Dir. by Matthew Vaughn - 2 hrs. 12 min.
I was not entirely on-board for an X-Men reboot going in. There are several reasons, chief among them that I already paid for and watched three X-Men movies (with varying results), and just like with the Spider-Man movies, I feel like there's not a good creative reason for a reboot. Granted, there's been literally thousands of comics books made of these characters, but the entire point of doing movie versions is to cherry-pick those stories and hit a grand-slam every time you commit two hours of film to one of them. The second you start to dip your toes into sub-excellent material, it's better to wrap things up. I guess the best way to put it is that if Marvel is going to start re-telling stories they've already made into films, I'm done. Tobey Maguire is my generation's Spidey for good or ill, and I'm not that interested in starting the hero's journey over again with someone I've never heard of.
Another big source of my hesitation: the trailers didn't do a lot for me. Honestly, I don't even remember them, which is kind of sad.
So let's get into the things that helped me enjoy this movie. First, it's more of a soft reboot, in that it serves as a prequel (and one that's set many years back, instead of being a direct prequel with cheaper actors). That definitely helps deal with seeing different actors playing the characters that have already been established over the other three X-Men movies. Second, as it turns out, sharp suits, rad cars, and mini-skirts with go-go boots go a long way with me. I can't stress this enough, we all dress like complete slobs now, and even the teenagers here look sharp as a tack (and in a believable way, too). It's not just a product of the time, it's the very existence of dress denim as a concept that's the problem. A little style goes a long way, and "X-Men: First Class" has more than a little style. Even Kevin Bacon, as the main villain Sebastian Shaw, always cuts a dashing figure, regardless of the evil he's up to.
Another thing that helps here is that the movie has a flawless structure (and realizes it, and then doesn't mess with what's always worked in the X-Men comics), in that the emergence of mutant-kind is really all about the civil rights movement. Placed in the context of the 1960's in America, and with the viewers having knowledge of everything that's ensued since then, a heavy cloud hangs over the rhetoric exchanged between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender). There's always been a comparison that Xavier was Martin Luther King, Jr., and Erik (Magneto) was Malcolm X, but where this movie really succeeds is showing how each man arrived at their philosophy, and not condemning either view. And it's made clear that the two men achieve more working together than they do separately, which is a statement for modern times if there ever was one.
I won't bother with a plot recap, other than to say this is a version of the original X-Men origin story, explicitly using Cold War tensions to advance the story (which is a million times more interesting than the standard action movie plot of a baddie stealing some virus which will kill mankind). While there is a good guy/bad guy plot, there's also the matter of whether or not people with very different ideas about how to live can work together in any meaningful way. This story came together in a believable, tense way. For a movie that I was nearly completely unexcited to see, I ended up really liking what I saw. From bringing some much needed fashion-sense to geekdom, to a really great cameo for the folks who have seen the other three X-Men movies, to not being afraid to give voice to both Malcolm and MLK, it all works, and it's a really good movie.
4 / 5 - Theatre