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X-Men: First Class (2011) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
ImageX-Men has one of the more disappointing franchise runs in terms of comic book adaptation to the big screen.  The first film was extremely promising and then as with most franchises, but to a larger degree, the sequels got worse and worse.  Still, I found them quite entertaining, which is all that really matters to me.

How ever, comic book purists and extreme fans tore the films apart for their lack of continuity with the comics.  That may very well be, but saga lives on.  After failing with the X-Men franchise, the studio broke away and created and origins film based on the character of Wolverine.  Again, another disappointing, but entertaining creation.

The studio has now gone back to the original franchise and created the backstory, akin to a prequel.  “X-Men: First Class” gives us a look at the beginning of mutant evolution and the friendship of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, aka Magneto.

The film is set against the backdrop of the Cold War, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I found this to be an interesting tactic, and it brings the mutants closer to real world assimilation.  While it doesn’t seem to work in certain parts, the overall idea does work.

For those that are only casual X-Men fans, they may find themselves out of the loop when it comes to the mutant characters in the film.  Aside from Xavier, Magneto, Beast, and Mystique, the rest of the mutants are not the extremely well known.  Most of the well-known X-Men characters arise in later years, hence Rogue, Storm, etc are not part of this film.

In the beginning, Xavier (James McAvoy) is a cocky, 60’s groovy, kind of guy.  He likes to think of himself as a ladies man.  In this film we find him finishing his doctorate on genetic mutation.  Along with his adopted sister, Raven, aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Xavier is recruited by the CIA to assist in identifying the baffling nature of mutants, which have obviously only starting to appear in public. Meanwhile, Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), after surviving the camps during the Holocaust, is out for revenge.  Directly in his line of sight is Professor Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), a Nazi scientist that forced him to use his powers by executing his mother.  This is obviously the source of Erik’s rage for the remainder of his life, pushing him toward the anti-human side of the future conflict.

Dr. Schmidt holds a mutant secret of his own that will play some importance in the final plan.  However, during an attempt to kill Schmidt, Erik is rescued by Xavier and his telepathic powers.  Back at a CIA facility the trio meets Beast, who is to help Xavier extend his powers and locate other mutants around the world.

Erik and Xavier have fun recruiting a handful of mutants to take on Schmidt and his cohorts.  Schmidt’s plan is to use mutant powers to make the Soviet Union and the US square off against each other.  Here is where history comes into play.  The final battle is a recreation of the Cuban Missile Crisis standoff, but of course with mutants involved.  It is rather genius, but executed a bit too quickly.

In film such as this, the audience knows what is going to happen.  We already know that Xavier ends up in a wheelchair and that Magneto and Mystique turn to the side of anti-human.  The trick for the filmmakers to make us forget about that and become more interested in the story unfolding.  That is precisely what the creators here have done.  While there are portions of the film that drag a bit, the overall storytelling and action of the film unfolds nicely.

The film comes to Blu-ray with an odd visual appearance.  And while you might jump to criticizing the transfer, the issue actually traces back to the source.  Taking place during the time in which it does the image is dominated by sepia hues.  However, what comes across as an annoyance in the visuals is the fuzzy nature of the image.  Think of an SLR camera that focuses the lens using several focal points to ensure the lens correctly focuses the dominant objects.  Now, with this image, it seems like only the very center of the image is in true focus.  As you scan from the center to edges, the image becomes more and more fuzzy.  When medium shots are used in the film, faces are generally in focus, but a quick glance down at the legs of the actors shows a hazy focus.  This is completely intentional, but fairly distracting.  Aside from that, textures and details remain terrific throughout.  The color balance is accurate for the original intentions and fleshtones remain stable.  Black levels are exquisite and leave details in the shadows fully resolved.  Just in case you were wondering, there is no pesky edge enhancement or noise reduction with this transfer.  It is extremely faithful to the source with a terrific vibrancy.

The audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 and is the star of the release.  While not quite perfect, it is certainly very close.  Dialogue is intelligible throughout, but given the technological advancements in audio today I was a bit disappointed with the weight of the dialogue.  It could be an intentional sound design choice, but is seems like the ADR was done a bit thin.  Music spreads and soars throughout the audio channels, providing the most immersive aspect of the audio track.  Sound effects are plentiful and generally have pinpoint directionality and panning.  However, there are some moments in which the rear speakers fall to provide a smooth transition of sound traveling from front to rear.  The LFE channel is quite pleasant.  Anytime Magneto uses his powers, the LFE kicks into high gear.  The bass is a little untamed, but the depth is appreciated.

The Blu-ray release comes with a decent supplemental package, but far from definitive.  “X Marks The Spot” is primary feature.  It is a viewing mode that provides eight featurettes at certain points in the film.  It would be better if these were available without the pop-up video feature.  “Children Of The Atom” is a documentary in seven parts covering the usual aspects of filmmaking, including sound, make-up, costumes, etc.

Cerebro: Mutant Tracker is essentially a quick bio feature for different mutants.  There are about 15 minutes of deleted/extended scenes.  None of them really amount to much.  The best feature of the disc is the inclusion of the isolated music score.  However, as with every instance of this feature, it is presented in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1, making it useless in my opinion.  The disc is BD-Live enabled, and the package also includes a Digital Copy disc.  No DVD is included with this release.

“X-Men: First Class” is the best X-Men since the very first one.  It suffers here and there, but ultimately provides a very real experience.  The audio and video qualities are terrific.  I recommend adding this title to you collection.

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