Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together, with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto's Brotherhood and Professor X's X-MEN.
This summer saw its fair share of superhero movies. Like most summers, there were some that were better than others. It's my opinion that 'X-Men: First Class' eclipsed all those other superhero movies and stands atop the summer superhero heap as the best comic book movie of 2011. Not only is it the best "superhero" movie, but it's a damn good movie to boot, one that isn't afraid to take a modern tale like the 'X-Men' and travel back in time with it. It's tough to do a period piece about characters we only really know in their modern day forms. The way director Matthew Vaughn and his crew seamlessly integrate the origins of the X-Men into real history is a daring but very fun way to keep the stories fresh.
It's the 60s and the world is afraid of nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis is approaching. The United States and Russia are on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Our existence hangs by a thread. That's where the mutants come in.
Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is only a young man now, studying genetic mutations. He knows he has the ability to read and control minds, but he doesn't know how many other mutants are out there. He knows of Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), a blue woman who can transform into any other person. There are others out there though, like Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) a man who can control magnetic fields. His story began in the Nazi concentration camps and now he's out for revenge. Trying to hunt down Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), the man who killed his mother.
What's so fun about Vaughn's new 'X-Men' movie is how it so deftly tells the origin stories of our favorite X-Men, all the while telling its own unique tale. Infusing it into real world, historical events lends the movie an added layer of dramatics that's sorely lacking in many superhero movies. 'First Class' works on a human level, even though we're dealing with super-humans. It's easy to empathize with Erik, since we can only imagine the horrors of living in a concentration camp. We understand his hatred, and when the time comes for him to part ways with Xavier, we don't begrudge him.
Kevin Bacon, as the villain, probably gives one of the most enjoyable performances I've witnessed this year. He's so deliciously over the top in a Bond-villain type of way. He's got his plans of world domination, his minions that follow his every whim, and he's even got his very own personal submarine to cruise around the globe on. He's one of those villains who'd travel to the arctic in his submarine just for ice (which he does).
'First Class' isn't without its faults though. Chief among them being the inclusion of Angel (Zoë Kravitz) who is quite possibly the lamest mutant since Kid Omega (Ken Leung) in 'Last Stand.' Angel sports dorky insect wings and spits fiery loogies at her enemies. Every time she's on screen she totally removes you from the very real, very entertaining drama going on.
I'm a huge fan of 'First Class.' I didn't think that there would be much to it because we've already had so many 'X-Men' films come before. What could they do that we hadn't already seen? That answer lies in the performances of McAvoy and Fassbender. Fassbender, especially, is what really makes this film what it is. That scene between him and Charles, where he's trying to move the satellite dish is moving, touching, and proof of what a good actor can accomplish in something like a superhero summer blockbuster. 'X-Men: First Class' was an unexpected treat.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox has released 'First Class' on a 50-GB Blu-ray Disc and packaged it together with a Digital Copy in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. It should be noted, for slipcover fans, that there are two choices for slipcovers at the present time. You can get the one with Magneto and the bad band of mutants on the front, or a slipcover with Xavier and his band of mutants. No need to worry though, because whichever one you pick the artwork from the other cover is actually printed on the back. It's just not embossed.
'X-Men: First Class' looks stellar in 1080p. With a few exceptions of very noticeably phony CG effects, (when the submarine rolls over the palm trees on the beach) this is demo presentation through and through.
The period that Vaughn has created photographs well. Fine detail is alive and vibrant throughout the film. From the plush interior of the Hellfire Club to Emma Frost's sparkly skin-tight suits, everything looks immaculate. Colors are bright and bold. Blue is an almost overwhelming presence from Mystique's body, to Beast's transformation, to the light blue of the nuclear reactor in the submarine. Each shade of blue is completely discernible and clarity is optimum. Oranges and yellows from the numerous explosions burn with ferocity. Blacks are perfectly dark and shadows wonderfully delineated.
Most of the CG looks great. Especially when Shaw takes on the extra mass as he's absorbing energy, or when the anchor tears through his yacht. It's just that submarine shot that looks a tad bit silly, and in HD it looks even sillier. With that in mind, 'First Class' is for all intents and purposes, a stunning transfer featuring deep clear detail, and a wonderful sense for the movie's time period.
If the video was near perfection, the audio is perfection. There is so much going on with 'First Class's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that it would be impossible to draw your attention to each and every one of its highlights in this review.
Surrounds are constantly active with the whiz-bang crashing of mutant mayhem. As Erik sends the anchor tearing through the yacht, metal crunches all around you, LFE roars as the metal of the ship is torn apart. It's a truly engulfing audio experience. That's only one of the many. Dialogue is always clear and concise even in whispered form. Low-end sonics are resounding and unforgiving. Whether it's the roar of their specially made jet or the sudden impact of a missile exploding on a ship, this bass will rattle the walls of your house. Speaking of deep and resonant, Henry Jackman's inspired score reverberates through the sound field providing a sturdy base for our listening environment.
I thought that 'First Class' and its sound mix was every bit as demo worthy as any other high-octane summer blockbuster. Know that if you're purchasing this you'll get top quality when it comes to sound.
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'First Class' was one of the best summer blockbusters, because it was smart and wasn't afraid to go places few superhero movies fear to tread. It's an engaging origin story, but it stands on its own as a great film. It looks and sounds fabulous on Blu-ray, and it's crop of special features is inviting. I would've loved a commentary, but other than that the extensive making-of feature is a great addition. This one comes highly recommended.