X-Men:First Class Review

Superman's not the only one who
can rock the cape and underwear look.
X-men:First Class is what happens when you let “Kick-Ass” helmer Matthew Vaughn direct an X-men movie. Set during the cold war the movie feels like a comic book film via Connery era Bond, and yes, that is as awesome as it sounds. That’s not to say the film is without flaws. The rushed production shows in places, and few of the cast give sub-par performances, but the film gets a lot more right than it gets wrong. 

First Class takes place years before the previous X-men films, and series mainstays such as Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm and Jean are not the titular X-men of this edition of the franchise. Instead the film focuses on the first meeting of mutants Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and their formation of the original X-men line up. Vaughn makes full use of the 60’s setting, and infuses the film with a great sense of style. I mentioned the Bond influence, but I should also point out this film features January Jones made up to look like a fembot from Austin Powers, oh, and James McAvoy says ‘groovy’, repeatedly.

Besides having Vaughn at the helm the biggest thing First Class gets right is the casting of Fassbender and McAvoy as Magneto and Xavier. Each actor makes their respective role their own. Fassbender is dark and brooding as Magneto, using his powers to hunt down ex-Nazis in South America, whilst McAvoy gives a really fun performance as a cockier, younger Professor X, using his mind reading ability seemingly to do nothing but pick up chicks. It’s only after things get serious does the character begin to develop into the Charles Xavier X-men fans are familiar with.

Whilst Xavier journeys form immaturity to maturity, Fassbender's Magneto goes form cynicism to...well... more cynicism, and that's another great part of this movie. The film captures one of the crucial differences between Xavier and Magneto that leads to their difference in ideals. Magneto's dark streak (and he has one hell of a dark streak) is depicted, not as some inherent character flaw, but a result of the harsh environment in which he was raised. Whilst Xavier was living in a mansion Magneto was living in a concentration camp. The early holocaust scenes serve to make Magneto’s fear of mutants being segregated and discriminated against seem the much more realistic outlook when compared with Xavier's optimistic viewpoint. In the original films it was pretty clear Xavier had the more reasonable opinion. First Class chooses to paint them both as different shades of grey. 

There's always time to take a break from saving
the world to have a nice game of chess.
Xavier and Magneto’s common enemy is the former Nazi scientist responsible for killing Magneto's mother, ageless mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who's now hell bent on starting WWIII to let mutants inherit the earth. Xavier and Magneto assemble a team of young mutants to battle Shaw, thus forming the first ever team of X-men. Kevin Bacon delivers a nice performance as the gleefully menacing Shaw, who goes about his evil plans with a friendly smile and a spring in his step, almost as if playing a pleasant round of golf.  

The supporting cast compliment the strong performances from the three leads. Alex Gonzalez and Jason Flemyng play Shaw's two henchmen Riptide and Azazel who are there pretty much just to look cool and kick some ass, but they both do it well, so no complaints there. As for the X-men themselves the two standouts are Oscar nominee Jenifer Lawrence as Mystique and Nicolas Hoult as Beast.

Riptide doesn't really say much, but he looks good
so who cares, right?
Whilst the majority of the cast turn in good performances, there is some less than stellar acting here and there. January Jones is there purely for eye candy purposes and turns a character whose comic book incarnation is intelligent and deceptive into nothing more than Shaw’s bimbo. Rose Byrne’s Moira McTaggart also has a hugely reduced role compared to the comic book incarnation, though this may be more of a flaw with the script rather than Byrne's performance. What little she does in terms of plot is over in the first ten minutes and she hangs around for the rest of the film just to give the occasional friendly thumbs up and to stand next to Xavier nodding whilst he spouts off exposition.

The special effects are also occasionally flawed. Don't get me wrong they're definitely not bad, just a tad inconsistent. For instance there’s one sequence towards the end of the film involving jets, submarines and a seemingly improbable amount of missiles that looks fantastic. It's well filmed with great CGI. However Emma Frost’s diamond transformation looks very fake, and whilst Beast’s costume looks better here than it did in Last Stand, when he speaks the lips don’t quite make the right movements. They seem stiff and look as if they were supposed to be improved with CGI but weren’t either due to time or budget constraints.

When Smurfs and Wookies mate.

Those few complaints aside X-men:First Class is a great comic book film and a great X-men film, easily on par with the first and second instalments. I’ve seen all the summer super hero movies so far (just waiting for Captain America), and this is by far the best one.  Sure there are some cheesy moments and SFX blunders, but they’re few and far between,  and the fantastic performances from Fassbender and McAvoy more than make up for it.