Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn delivers first-class entertainment with X-Men: First Class, a prequel to the film franchise that presents the origins of the Marvel Comics mutant team inspired by Jeff Parker's comic books of the same name.
The film opens by presenting the beginning of relationships that propel the story forward. In 1944 at a concentration camp, scientist Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon) explores young Erik Lensherr's magnetism powers through coercive measures. Around the same time, young versions of telepath Charles Xavier and blue-skinned, shape-shifter Raven meet and form a friendship.
Fast forward to 1962, Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) is traveling the world seeking revenge. Xavier (James McAvoy) is attending Oxford University where he is doing work on genetic mutations. CIA Agent Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne) seeks Xavier's help in dealing with Schmidt, who now goes by the name Sebastian Shaw and is working with mutants telepath Emma Frost (January Jones) and devilish-looking teleport Azazel (Jason Flemyng), because Shaw is instigating an arms race between the United States and Russia.
Xavier, leading a CIA team, and Lensherr first cross paths when they converge on Shaw at the same time, but the villain escapes them. Xavier convinces Lensherr they should team up to defeat Shaw. At the agency facilities, Xavier works with brilliant scientist Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), a mutant himself, to find other mutants to assist them, leading to the team known as the X-Men.
The film does well on many fronts. Though an action film, the script focuses on character development also. The story puts the characters in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis as Shaw's plans come to fruition, yet also deals with an identity crisis for McCoy and Raven as they work through having appearances that aren't considered "normal". The screenwriters also do a very good job blending drama and humor, and they create a film accessible for people new to the characters while offering nice moments and Easter eggs to fans of the comics. I was disappointed though that the only two minority character had negative outcomes. The talented cast, one of the best of any summer action film, makes the script come to life in a very engaging way. The action scenes are exciting and well choreographed.
The video is presented in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at 2.39:1 and provides a mostly satisfying experience. The colors are strong and occasionally bright, but there is a coolness seen in the color palette. The image is very clean, but objects within the entire frame entire are not always sharp. When in the foreground, details like the texture of Beast's hair look sharp and defined, but the backgrounds are frequently soft. Noticed a brief moment of alaising on Schmidt's office at the concentration camp. The higher definition brings out some of the artifice of the CGI.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is good, but not as big or immersive as one might expect for a summer action film. Crashes and explosions, like the Blackbird hitting a beach, should have been more powerful. The surrounds swell with the score and Xavier's telepathic thoughts can be heard in the rears. Dialogue is clear and understandable. The effects can be heard moving through channels, such as when Lensherr attacks Shaw's ship with its anchor as it swoops through the air and when Russia jets fly over head. The subwoofer delivers strong bass punches, like when a bronze statue Havok slices through with his his energy blast hits the ground. At times, the audio is mixed too loud and distorts the system, such as when some characters are using their powers or the Blackbird's doors open.
The Blu-ray comes with Special Features that explain the making of the film. "X Marks the Spot" (HD, 20 min) are eight featurettes about different aspects of the film's creation that can be viewed within context as the film runs or separately. The seven-part "Children of the Atom" (HD, 70 min), available individually or all together, is a more intensive look at the production. Much mention is made of the Sean Connery Bond films as a production design influence. As a longtime film fan I was delighted to see visual effects designer John Dykstra the focus of one segment.
Henry Jackman's work can be fully appreciated through the "Composer's Isolated Score in 5.1." "Cerebro Mutant Tracker" runs during the movie and provides information about the characters. There are 13 "Deleted Scenes" (HD 14 min) included, nine of which are extended scenes, which offer a little more info but nothing essential to the story. Lastly, there is one year of online access to digital comics that provide some background to characters from the film. They are: X-Men Firct Class: The High Hand #1 (Exclusive to Blu-ray), New X-Men #118, Uncanny X-Men #28, #58, #131, #389, #428, Annual #2, X-Men: Magneto Testament #1, and X-Men Unlimited #10.
X-Men First Class is a very enjoyable film, arguably the best of the franchise, and the Blu-ray delivers a very good experience of the film and about the film in the extras.