X-Men: First Class (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Andy James & Noor Razzak (25th September 2011).
The Film

Matthew Vaughn has finally made his Marvel superhero movie, and thank goodness for that. Vaughn was previously attached to "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006) where he was all but set to shoot when he left for "personal reasons". We all know how that turned out: "X3" was a steaming pile and Vaughn eventually went on to make the brilliant "Kick-Ass" (2010). But before that he was also attached to "Thor" (2011). Yep, the Marvel Norse god superhero movie that came out earlier this year. I believe the version he was attached to involved Asgard more, to the point of being told almost exclusively in that realm. Again, he left the project. And now, finally, he gets to come full circle and tackle the early days of Marvel's uncanny X-Men.

Like most, I'm no big fan of reboots or prequels or prebootquels or whatever the hell you want to call them. Prequels can, by the very nature of telling a story about characters you know from "future" installments, be the trickiest of the bunch. How do you create dramatic tension and tell a compelling story when we already know the end point for these characters' arcs? In the case of Vaughn and his screenwriting companion Jane Goldman, they do so by enlivening the genre in which it is told, by entangling the story of the X-Men into the real world and by bringing it back to that central relationship: that of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his friend and enemy Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender).

X-Men, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was an instrumental film in bringing the superhero into the mainstream. The film itself doesn't really stand up nowadays but back then it was something else. I still think "X2: X-Men United" (2003) is one of the finest of the genre and, where most superhero films now focus on one character, the X-Men films have always been about the team; well, Wolverine and the team. But in ditching the feral adamantium-laced wonder and going back to how it all began they have actually managed to open up a whole new raft of story possibilities. And that seems to be one of the best tricks Vaughn and Goldman have pulled off: they acknowledge and respect the films that were made before, but they aren't entirely slavish to the continuity.

"X-Men: First Class" begins where the first "X-Men" (2000) film does; in fact it re-creates shot for shot the opening with young Erik Lensherr (Bill Milner) having his family ripped away from him. But First Class then expands on that, introducing us to the villain of the piece: Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw. We're also shown a young Charles Xavier as he discovers the young shapeshifter Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), the future Mystique and takes her in. Cut ahead to the early 60's: Erik is a young man consumed by anger and revenge, encircling the globe hunting down Nazis and hunting for Shaw. Just like Christopher Nolan worked in his Bond film fetish into "Inception" (2010), so has Vaughn done here with Michael Fassbender's Erik Lensherr: he's brutal, charming, deadly and just so fucking cool. And what's more, you understand his anger and his need for vengeance: Shaw killed his mother, Shaw tortured and experimented on him for years. Shaw stripped him of his humanity and turned him into a weapon. Life for the young Charles Xavier, however, is vastly different. He's studying genetics at Oxford, but we only see him down the pub drinking and picking up birds with lines about mutation. James McAvoy's Xavier is not the saintly savior just yet; he is just a young man with naive, arrogant ideas. An annoyingly gifted and charming one who just assumes he's always right, equally at home in the worlds of academia and down the pub. But you can still see his desire to help his fellow mutants, even if he doesn't quite know how yet. An interesting addition to this mix is Jennifer Lawrence's Raven: she's grown up with Charles and followed him to Oxford. She struggles with her natural blue and scaly appearance and her "big brother" Charles is all but oblivious to it. The relationship between these two is one of the finest additions to the X-Men story and casts events in the other X-films in a new light.

Lawrence, McAvoy and Fassbender are, unsurprisingly, perfect and the chemistry between the three of them is different for each pairing (Xavier/Raven, Xavier/Lensherr etc.) but undeniable. Kevin Bacon is relishing his time as the Bond villain with a grand, insane plan to ruuule the world! Mwahahaha! He's creepy and thoroughly menacing. January Jones has less to do, and gives us less (unless you count skin) as the diamond skinned telepath Emma Frost. Getting similarly short shrift are the young mutants that make up that first class; most of them are barely defined past their powers with Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast being the only one to really have some time to shine (which is fine, as Hoult is great as the nervous hyper-intelligent Q of the X-Men). But these kids do give us some of the best bits of the film: Xavier and Lensherr finding them with Cerebro, the kids hanging out and showing off their powers, Xavier and Lensherr training them in the use of their powers. It's a more joyous, liberated feeling given to these gifts than is usually seen in the X-universe. And I'd just like to say, I am incredibly pleased they went with the classic (albeit tweaked) blue and gold uniforms. Those costumes suit this film down to the ground.

