Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together, with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto's Brotherhood and Professor X's X-MEN.
This summer saw its fair share of superhero movies. Like most summers, there were some that were better than others. It's my opinion that 'X-Men: First Class' eclipsed all those other superhero movies and stands atop the summer superhero heap as the best comic book movie of 2011. Not only is it the best "superhero" movie, but it's a damn good movie to boot, one that isn't afraid to take a modern tale like the 'X-Men' and travel back in time with it. It's tough to do a period piece about characters we only really know in their modern day forms. The way director Matthew Vaughn and his crew seamlessly integrate the origins of the X-Men into real history is a daring but very fun way to keep the stories fresh.
It's the 60s and the world is afraid of nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis is approaching. The United States and Russia are on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Our existence hangs by a thread. That's where the mutants come in.
Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is only a young man now, studying genetic mutations. He knows he has the ability to read and control minds, but he doesn't know how many other mutants are out there. He knows of Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), a blue woman who can transform into any other person. There are others out there though, like Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) a man who can control magnetic fields. His story began in the Nazi concentration camps and now he's out for revenge. Trying to hunt down Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), the man who killed his mother.
What's so fun about Vaughn's new 'X-Men' movie is how it so deftly tells the origin stories of our favorite X-Men, all the while telling its own unique tale. Infusing it into real world, historical events lends the movie an added layer of dramatics that's sorely lacking in many superhero movies. 'First Class' works on a human level, even though we're dealing with super-humans. It's easy to empathize with Erik, since we can only imagine the horrors of living in a concentration camp. We understand his hatred, and when the time comes for him to part ways with Xavier, we don't begrudge him.
Kevin Bacon, as the villain, probably gives one of the most enjoyable performances I've witnessed this year. He's so deliciously over the top in a Bond-villain type of way. He's got his plans of world domination, his minions that follow his every whim, and he's even got his very own personal submarine to cruise around the globe on. He's one of those villains who'd travel to the arctic in his submarine just for ice (which he does).
'First Class' isn't without its faults though. Chief among them being the inclusion of Angel (Zoë Kravitz) who is quite possibly the lamest mutant since Kid Omega (Ken Leung) in 'Last Stand.' Angel sports dorky insect wings and spits fiery loogies at her enemies. Every time she's on screen she totally removes you from the very real, very entertaining drama going on.
I'm a huge fan of 'First Class.' I didn't think that there would be much to it because we've already had so many 'X-Men' films come before. What could they do that we hadn't already seen? That answer lies in the performances of McAvoy and Fassbender. Fassbender, especially, is what really makes this film what it is. That scene between him and Charles, where he's trying to move the satellite dish is moving, touching, and proof of what a good actor can accomplish in something like a superhero summer blockbuster. 'X-Men: First Class' was an unexpected treat.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'X-Men: First Class' in 4K UHD comes with a 4K Disc and a Standard 50GB Blu-ray disc, plus the digital download insert from 20th Century Fox. The discs are housed in a hard, black, plastic case.
20th Century Fox delivers a 4K UHD release of 'X-Men: First Class', which has a HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10 with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This release has a digital download code as well as the standard Blu-ray version, in addition to the 4K disc. There is no 3D option here. I was super excited to see this in 2160p, however this isn't the type of 4K UHD presentation I would have liked to see.
Sure, there is a decent enough upgrade from the standard Blu-ray version, but it's not all that great. This transfer is from the 2K version from more than five years ago and wasn't really given the full dynamic treatment of a new presentation, considering the 35mm original negative could have been utilized for an excellent presentation here. Unfortunately, it wasn't. Most of the film has a grainy and soft look. There are certain scenes where detail is upgraded, particularly in the exterior shots in bright light. The X-Men suits look great here with each individual stitch and line being shown nicely.
Individual hairs and the scales on Mystique's body are clear as day too. The big upgrade comes in the form of the color spectrum, where most of the colors seem to pop brighter and show the many various shades when in different lighting. Just look at Magneto's helmet move through the different lighting. It looks incredible here. Black levels are deep and inky and the skin tones are natural. There were no instances of banding, aliasing, or noise to speak of. Again, this isn't a bad video presentation, but it isn't as good as some of the recent 4K UHD releases either. I had hoped for better here.
Did 20th Century Fox not care about this release? Usually with these 4K releases, we get an updated audio presentation, usually with a Dolby Atmos presentation or a 7.1 mix. That is not the case here. Instead, it's just the DTS-HD 5.1 mix from the previous standard Blu-ray that is imported here. This being the case, here is the original audio review below.
If the video was near perfection, the audio is perfection. There is so much going on with 'First Class's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that it would be impossible to draw your attention to each and every one of its highlights in this review.
Surrounds are constantly active with the whiz-bang crashing of mutant mayhem. As Erik sends the anchor tearing through the yacht, metal crunches all around you, LFE roars as the metal of the ship is torn apart. It's a truly engulfing audio experience. That's only one of the many. Dialogue is always clear and concise even in whispered form. Low-end sonics are resounding and unforgiving. Whether it's the roar of their specially made jet or the sudden impact of a missile exploding on a ship, this bass will rattle the walls of your house. Speaking of deep and resonant, Henry Jackman's inspired score reverberates through the sound field providing a sturdy base for our listening environment.
I thought that 'First Class' and its sound mix were every bit as demo worthy as any other high-octane summer blockbuster. Know that if you're purchasing this you'll get top quality sound.
The 4K UHD Disc and the standard Blu-ray version has a composer's isolated score audio option, but that's it. The standard Blu-ray version comes with all of the imported extras from the previous release, which you can READ HERE.
Composer's Isolated Score - On the 4K UHD Disc, as well as the standard Blu-ray version, you can check the score only option and listen to the film without dialogue.
'X-Men: First Class' is an excellent film in my opinion. It definitely kick-started the revamp of the 'X-Men' franchise and it has been great ever since. The origin stories are all excellent and it was so fun to see all of the younger versions discover their powers and become who they were meant to be. Plus this has the BEST Wolverine cameo ever. Unfortunately, it looks like 20th Century Fox just gave this release a quick "once over" and released it in 4K UHD. The video presentation isn't the best it could be, considering all aspects, and they didn't even bother with any new audio options or extras. If you don't already own this movie, I'd say this is definitely recommended, since you get both Discs and the digital download, but if you have the previous version, there is really no need to upgrade just yet. Skip It.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.