MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
In many ways it was a pleasure to walk into X-Men: First Class without the weight of previous films hanging above for every wink and nod to future (or past) mythology to be received with nerdful glee. Sure, I’d had the misfortune of enduring the catastrophically dire X-Men Origins: Wolverine, so riddled with CGI and non-stop explosions that I accidentally found myself trying to move the character around with an Xbox controller. Everything about that was so wrong that it seemed unlikely a director as exciting as Matthew Vaughn (fresh off the heels of 2010’s gloriously entertaining Kickass and 2007’s Stardust) and two actors as renowned as James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender would sign up for anything less than decent. Let’s give it a go.
McAvoy and Fassbender are outstanding. Both demonstrate the importance of quality acting even for blockbusting, action films. Especially for blockbusting action films. I’m a big believer that when you have special effects thrown around with endless venom there’s a need for something much more tangible to keep a film together, and that’s what McAvoy and Fassbender provide in their portrayals of the younger incarnations of superheroes, Professor X and Magneto.
Plotwise, X-Men: First Class is presented like a typical origins story. The film begins with a load of lose strands as we first meet our characters and learn of their supernatural abilities (or mutations) before the threads tie together and our characters become united in their battle against an energy-absorbing, evil dictator Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), determined to rid the world of the human in favour of this new breed of mutants, whilst exploiting the 1962, Cold War backdrop to his advantage.
January Jones remains in her eyelash flickering comfort zone, even if she is playing a supervillain conspiring with Sebastian. The film couldn’t feel much further away from the aesthetic appearance of Jones’ Mad Men familiarity in its portrayal of the early sixties. X-Men: First Class feels very modern and judging by some of the haircuts, it doesn’t really mind. Considering the film tries to play off a bit of Cold War revisionism, the lack of genuine sixties aesthetic should be troubling. Really it just feels incidental to provide these characters a place to be unleashed, which is a credit to the film’s entertainment credentials.
The film contains some good character moments. Nicholas Hoult (of Skins fame) does a good job transferring to the Hollywood big screen as Hank, struggling to come to terms with the appearance of the mutated feet which give him his superabilities. The script isn’t always fantastic and can feel a little cheesy but that’s why you hire quality actors like Fassbender and McAvoy to elevate the tone. Indeed, special effects wise it’s also not particularly awe inspiring but it benefits from good pacing, tangible themes and a strong story.
I’ve got to admit, the film left me curious to see where the characters go next, although I feel reluctant to skip so far forward as to the original trilogy as I so enjoyed McAvoy and Fassbender’s performances. But if the rumours are true, we may well have a prequel series in the running. Here’s hoping they think of a title that doesn’t lead itself so well to self-reviewing as Second Class. After all, I’ve got high hopes.
X-Men: First Class is out on DVD and Blu-ray from 31st October in the UK. Certificate 12A.
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Review by David Rank