Director: Matthew Vaughn Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Synopsis: “In 1962, the United States government enlists the help of Mutants with superhuman abilities to stop a malicious dictator who is determined to start world war III.” Rating: 12A Runtime: 132 minutes
“Let’s just say I’m Frankenstein’s monster. And I’m looking for my creator.”
Taking the X-Men and dropping them into the 60’s in order to reboot the franchise, and tell us how the team first got together is a fun if flawed attempt at revitalising the franchise. It works really well for the most part as we enjoy James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender getting to grips with each other and their differing views on the world for the first time, but as with X-Men Origins: Wolverine there is too much going on and not enough focus to make this a truly great X movie.
The movie re-introduces us to a young Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Fassbender) who are on their way to becoming Professor X and Magneto. The movie focuses on their relationship, and all the trials and tribulations that come with it. Their relationship is the foundation of X-Men: First Class and it feels somewhat of a shame that more time isn’t spent with them.
As the story moves along we are introduced to several characters, both old and new, but none who share the charisma of McAvoy and Fassbender. We have Rose Byrne’s CIA agent Moira MacTaggert, Kevin Bacon’s evil Sebastian Shaw, January Jones as Shaw’s telepathic second in command Emma Frost, Nicholas Hoult’s youthful Beast and Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique as well as many others to get used to.
Some of the characters fare better than others, but as can so often be the case in an ensemble movie some characters will always feel marginalised and left out. Jennifer Lawrence does well as Xavier’s childhood friend who, due to her naturally blue skin, is having an identity crisis which isn’t helped by Xavier’s desire to keep their powers hidden from the public. Kevin Bacon is ruthlessly evil, and slyly charming as Sebastian Shaw, who has his own group of mutants and is playing the USA and Russia off of each other in order to start a war that will somehow see mutant-kind as the only survivors.
The young cast of mutants are a mixed bunch, and suffer from not having enough time to truly develop their characters. Time constraints play a part in this, but there is also a feeling of a studio badgering the director to include certain mutants in the movie. Some of them also feel as if they are just replicas of others characters we have seen before. It would have been nice to see more of the likes of Azazel, who in all fairness is a bad version of Nightcrawler from X-Men 2, Darwin and Havok but instead they kind of get lost in the mix along the way.
The decision to send the story back to the 60’s was a good one though, and lets the movies creators use the themes of the era to enhance their story, with the Cuban missile crisis proving a good stand-off point between the X-Men and the distrusting humans. It does feel though that other elements of that period could have been utilised as well, but if we start including things like building the Berlin wall and the Civil Rights Act then we could be looking at a 3 hour plus movie.
Director Matthew Vaughn does well to balance out the various elements of the movie, but perhaps lacks the nuance of Bryan Singer and the first two X-Men movies. Vaughn does bring his own style to the movie, while staying true to the universe Singer created in 2000, and along with screenwriter Jane Goldman, there is a sense of humour found here and a slightly harder edge that were absent from Singer’s movies. Would Singer be able to craft the interrogation scene between Fassbender and a banker? Could Vaughn have created the drama to come close to Iceman’s “coming out” scene from X-Men 2?
Both directors obviously have different styles, but they do find a way to compliment each other. Vaughn lets Magneto, in a sense, fill the void left by Wolverine and plays the tortured soul looking for answers and revenge really rather well. In fact, the early scenes of Magneto travelling around the world picking off those attached to Shaw is almost 60’s James Bond esque. While I am aware that it is nothing new to make that comparison, and I know a few people who believe Fassbender should be the next Bond, it is still a point worth noting and these early scenes prove some of the movies best.
Vaughn also gives us a version of Xavier I never knew existed. Xavier here is all 60’s groove, when he’s not studying he’s drinking and chatting up women. He retains the leadership skills of Patrick Stewart’s version of Xavier, even if he is a little rough around the edges and we can really feel how the world he knows is slowly slipping away from him as events move along.
All in all, X-Men: First Class is a very satisfying movie and is probably about on a par with Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie. Sure, there are some plot holes (aren’t there always though?), an overabundance of characters and some uneven pacing, but X-Men: First Class really nails the early relationship between Professor X and Magneto and is a hell of a lot better than X-Men 3 and the Wolverine origins movie.
In summary: While not without its flaws, X-Men: First Class does a good job of rebooting the franchise and brings a sense of fun and excitement back to the series.