After two disappointing instalments, X-Men fans needed some heroes themselves, people who could revitalise the series and luckily, we got that with the director of the first two films and the man who was originally picked to direct X-Men: The Last Stand. The Bryan Singer/Matthew Vaughn combo was able to give the series the kick it needed, making a fun and action-packed film.
In 1962, the privileged Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has graduated from Oxford University with a PhD in Genetics and has a very close relationship with his adopted sister, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). On the other side of the coin is Erik Lehnsherr (the always awesome Michael Fassbender), a Holocaust surviving, hunting Nazis around the world, overall badass. Both are recruited by CIA agent Moira MacTarget (Rose Byrne) to help stop the Hellfire Club, lead by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his group of powerful mutants; Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and Riptide (Alex Gonzalez). As the Hellfire Club manipulates the United States and the Soviet Union towards nuclear war, Charles and Erik go on their own recruiting drive to train mutants for their team, including Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Alex Summers (Lucas Till), and Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz).
From what should have been a disaster of a film, Vaughn pulled it out of the bag and made a really fun summer blockbuster. Compared to Singer’s whose X-Men movies were dark, in both story and style, Vaughn made his X-Men film a lighter and more colourful film, with a strong mix of drama and comedy, very much like Spider-man and Iron Man. Because of the quick production time some of the CGI is a bit ropey, but Vaughn proves himself a talented director with a great visual style, from his montages that interject comic book visuals to his action scenes. Vaughn ensures that there is plenty of mutant versus mutant action and just like in the Singer films, mutants use their powers logically. Some of the comedy is predictable, but still funny and the action scenes were tense, unlike Brett Ratner’s approach in X-Men: The Last Stand who broke up action sequences with humour.
The plot itself is very similar to the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, since it comes down to an outside force trying to start a war for their own ends. Continuing with the Bond film there is a certain feel in the early part of the film with Erik’s global travelling and the scene with Moira in bra and panties, which was very much like something from a Bond or even Austin Powers movie.
X-Men: First Class is a film that focuses on characters and relationships, a strength of any good action film, or as I see it, an X-Men film with action in it. There are strong ideologies being formed with Shaw taking the place of Magneto in this world. There are also ideas about how government circles and intelligence agencies would react to the discovery of a new breed of humanity. The Nazi Scientist was very much like the Emperor in Star Wars, pretty much saying “let the anger consume you”.
What X-Men: First Class needed in order to be successful was a strong chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender, which we got. They have a yin and yang relationship as they share a goal but have two different ways about how to achieve it, yet you can still believe they are friends. Many of the supporting cast members were strong, Bacon is of course, intelligent and powerful with a sinister Southern accent and capably assisted by the beautiful January Jones. Some of the characters were sidelined, but I am sure they will be developed in the sequel.
As a fanboy, I could make a list of things the filmmakers got wrong from the comics and continuity with the first three films, but it was so well made as a stand-alone movie it doesn’t really matter. Really, it’s just as much a reboot as it is a prequel. There are also plenty of cameos that will keep fans happy. X-Men: First Class is the best X-Men film since X2: X-Men United.
4 out of 5 stars