- Running time:
- 130 minutes
- James McAvoy -
- Charles Xavier
- Michael Fassbender -
- Erik Lehnsherr
- Rose Byrne -
- Moira MacTaggert
- Jennifer Lawrence -
- January Jones -
- Emma Frost
Before Charles Xavier became X-Men leader Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr became rival Brotherhood of Mutants head Magneto, they were just young mutants making their way in the 1960s. Yet the seeds of their futures are evident: Smooth talking aristocrat Charles (James McAvoy) serves as a brother figure to blue-skinned shapeshifter Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), while Holocaust survivor Erik (Michael Fassbender) swears revenge on Nazi scientist Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon). When Schmidt transforms himself into elegant supercriminal Sebastian Shaw and plots to lead the world into nuclear warfare, Charles and Erik recruit a team of fresh faced mutants to bring him down.
The buzz: Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” and “X2: X-Men United” were critically acclaimed hits that helped define the modern superhero phenomenon, but as the genre blossomed, X-Men fizzled. Disastrous sequel “X-Men: The Last Stand” and underwhelming prequel “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” arrived just as “Batman Begins” and “Iron Man” were wowing audiences with smarter, fresher thrills. Now director Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust,” “Kick-Ass”) aims to reinvigorate the mutant franchise by traveling back to the ‘60s.
The verdict: Welcome back X-Men. “First Class” doesn’t redefine the franchise so much as restore what’s been missing ever since Singer left the director’s chair. Beginning with a scene that deliberately revisits the original “X-Men’s” Holocaust opening, “First Class” revives the series’ straightforward character-driven action delivered with wit, charm and conviction by a first-rate ensemble cast. That establishes an emotional and tonal continuity with Singer’s films and serves a dual purpose in delighting fans while pleasing anyone interested in a Hollywood blockbuster that doesn’t insult its audience. “First Class” achieves all this without slavish fidelity to history—the Bay of Pigs gets playfully rewritten as a mutant showdown—or the comic book canon—beloved figures receive fresh origins and relationships in the name of good drama. In that spirit, McAvoy and Fassbender step into well-established roles without imitating their predecessors, and their contrasting styles—McAvoy’s boyish charm; Fassbender’s suave masculinity—enhance the underlying tensions. A standout Lawrence brings remarkable texture to the troubled Raven (eventually dubbed Mystique and played by Rebecca Romijn in “X-Men”), and enjoys a sweet romance with young Dr. Hank McCoy (a.ka. Beast, here played by a dashingly geeky Nicholas Hoult). If some characters—including January Jones’ mind-reading ice queen Emma Frost and Rose Byrne’s resourceful CIA agent Moira MacTaggert—seem shortchanged in the end, it’s the only downside of a cast overflowing with talented and appealing performers. Besides, “First Class” intends to launch a new batch of X-Men sequels. So if the franchise still has a way to go before it can rival the artistry and complexity of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Vaughn has at least earned it more time to try.
Did you know? In a twist right out of a comic book, Vaughn was the original choice to direct “X-Men: The Last Stand.” He dropped out two weeks before filming began, leaving the studio to replace him with Brett Ratner, and now returns to clean up the mess Ratner left behind.
Follow Metromix's Geoff Berkshire on Twitter: @geoffberkshire
Movie theaters and showtimes for X-Men: First Class in Louisville.
No Showtimes available
Catch up on recent film reviews you might have missed the first time around.