X-Men: First Class Blu-Ray Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, September 21, 2011
With Thor, Captain America , and Green Lantern all coming out within a few months, X-Men: First class kind of got lost in the shuffle. Turns out it was the best superhero film of the year. Combining comic book action with 1960’s, Cold War era espionage, First Class seemed to be torn right out of a James Bond film. You half expect 007 himself to walk out and order his trademark “shaken not stirred” martini in the Hellfire Club. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First Class takes the foundation set in the Marvel Comics and provides a different take on Professor X’s first group of students. Director Matthew Vaughn and actor Michael Fassbender give fans a superior version of Magneto (with apologies to Ian McKellen) introducing him as a young Holocaust survivor who had to witness his mother’s execution at the hands of a Nazi scientist named Schmidt. This firmly establishes Magneto as a man driven to make sure that a similar Holocaust never happens to mutants.
Magneto attempts to kill Schmidt who reveals himself to be the powerful mutant Sebastian Shaw. Shaw (Kevin Bacon) leader of the Hellfire Club is the film’s protagonist who is using his considerable influence and intimidation to push the U.S. and The Soviet Union to a nuclear war which will allow the mutants to become rulers of the world. The plot, and the mutant powers of Emma Frost (January Jones) and Azazel, are witnessed by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) who enlists Xavier’s aid as an expert on genetic mutation. James McAvoy plays a twenty-ish Charles Xavier who has befriended another young mutant named Raven, the shape-shifter who becomes Mystique. Xavier and Magneto form an uneasy alliance to stop the Hellfire Club and use the mutant-locating machine, Cerebro, to allow Xavier to locate and recruit other mutants.
The young mutants they recruit are culled from over 40 years of X-Men comic book adventures and include Banshee, Havok, Darwin , Hank McCoy/Beast, and a new, female version of Angel who has the wings of a housefly and spits balls of acid. When they are attacked by the Hellfire Club at a secret CIA facility, Xavier moves the group to the famous estate in Westchester , where they can begin their training to control their powers before they confront Shaw and his mutants.
X-Men: First Class is the perfect example of how Marvel has evolved with its films since the first X-Men film in 2000. Marvel has realized it’s not as important to have the big-name actors in the lead roles as it is to the RIGHT actors in the lead roles. First Class hits high notes with almost all of its casting choices. Fassbender skillfully plays Magneto with equal parts vulnerability and megalomania. Xavier has to rein him in to keep him from going after Shaw on his own. In McAvoy we can see the calm, resilient, guiding hand that Xavier will eventually become, but one who’s not above kicking a little ass when necessary. The choice of Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw might have raised an eyebrow or two but Bacon dives in with kitschy 60’s abandon. Most of the supporting cast handles their roles with precision with the exception of January Jones who I assume got the role because she looks good in the White Queen costume.
Vaughn blends the action and intrigue elements seamlessly and the visual FX never threatens to overwhelm the production, not even during the film’s incredible climax. While the X-Men as a series was by no means played out, the decision to make a prequel has given new life to the franchise and opens the door for new stories to be told about the early days of the X-Men. Fox is already planning this as the first of a brand new X-Men Trilogy.
We’ve had some discussion recently about the technical aspects of Blu-ray Vs. DVD in my last review of Thor and all I can say sound is just tremendous. The 5.1 surround sound just delivers about as near a theatrical experience as you could hope for, especially if you have a great set of speakers.
Cerebro: Mutant Tracker: An interactive feature that lets you use your controller as Cerebro to search for mutants and pull up their individual information files. Once you located all of them, you then can get access to bonus mutant files through BD Live.
X Marks the Spots: This is a collection of 8 short featurettes running a total of 20 minutes. Each covers a specific scene of the film and how it was devised such as “Erik in Auschwitz ” which looks at the scene of the young Magneto as a boy in the concentration camp and “Charles Meets Raven” that looks as the scene where Xavier meets Mystique for the first time. These can be viewed separately or all together.
Composer's Isolated Score 5.1 Dolby Digital: This bonus feature gives viewers an opportunity to listen to the film’s score by itself (without sound effects or dialogue) and experience the atmosphere it sets in the film.
Children of the Atom (1:09:49)- This is a near feature-length documentary covering the making of the film. It is broken down into seven parts which again can be viewed separately or as one long feature. Among the things it details is Director Matthew Vaughn's surprise involvement after he had pulled out of doing X-Men 3. There’s also great stuff about how they capture that 60’s era spy thriller look, visual FX, costuming, casting, and much more. A very nice making of feature!
Deleted Scenes (14:07) A mix of deleted and expanded scenes. None of them are too noteworthy although there is a funny expanded scene inside the strip club when Erik and Xavier go to recruit Angel.
Mania Grade: A
Blu-ray: X-Men: First Class
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones
Written By: Matthew Vaughn, Zack Stentz, Ashley Edward Miller, Jane Goldman
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Original Year of Release: 2011
Extras: See Below
Series: X-Men: First Class