X-Men: First Class (Blu-ray)
Approaching a comic book story, especially one with characters as beloved as the X-Men, is an unenviable proposition. Especially if tasked with re-casting characters originally presented on film by the amazing Sir Ian McKellan (LORD OF THE RINGS) and venerable Patrick Stewart (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION). How do you breathe new life into characters so vibrantly portrayed in 2 previous films? (If you’re wondering, I don’t count X-MEN 3.)
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS takes this challenge head on. It isn’t perfect but it is full of great, touching moments and just enough mythos to keep comic-book purists and fanboys (like me) from having a meltdown. The opening scenes serve to establish and contrast our main characters, Erik (Magneto) Lehnsherr and Charles (Professor X) Xavier. Lehnsherr was brought to a concentration camp where he’s forced to watch as his mother is killed in an attempt to induce his ability. Xavier is living a privileged life in a private estate where he meets the young Raven Darkholme (Mystique).
We pick up 18 years later with Lehnsherr hunting for his mother’s murderer and Xavier finishing his thesis (on mutation) at Oxford. Despite their differences both men are solitary and gifted but unable to recognize their own flaws. The importance of casting these characters (and getting actors who can show you these flaws), as I talked about above, was thankfully not lost on these filmmakers. Lehnsherr is played by the absolutely phenomenal Michael Fassbender (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) and Xavier by James McAvoy (WANTED, ATONEMENT). Both actors are considered by many to be two of the finest of their generation. Their chemistry is lightning crackling across a stormy sky; it fits perfectly with the brotherly love/hate relationship we see in the original films (and comic-books). If you don’t believe me, check out their scene at one hour twenty minutes.
The rest of the casting is just as masterfully done. Rounding out the mutants we have: Jennifer Lawrence (WINTER’S BONE and the upcoming THE HUNGER GAMES) as Mystique; relative newcomers Zoe Kravitz (CALIFORNICATION), Nicholas Hoult (A SINGLE MAN), Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, and Edi Gathegi as Angel, Hank McCoy/Beast, Banshee, Alex Summers/Havok, and Darwin respectively; January Jones (MAD MEN) as Emma Frost, a staple character somehow not present in previous X-Men films; and Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, our main villain.
This is where the film just gets TOO clean for me. Shaw is the villain from beginning to end. He’s at the concentration camp when Erik first lashes out with his powers. He is the one who kills Erik’s mother to get him to use his powers again. HE is the one engineering the Cuban Missile Crisis… it’s just too much. Too neat a package, at least for a film that is so clean in other ways. It is contrived, but I will concede when it works the result is phenomenal.
As the story develops we get the regular origin story treatment: characters have to figure out their powers; there’s a recruitment montage; there’s a training montage; exposition… but thankfully not too much. Interspersed with these staples are simple moments that bring the story to life. And as the movie continues and our protagonists develop, we start to see their differences. Where Erik wants mutants to be proud and forward with their abilities, Xavier tries to hide them to fit in. As their group grows so does the rift between these basic values, and we are propelled ever forward on the course toward a world with X-Men and a Brotherhood of Mutants led by Magneto. Whether you’re a comic-book fan or not, this one is worth the time.
Video: (1080p, 2.35:1 Widescreen) You would expect the picture to be great on one of the biggest releases of the year, and you would be correct. The picture is crystal clear and we’re transported to a stylized past.
Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) The sound is amazing. You’ll want to turn it up as loud as possible (where you’ll get almost no distortion), but you’re also okay to listen to it quietly while your baby or toddler is sleeping. It works both ways and the mix is really well done.
X MARKS THE SPOT – A SET OF 8 FEATURETTES AVAILABLE TO BE VIEWED IN “MOVIE MODE” OR AS INDIVIDUAL FEATURETTES. (Total Time: 19:55) They are all very technically presented discussing shots and rationales for script motivation – but they are very well done. I actually don’t like the way they cut into the movie (instead of picture-in-picture, as has been done well on some other releases).
Cerebro: Mutant Tracker This is an interesting interactive feature. Essentially you are guided through the X-Men and other characters from the universe as if you were using Cerebro. You can select any mutants for a quick featurette (1-2 minutes) which includes information, clips from the movies, etc about that character. It is strange that they chose to include footage from the original movies as well as this film… It’s confusing and, for someone like me who LOVES comic books and is a little OCD, frustrating.
Children of the Atom A “multi-part documentary” on the making of the movie, this is much more detailed than the X MARKS THE SPOT feature. Incredibly well done. Watch this if you want to know how a movie this grandiose is put together. Included parts:
Second Genesis (10:01) The idea for a younger X-Men movie actually came up during X-Men 2 but didn’t materialize at the time.
Band of Brothers (11:51) The crew discusses how mutants were selected. Casting was of absolute importance and it was well done here.
Transformation (10:05) Vaughn wanted a different design for the Beast in this film than had been done before, we get to see the transformation of Azazel, and almost 10 years later it still takes 7 hours to create Mystique.
Suiting Up (08:33) How do you design costumes for a sixties comic-book (spy) movie?
New Frontier: A Dose of Style (09:55) Vaughn wanted a very “Bond-esque” look for the movie. The production design in this film is incredible.
Pulling Off the Impossible (10:22) Special effects, specifically CGI, is the focus of this one. I’m thankful they discuss the importance of using practical effects in addition to CGI. A lesson that is lost on too many filmmakers these days (George Lucas, I’m looking at you!)
Sound and Fury (06:29) This is a nice in-depth look at how scores are done for movies. Henry Jackman (composer for KICK-ASS) is a compelling character.
Deleted Scenes (14:07) There are 13 scenes here, 9 extended versions of scenes we saw in the movie and 4 actual deleted scenes. There’s some enjoyment to be found here, especially in the scenes between McAvoy and Fassbender and the extended training scenes for the various X-Men.
Composer’s Isolated Score 5.1 Dolby Digital (02:11:42) This option allows you to watch the movie without any sound other than the score. It’s been done before but is not for everyone. I love film scores, but even I forget about them during most scenes. That’s the point – you’re not supposed to realize that they’re there.