The fact that this was all made in 10 months is almost unbelievable but Vaughn and his team have pulled it off. And not only pulled it off, but made one of the best blockbusters of the year. The truncated production/post-production period shows in some places though: some FX work isnít the best (notably in the flying sequences) and the film is relentlessly plot driven. But they still find time for those all important character moments. In fact, the biggest complaint I have is that I wanted more: I wanted more of Erik hunting Nazis like an angry, charming, super-powered 007. I wanted more of the relationship between Charles and Erik, of just seeing these two future leaders together. I wanted more of the 60ís societal vibe, this being the decade of the civil rights movement and more. There is a dash of that, but it feels more like really great flavoring to events than being a pivotal part of proceedings (the Cuban Missile Crisis aside). I hope the plan is to involve real, society shifting events in a sequel as they move deeper into the fractious decade.

"X-Men: First Class" marks a big, important step for Vaughn as a director. This is perhaps not as inventive in the action sequences (but they're still great) as his previous "Kick-Ass" but given the incredible time constraints and huge nature of this canvas, that is something easily forgiven. And that's another great thing: First Class hops around the globe and the central threat involves nothing less than total nuclear armageddon. It's a little bit larger and higher stakes than most other superhero films. Vaughn has managed to revitalise a struggling franchise and bring it back to the central relationship: the teacher Xavier and the leader Magneto. I, for one, am glad the Vaughn left "X-Men: The Last Stand"; there he would've been telling a continuation and end of a story someone else started. With "X-Men: First Class" he gets to begin a new one.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps HD mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression. Fox continues to deliver a high quality HD experience with their release of "X-Men: First Class" it's a resoundingly splendid picture. The film's crispness is brilliantly replicated here, with sharp detail right down to the subtle touches on the character costumes are visible, the world created here is displayed in all it's HD glory allowing viewers to take in all the impressive touches applied. The detail and textures look terrific and hold up well, the 60's era vibrancy and color are also at the forefront of this image. The production design uses a lush and vivid palette to work with and each scene, set and location is used to maximum effect. Cinematographer John Mathieson's discerning eye and experience has resulted in a wide frame lit with an energy that reflects the themes and tones of the scenes, delivering a immersive photographic experience. Black levels are deep and bold, skin tones appear natural, depth is excellent, grain structure appears natural and there's no evidence of digital noise reduction. I also couldn't find any other compression related issues or other flaws. This is a fantastic picture.

Audio

Four audio tracks are presented here in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and an English Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for the visually impaired. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio track. Much like the image the audio can be considered a reference quality track. The dialogue is clear and distortion free but that's not why you're here is it? It's for the boombastic roller-coaster ride of excitement that this track offers. Sonically this audio track is active and aggressive, the action scenes leap off the screen with an immersive mix. Ambient sounds are natural and subtle and the score adds further depth. The 5.1 track is fantastic, pure and simple.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Fox has released this film as a 2-disc set featuring an isolated score, two interactive features, a seven-part documentary, thirteen deleted scenes, a digital copy promo and a second disc that features a digital copy of the film. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE:

Henry Jackman's work is presented in an isolated score track in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. All audio bar the score is stripped for this track allowing viewers to take in the expansive music on it's own while viewing the film. These additions are neat to get a perspective on the music process but it really needs a commentary with the composer to offer insight into the music and the reasoning behind some creative decisions.

"X Marks the Spot" is an Enhanced Viewing mode picture-in-picture interactive feature (Explore the creation of X-Men: First Class by selecting this feature. These behind-the-scenes videos can be viewed either within the context of the film or separately). These segments offer up some additional behind-the-scenes material focusing on key scenes in the film. They offer up some interviews and a look inside the production on how these scenes materialized. You can play in movie mode or you can view as individual featurettes they include:

- "Erik in Auschwitz" runs for 1 minute 57 seconds.
- "Charles Meets Raven" runs for 1 minute 56 seconds.
- "Mr. Howlett Declines" runs for 1 minute 55 seconds.
- "Mindscape" runs for 1 minute 49 seconds.
- "Emulsional Journey" runs for 4 minutes 13 seconds.
- "Rebecca's Return" runs for 1 minute 44 seconds.
- "Cuban Beach Pre-Viz Sequence" runs for 3 minutes 7 seconds.
- "Retro Cool" runs for 2 minutes 51 seconds.

