by Aaron Einhorn
Fox’s X-Men franchise has been… well, let’s be kind and say “uneven.” The first two films, X-Men and X2 were widely hailed as masterpieces. When director Bryan Singer left the franchise, we got X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine , both of which were equally widely hailed as disasters. So, when it was announced that we were going to get an X-Men prequel in the form of X-Men: First Class, fans were of mixed opinion.
On the one hand, Bryan Singer was returning, although as a producer. The film was being directed by Matthew Vaughn, who had earned a great deal of fan-credit for his work on Kick-Ass. But then there was the mess of the past two films, and the fact that the continuity of the previous films seems to be in direct conflict with their plans for X-Men: First Class. And if it was going to be called X-Men: First Class, why was it not featuring the “first class” (by the standards of either the comics or what we expected from the film).
Also, it was wading in to an awfully full landscape. Competing with it for superhero-fan-dollars would be two films from Marvel Studios (Captain America: The First Avenger andThor) plus a film from DC in the form of Green Lantern. No question, it was going to be an uphill struggle for X-Men: First Class.
Oddly, despite pre-ordering the film from Fox at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con, my copy didn’t arrive until this past Wednesday. But once it did, I knew I couldn’t wait to start devouring the film. So, is it worth grabbing on Blu-Ray? Read on to find out.
Witness the beginning of the X-Men Universe on Blu-ray! X-Men: First Class is the thrilling, eye-opening chapter you’ve been waiting for… packed with exclusive Blu-ray special features, including the Cerebro interactive Mutant Tracker, Enhanced Viewing Mode, Behind-the-Scenes Production Videos, Deleted & Extended Scenes and more!
Set way back in the 1960s X-Men: First Class brings us back to a time before Charles Xavier was Professor X, and when Erik Lensher was not yet Magneto. We meet the “first class” of the X-Men, including the Beast, Mystique, Angel Salvadore, Havok and Banshee. Opposing them are Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club, made up of Shaw, the White Queen, Riptide and Azazael.
X-Men: First Class takes its time in building to conflict, and we get to have the time to really learn who Xavier and Lensher are, which is fascinating. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender do an amazing job with these characters, and the growth of the respect between the two is wonderful to watch – which makes the inevitable rift between them all the more painful.
The mirror to Charles and Eric’s story is the relationship that grows between Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Both young mutants are struggling to accept who they are, especially with the outward physical manifestation of their powers. And there is a beautiful budding romance between them that is handled masterfully by the two young actors.
Unfortunately, it is with the supporting mutants that X-Men: First Class kind of falls apart. We’ll ignore the continuity confusion of using Havok and Emma Frost, but the truth is that they don’t actually add much to the film. X-Men: First Class would have been a much stronger film with a smaller cast, that would have allowed more time to be focused on the Eric/Charles and Beast/Mystique story.
In some cases, the weakness of the supporting characters can be blamed on their short screen time. In other cases, it’s simply a case of poor fits in the casting. January Jones is especially notable for the woodeness of her performance.
All that said, the film flows together great, and captures a 1960′s-James Bond sensibility fantastically. With the Cuban Missile Crisis used as a backdrop, X-Men: First Class makes the stakes high and gives us a great ride along the way.
Like it says in the name, this set does include a Digital Copy of the film. What is a bit on the bizarre side is that it doesn’t include a standard DVD with the set – something that has become the norm with Blu-Ray/Digital Copy packages. It’s far from a deal breaker for me, but it did seem a bit surprising.
The Digital Copy is fairly standard, but has all of the film and is iTunes compatible.
The set also includes 10 free X-Men digital comics. This is a really nice plus, but has the downside that it doesn’t seem to sync with the Marvel Comics app for the iPad.
On to the bonuses included in the Blu-Ray. First up, there are the “X Marks the Spot” featurettes. These can either be viewed in the middle of the film by enabling the “X-Marks The Spot” feature, or can be viewed individually from the menu. These features include Erik in Auschwitz, Charles Meets Raven, Mr. Howlett Declines (one of the best cameos ever), Mindscape, Emulsional Journey, Rebecca’s Return, Cuban Beach Pre-Viz Sequence and Retro Cool.
