I didn't really expect to, of course -- although certainly, I hoped for it. With such an incredible cast, an able director at the helm, a story of Bryan Singer provenance and the inclusion of some of my favorite, if lesser known, X-types (Darwin! Tempest! Havok!), I was eager to see this beloved band of merry Marvel mutants redeem themselves after the massive failures of X3 and X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.
Which they do. And how!
One thing that the avid comic fan must do when approaching this movie, however, is to divorce themselves utterly from almost all established four-color X-Men continuity. Oh, some bears up, but by and large this is a whole new origin story, a reboot of epic proportions, and yet it is a retcon so cleverly done, and one that offers up a such a delicious mélange of complex relationships and sensible motivation, that all of the many discrepancies inherent in having Mystique on the side of good or having Moira McTaggert a CIA agent simply do not matter.
Speaking of McTaggert, Rose Byrne is both comely and convincing in the role, and almost every other actor is perfectly, one might almost say forcefully, cast. McAvoy brings a kind of laddish charm to Charles Xavier that he mixes nicely with both decency and naïveté, and Michael Fassbender's nascent Magneto is relentlessly, even heart-breakingly, compelling. Their chemistry is electric -- theirs' is one of the most multi-faceted and sincere bromances the screen has seen in a good long while.
The younger cast all impress, though particular praise must go to Oscar-nominee Jennifer Lawrence as the petulant but pitiable Raven/Mystique (The Academy Awards have been good to young, hot X-chicks; let us not forget that Rogue herself, Anna Paquin, won for THE PIANO). Former child star Nicholas Hoult is also outstanding as the troubled Hank McCoy, and perhaps the most surprising kudos must go to teenage dream Lucas Till, who conveys the particular anti-social asshole-hood of the turbulent Alex Summers very convincingly indeed.
The biggest letdown in the movie, acting-wise, is January Jones as Emma Frost. True, she is appropriately ravishing, there can be no denying that, but she lacks the the zing of the written character. There is very little intelligence, snark, or even personality behind her interpretation of this most intriguing of mutants; she's just kind of Stand There and Look Pretty -- which, for one playing Emma Frost, is something a travesty.
The only other weight under which this movie really labors is the fact that it is a prequel, and it therefore suffers from the feeling of inevitability that besets all such endeavors. Anakin Skywalker HAS to go Dark Side. Bilbo Baggins HAS to find the One Ring. And Magneto HAS to turn against humans; Mystique HAS to join him; Xavier HAS to end up in a wheelchair. With these definite plot developments looming, their eventuation is bound to be a bit of an anti-climax.
And yet the fun part about X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is the journey it takes us on to get us there. Offering up plenty of surprises, some kickass action sequences, mighty fine special effects, sly humor and a killer cameo, it is without doubt the best comic book movie of the year nay, decade thus far. And considering how overcrowded that list is, this is really saying Something.
Huh. A prequel that does not, in any way, suck.
Amazing, isn't it?
-- Rachel Hyland, geekspeakmagazine.com