Next up is "Cerebro: Mutant Tracker" an interactive feature, this feature takes viewers into cerebro and allows you the chance to locate the mutants featured in this film, once you have tracked down all available mutants, you will be granted access to additional profiles via the BD-Live access. Each segment offers up a brief rundown on the character and there are eighteen in total and span all the "X-Men" films, they include:

- "Phoenix/Jean Grey" runs for 1 minute 24 seconds.
- "Cyclops/Scott Summers" runs for 1 minute.
- "Rogue/Marie" runs for 1 minute 15 seconds.
- "Wolverine/James Howlett/AKA Logan/AKA Weapon X" runs for 1 minute 36 seconds.
- "Sabretooth/Victor Creed" runs for 1 minute 16 seconds.
- "Angel/Warren Worthington III" runs for 1 minute.
- "Professor X/Professor Charles Xavier" runs for 1 minute 49 seconds.
- "Storm/Ororo Munroe" runs for 1 minute 13 seconds.
- "Pyro/John Allerdyce" runs for 52 seconds.
- "Iceman/Bobby Drake" runs for 1 minute 2 seconds.
- "Juggernaut/Cain Marko" runs for 57 seconds.
- "Gambit/Remy Lebeau" runs for 50 seconds.
- "Mystique/Raven Darkholme" runs for 1 minute 25 seconds.
- "Emma Frost/Emma Frost" runs for 1 minute 7 seconds.
- "Colossus/Peter Rasputin" runs for 42 seconds.
- "Beast/Dr. Henry "Hank" McCoy" runs for 1 minute 33 seconds.
- "Jason 143/Jason Stryker/AKA Mutant 143" runs for 1 minute 16 seconds.
- "Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr" runs for 1 minute 47 seconds.

One of the best features on this disc is the informative and comprehensive "Children of the Atom" documentary broken down into seven parts and can be viewed as a whole with a 'play all' option or as individual clips. Collectively they run a total 69 minutes 49 seconds. This feature focuses on almost evert aspect of the production and feature in-depth interviews with almost every head of department on this production. It takes a look at the genesis of this project, as well as the false starts and various directions the film's plot was going in, the different scripting options and characters that changes over the course of the production. We also get a close look at bringing on director Vaughn and the vision he brought to the production, the casting, the look and design and the special effects techniques employed to sell the film to audiences as a believable ride through the 60's featuring some fantastic mutants. The feature looks at the challenges and processes of rebooting a franchise. This is a fantastic feature that cover every possible aspect of the production and provides fans a decent look inside a big hollywood production, the individual clips are broken down as such:

- "Second Genesis" runs for 10 minutes 1 second.
- "Band of Brothers" runs for 11 minutes 51 seconds.
- "Transformation" runs for 10 minutes 6 seconds.
- "Suiting Up" runs for 8 minutes 33 seconds.
- "New Frontier: A Dose of Style" runs for 9 minutes 55 seconds.
- "Pulling off the Impossible" runs for 10 minutes 23 seconds.
- "Sound and Fury" runs for 6 minutes 29 seconds.

A total of thirteen deleted scenes are also featured, these can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option, there are come cool scenes found here but it's easy to see why they were omitted, either they were not necessary to progress the plot or trimmed for runtime reason, while some scenes offer a bit more depth to some secondary characters (worth a look at although I can see they were cut as it would have taken away from the main characters in the film, after all it's Erik and Charles' story) and some scenes are extended versions of scenes already in the final cut of the film, the scenes included are for:

- "Erik in Argentinean Airport" runs for 54 seconds.
- "Shaw with Cuban Generals" runs for 28 seconds.
- "Charles and Moira's Tryst, Part 1" runs for 1 minute 23 seconds.
- "Charles and Erik Recruit Angel (Extended)" runs for 1 minute 15 seconds.
- "The Russian Truck (Extended)"runs for 1 minute 14 seconds.
- "Erik Vs. Russian Guards (Extended)" runs for 21 seconds.
- "Shaw's Plan (Extended)" runs for 49 seconds.
- "Havok Training, Part 1 (Extended)" runs for 2 minutes 8 seconds.
- "Banshee Training, Part 1 (Extended)" runs for 1 minute 35 seconds.
- "Havok Training, Part 2 (Extended)" runs for 1 minute 9 seconds.
- "Banshee Training, Part 2 (Extended)" runs for 1 minute 14 seconds.
- "Hank and Raven in the Lab (Extended)" runs for 51 seconds.
- "Charles and Moira's Tryst, Part 2" runs for 31 seconds.

There's also a "Digital Copy How To" promo that runs for 3 minutes 35 seconds.

BD-Live access for profile 2.0 only players offers up some cool extras:

- "Dogfight" Stunt Test (720p) footage runs for 2 minutes 13 seconds, an exclusive clip that shows a dogfight between Angel and Banshee.
- You can also view the film's original theatrical trailer that runs for 2 minutes.

DISC TWO:

This is a digital copy of the film.

Packaging

This 2-disc set comes packaged in a Blu-ray case housed in a gate-fold cardboard slip-case and includes two flyers in the package: The Digital Copy informational flyer/code and one that gives you access to 10 FREE X-Men Comics including an exclusive "NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN" X-Men backstory comic through marvel.com.

Overall

The film review was originally published on the blog Rockets and Robots are Go! by Andy James. The A/V and supplements were reviewed by Noor Razzak.

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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