Releasing Studio: 20th Century Fox/Marvel Studios
Disc/Transfer Specifications: 1080p High Definition; 2.35:1; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt
OSAGE’S PLOT ANALYSIS:
I was never a big fan of the X-Men comics, and didn’t see much of the film adaptations that came before First Class – I know they featured Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Patrick Stewart as the adult Professor Charles Xavier (who comes to be known as the wheelchair-bound Professor X) but beyond this, I wasn’t too familiar with the subject matter. However, this prequel origin story piqued my interest in that it featured a bunch of mutant “heroes” battling other mutants with destruction and mayhem ensuing, generally suggesting an action packed comic adaptation. The final result was entertaining – but not exactly my cup of comic character tea; I feel more comfortable with the Batmen, Spider-Men, Iron Men and Supermen of the world.
Because this was my first foray into the world of the X-Men, the plot analysis was a slow process, as I attempted to figure out what was going on, and to learn the characters as they were introduced. The film begins with a scene right out of Nazi Germany in World War II, where the young boy who grows up to eventually become “Magneto” is seen using special mental powers to bend an iron fence as the Nazis round up the Jews for the Holocaust; the boy is taken to the lab of what appears to be a Nazi scientist (played by Kevin Bacon) where he is forced to attempt to use his powers to bend a Nazi coin on the scientist’s desk. When he claims he cannot, Bacon has the boy’s mother brought in and proceeds to shoot her in front of him. What follows is a mutant temper tantrum from the boy out of anger which ends up destroying everything in the lab – Bacon seems satisfied that he was able to harness the boy’s powers via anger.
Meanwhile, in an English university, we meet Professor Charles Xavier, who is putting his charms to work on mutant-like ladies at the pub while also being annoyed by his sister, who also happens to be a mutant of some kind but who appears as cute and appealing as a button when she’s in human form. Apparently, Xavier is studying the metamorphosis of mutated genes and has a theory about mutated people who walk the Earth – his sister appears as an Avatar-like character, a body dyed completely in blue with red hair and yellow, reptile-like eyes. We are beginning to see the origins of the X-Men universe.
The film then jumps to the 1960’s, and the characters are superimposed, in a way, against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis of that period – American President John F. Kennedy has ordered that any Russian ships sending missiles to Cuba be intercepted and fired upon if they cross a certain failsafe line. Some of First Class got very convoluted to me at this point, and much of the real-world history didn’t seem to mix right with the comic background story going on – much like what a lot of viewers thought during Captain America. The young German boy is now grown up, still looking for Bacon’s Nazi character for revenge of killing his mother, and Bacon himself has become a completely English-speaking villain who has some kind of a plan to control the minds of certain Russian leaders so they spark World War III – the nuclear war the U.S. nearly avoided. He shoots through the oceans on a special futuristic-looking submarine with a appealing female mutant by his side, but we quickly learn that Bacon himself is a mutated being – a supremely advanced and powerful one at that. The plot then splinters to involve different characters coming together – the U.S. CIA of the time puts a female agent into play to learn the terrifying secrets of this pending disaster and eventually Oliver Platt, who portrays a CIA operative heading a special scientific project involving mutations, gets Charles Xavier and other mutants to meet at his secret underground lab.
It’s at this point even novice X-Men fans like me could feel the actual story coming together – Xavier and his mutant sister, the boy who grew up out of Nazi Germany to avenge his mother’s death and some others are forming the core of the X-Men allegiance. While in Platt’s lab, the group also meets the kid who ends up becoming “Beast,” the blue furry fox-like creature when a serum he experiments with to reduce the external effects of their mutations backfires. A plan is hatched, with Xavier at the lead, to bring down Bacon’s character before Armageddon strikes Earth, and Platt convinces the CIA heads to let this team go in to stop him. What ensues is a battle between Bacon’s mutant army and Xavier’s “X-Men” complete with the prerequisite over-the-top CGI sequences as the group flies around in a specially-made aircraft “Beast” conceived and pilots (a la the creation Reed made toward the end of Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer) trying to get to Bacon’s super secret sub. Eventually, Bacon’s confronted by the one who wants revenge for killing his mother in Nazi Germany, and it’s here we get glimpses of what becomes the iconic “Magneto” helmet, first worn by Bacon to deflect mind reading mutants but later taken by the character that takes the name Magneto. The end sequence with all these mutants flying around and using their powers against Bacon’s mutant goons is a bit hokey and all over the place, but it’s the X-Men variant of the standard comic adaptation hero vs. villain end scene, and the weaponry and powers used by the characters was cool enough eye candy. Ultimately, we see Magneto kind of turning on the other X-Men as they don’t want to use their powers for anything other than defending the innocent, and this transpires on a Cuban beach in a final sequence in which the American and Russian battleships in the distance turn their guns on the mutants on the beach, and Magneto uses his evolved mental abilities to send the weapons back at the ships – Xavier, in response, uses his powers to reverse this from happening, and we’re witness to Magneto kind of “morphing” into a semi-villain of his own, while Professor X ends up in a wheelchair from the mutation battle.
As I stated, X-Men First Class wasn’t really my cup of tea – amongst the members of the Marvel universe, the characters are very science fiction-ey, and less engaging, in my opinion, than otherworldly characters like Thor. But this was a decent and fun rental, and allowed me as a novice of the X-Men world to get acquainted with the characters and story; I just didn’t buy Bacon’s character going from Nazi scientist to English-speaking war monger with mutated abilities himself…something just seemed off there to me.
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
The Blu-ray transfer of X-Men First Class didn’t impress me, but I am suspecting this may have been the sample copy I was sent to review because everyone else who has viewed this disc has come back with glowing remarks – the sequences which were not shot in daylight or with outdoor backgrounds didn’t look good to me, at all. There was a heavy amount of grain in darkly-lit scenes, and the interior shots, for example with Xavier at the college in England, were bogged down with a softness and lack of detail that was very offputting to me. When the shots opened up to sunny, brightly lit scenes, Fox’s 1080p transfer looked like a stellar Blu-ray release, exhibiting fine detail in clothing, pebbles on the ground, facial features and beyond, with spectacular ranges of contrast.
This inherent softness I spoke of was the biggest problem on X-Men First Class, and it rendered the Blu-ray copy I viewed as being extremely DVD-like in picture quality; the image became dingy, soft and crushed a bit during most of these non-exterior sequences, with varying degrees of grain and digital noise compounding the issue. To me, this wasn’t a reference grade transfer, especially confusing given that this was a somewhat large budget new release.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track was engaging from beginning to end, as would be expected from this genre of film, except for a low dialogue stem issue which I also found on Thor’s Blu-ray MA track (review to follow); the sequences involving fights and action amongst the mutants was rendered aggressively through all the channels, and bass was ample from what I can recall. Further, certain scenes stood out amongst others – specifically, when the group is showing off for one another at the CIA lab, demonstrating their abilities, the accompanying audio and effects were jarringly realistic, throwing seething, screeching cues from their “weapons” into all the surround channels in a startling way.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
I suspect there are those who are diehard X-Men followers – of the books and films – and for them, First Class, as a prequel story, was most likely a real treat. I wasn’t a fan of the book nor did I see any of the Patrick Stewart films in which he portrayed an older Professor X, but this was a fun way to familiarize myself with the stories. I can definitely recommend a rental, and I have already read on other sites that the title is selling well to fans of the X-Men, whether on DVD or Blu-ray. I am uncertain if this will be a buy for me yet, as I was better entertained by Iron Man, Captain America and Thor.
As always, thanks for reading – I will have the review of the 2D version of Thor up just as soon as I can!