Each of these featurettes is fairly short, showing commentary from Matthew Vaughn, clips from the film and behind-the-scenes features that go into the shooting of that scene.
After those, there is an isolated copy of the score in 5.1. Dolby Digital sound. Nice to have, but a feature I suspect will rarely get used. (A downloadable version, on the other hand, might have been nice.)
We also have the Cerebro: Mutant Tracker function, which can be used to view profile information about that character. This isn’t limited to the characters from X-Men: First Class, most of the mutants from all four of the X-Men films make an appearance, and the profiles include elements from each of the films. You could spend hours and hours exploring Cerebro, and once you have viewed every profile, additional profiles will be available thanks to BD-Live. In case you’re wondering if you’ve seen them all, a “Mutant Manifest” tracks which profiles you’ve watched. It’s a fun little feature, and one that might make for a great time with a group of comic-loving friends.
Then there’s the Children of the Atom documentary. Broken into multiple sections, each dealing with one element of the film, this is a complete behind-the-scenes look at X-Men: First Class. And it’s the sort of thing that some people will find incredible, while others find it amazingly self-indulgent. As a student of film, I loved it, but its definitely not for everyone.
Finally, we get a set of deleted/extended scenes, thirteen in total. As has become common when watching deleted or extended scenes on a DVD, I can see the purpose to each scene, but I can also usually see why they were cut. Film-making can become self-indulgent, and one of the marks of a really good director is when they are able to cut out a moment that they love because it doesn’t fit into the wider story or it disrupts the pacing.
Nothing that was lost from cutting the scenes was essential, and in all cases, the film flows better for their subtraction. They were interesting to see, but hardly required viewing (although Dragneto is kind of fun).
The great thing about living in the modern era of film fandom is that with Blu-Ray discs, HD TVs and modern special effects techniques, superheroes can now come to life on your television more vividly than ever before. X-Men: First Class is amazingly beautifully shot, the special effects are solid all the way through, the costume and make-up designs are fabulous and the transfer to Blu-Ray is perfect. This is a great looking film from start to end.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, with language tracks in English, Spanish and French. Additionally, the musical soundtrack from composer Henry Jackman is excellent. I mentioned in the special features that I don’t know how often fans will want to use their Blu-Ray player to listen to the isolated score, but I would listen to it on CD all day long. The score is moody when it needs to be, tense when it needs to be and builds excitement in all the right places – including integrating period-appropriate music. Sound FX nicely add to the visual effects of each mutants’ abilities, but never come at a price of the dialogue of the film. Really nicely done.
This is actually a really slick-looking set. The slipcover shows Xavier on one side and Magneto on the other with the other mutants torn between them. The Blu-Ray case itself is a little more simplified, just showing the large “X” logo, and Xavier and Magneto’s heads on either side, but it all comes together to make a very attractive package.
The Pre-Order Process
Here is my biggest single complaint – although it won’t affect anyone purchasing the set after reading my review. I pre-ordered X-Men: First Class (Blu-Ray + Digital Copy) from Fox while at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. And I hoped to get it close to the release date, in order to make this review as timely as possible. Instead, it is posting a week after the release.
Fox, when you offer a pre-order, ship it out so it arrives to fans on release date. If Amazon.com can do it, so can you.
X-Men: First Class isn’t perfect, but it is such a step up from X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine that its flaws are easily overlooked. And if the film isn’t perfect, that doesn’t change the fact that the X-Men: First Class (Blu-Ray + Digital Copy) set is about as perfect of a presentation of the film as you could hope for.
Don’t preorder it from Fox (although it’s too late for that now anyhow), but do pick it up if you enjoyed the film in the theatres, or are a fan of the X-Men in general. X-Men: First Class (Blu-Ray + Digital Copy) is available now through Amazon.com, or you can order the set through Comic Hero News at our online store.