X-Men: First Class Review

X-Men: First Class will produce grandly scaled summer movie entertainment, partially to keep a billion dollar franchise cranking, and to appease mainstream buffs with high energy visuals. Straight to the point, it’s what we expect.

In front of the lens of Kick-Ass’ Matthew Vaughn though, the series is able to show restraint, carefully shot and plotted restraint at that. Eric Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) steals a scene in an exotic bar, his concentration camp memories leading him to a stare down with two Germans. They share a beer, arguably the tensest beer anyone has ever shared, before rage takes over. It’s five minutes, the best First Class will produce, and in something this caliber, that’s an immense accomplishment.

Unlike the pokey, drab Wolverine, First Class stands as both a reference to those early X-Men and this production. Set design is exquisite, the interior of Sebastian Shaw’s (Kevin Bacon) submarine glamorous and appealing. His mind-blocking helmet is everything Hollywood craftsmanship stands for, and the computer generated sights never disappoint.

Between missile barrages, CIA invasions, Cold War tensions, and mutant power discoveries, the four-way screenplay muses about humanity, evolution, and racial rejection, all the stuff that makes up the core of the series. It’s never lost those qualities, and if it did, it’s doubtful anyone would return.

You can argue about whether or not the whole thing is necessary; does anyone really need to know this origin tale? Not necessarily, but the quality deems otherwise, and mixing in the younger years of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his nemesis strengthens the later efforts. Who knows, maybe in a marathon session, First Class may even salvage the fan-reviled X-Men: The Last Stand. Okay, maybe it’s not that good.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Fox goes all out for this AVC encode, translated from an expected pristine film-based source. The mild grain is never out of place, and the bombardment of special effects never adds an additional layer of noise. They’re seamlessly integrated.

The transfer to Blu-ray only introduces a handful of minor aliasing artifacts, certain objects exhibiting clear line break-up, usually relegated to background objects. What it preserves is far more interesting, including brilliantly saturated, deep, rich color, a look that will bridge this prequel with the other films. Primaries have a rare luster about them, accomplished without the need for static palettes short of a secret room in the sub. Flesh tones are preserved without any anomalies or that Hollywood favorite bronzing.

Definition is of the highest caliber… you might even say it’s first class!… Sorry. Facial detail is simply astounding, layered and rich, especially the various make-up appliances. Mystique’s alternate facade and Beast’s eventual reveal are remarkable in their sharpness. Minus make-up, human characters produce the same level, mid-range or not. Environments can find themselves trapped in a minor pit of softness, a flaw quick to be eliminated in the second half. Many of those shots appear stock as it is.

Contrast is heavy, weighing on the image and taking control come the island-based finale. Black levels hold tight too, middling on that rare occasion during a handful of interiors. Depth is maintained, even at a slight cost to shadow detail. Despite those certainly visible concerns, First Class is the closest 2011 has come to live action perfection.

Video ★★★★★ 

Firing back is a DTS-HD audio mix that is masterful, keeping up with the frenzied action. The first shot across the bow comes as Magneto first displays his prowess, decimating an exam room at 8:20, metal tossed about the soundfield or objects banging into each other. The rumble as he tries to generate his powers will rock the sub, only increasing in depth as he turns into an adult.

That’s not the first mega-scaled action sequence though, that coming past the half-hour mark as chaos take hold during a sea scuffle. A boat will explode, hammering the low-end, the surrounds literally picking up the pieces as they pass overhead. Balance is flawlessly managed even under these conditions, key dialogue captured in a firm center that is consistent in fidelity and volume.

First Class finishes with at least 20-minutes of audio ferocity, the X-Men heading into battle in their jet, engines firing and war commencing. It all leads into a crash landing that is a reference sequence if there ever was one, bass maybe a little lighter than expected, but maintained on an even playing field with the positional channels. This is a perfect example of why audophiles stuff their shelves with summer blockbusters.

Audio ★★★★★ 

This review is based on a rental exclusive and as such contains no extras.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