumes, you can tell superhero movies have come a long way, because now they're no longer embarrassed to put their actors into colorful costumes. I understand why X1 and X2 did what they did, since they opened the doors for the previous decade's superhero films. Had they been made now, you'd see more traditional costumes. So, I don't begrudge them. That being said, I wish Ian McKellan was wearing that helmet, instead of the one they put on him. You'll understand when you see the movie, I'm not necessarily referring to what you think I am.

Matthew Vaughn is good at this, might I say. He took a terrible comic book in "Kick-Ass" and turned it into a terrific and fun movie. And he took a franchise that was on life support and breathed new life into it. I want to see where they go next now. I am looking forward to their next movie.

I think credit should also be given to Bryan Singer for returning to this franchise, even if he was just in the producer's chair this time. And I am especially grateful that he pulled a Greg Weisman and banished the installments he had nothing to do with from continuity. Seriously, X3 and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" are now gone, and I for one don't miss them. I doubt anyone else will either.

It's not a perfect movie. I know some people are comparing it to "The Dark Knight" which I think is a stretch. Honestly, it exceeded everyone's low expectations, and that is, I think, making the movie now look better than it actually is. It's not a great movie, but it is a very, very good movie.

I give it an A-

The Blu-ray:

As to be expected, Fox Home Entertainment has given X-Men: First Class a top-notch Blu-ray release. On top of the multiple collectible slipcovers, the content found inside is also pretty sharp as well. Not the most stacked X-Men DVD yet, it still has plenty of bonus content, plus a gorgeous presentation, that fans should definitely dig.

The audio and video quality are both fantastic. The film looks sharp and crisp. Details are just bountiful, be it Mystique’s blue form or Emma Frost diamond body, everything looks just gorgeous. The different locales also feel natural, and each mutant power on display never looks out of place. All the colors look full and blacks rich and deep. No imperfections, like compression issues or blocking, are noticeable. The same goes for the audio, seemingly perfect. The quieter moments are perfect, every whisper, every hushed voice sounding clear as day. And the action sequences? Well, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track does not disappoint. Explosions and action scenes are loud and thunderous, but every action sounds as distinct as the next. Everything seems perfectly balanced, as it should be.

Moving on to the bonus material, Fox has given the Blu-ray home video release of X-Men: First Class a sizeable amount of bonus features, akin to the bonus features that DVDs used to get in their prime.

Up first is the “X Marks the Spot Viewing Mode,” which runs nearly 20 minutes and can be watched either during the film or separately. The pop-up featuettes, running only a couple minutes each, take a brief look at things like the special effects, the story, all of which is done through quick interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Definitely worth a watch given the short length.

The “Cerebro Mutant Tracker” is an interactive featurette that allows you to learn more about the mutants from this film and past X-flicks by using your remote when images of them appear in Cerebro. A fun extra with some nice footage and information, but nothing truly relevant to the film. Still, worth checking out at least once. The featurette uses music from X-Men: The Last Stand as well, unless I’m mistaken.

The biggest extra in this release is the Children of the Atom documentary. This seven-part feature, running nearly 70 minutes, covers nearly everything from the movie. The origin of the movie, choice of characters, the influences, the effect, the score – all that and more is covered. It’s really interesting stuff that provides a great look at how the film came together and how it could have been at one point. If you really enjoyed this movie then you will really want to watch this documentary. It’s very well done and nicely informative.

After that we get 14 minutes of deleted or extended scenes – including one Magneto bit which was my favourite from the trailer – the composer’s isolated score, and some BD-live exclusives. Also included is a Digital Copy of the film, available on the second included disc.

I guarantee that, no matter what your expectations, X-Men: First Class will surpass them all. It’s not a perfect comic book film by any means, but it’s a return to form for the X-Men franchise. The series hit a few rough patches over the past few years, but this film rights that, resulting in an immensely satisfying and exciting entry in the film franchise. The film looks stunning on Blu-ray and equally sounds just as great. Toss in some informative and fun extras, and you have a Blu-ray release that really shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a great blockbuster adventure that’s smart, cheeky, action-packed and engaging from start to finish. It zips by and never lets up while never feeling rushed or overwhelming. It’s a bold instalment of the X-Men franchise, and the start of what I hope is a stand-out and brilliant new direction for the movie series.

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