Movie review – X marks the spot

2011-06-03 15:42

Film: X-Men: First Class (Nu Metro)

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Featuring: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Oliver Platt, ­Nicholas Hoult and Jason ­Flemyng

Rating: 8/10

Blockbuster season ­continues with X-Men: First Class, which maintains the high quality of the franchise. Matthew Vaughn, who made his directing debut with the slick Brit-gangster flick Layer Cake and followed it up with two graphic novel screen adaptations, Stardust and Kick-Ass, has the pedigree and experience to make this comic-book adaptation sizzle. And sizzle it does.

The big challenge with the X-Men movies is the huge cast of mutants and making sure the ­audience gets enough background on each to become a ­character in their own right.

Vaughn and the team of scriptwriters do an admirable job of ­introducing a whole new set of mutants, while also successfully building the background stories of some of our favourites – most significantly, Professor Charles Xavier, Magneto and Mystique.

This prequel begins in a concentration camp during World War II, where a young Jewish boy, Erik, exhibits his power over metal when he is separated from his parents.

His gift becomes his torment when he becomes the guinea pig of a mad Nazi scientist played with spine-shivering menace by Kevin ­Bacon.

Simultaneously, in New York a young boy named Charles Xavier is startled in his kitchen by a very strange little girl. Blue all over and alone in the world, she can take on the physical appearance of anyone. She calls herself Raven and becomes Charles’ sister, which protects her from the cruel world.

Two decades later, at the height of the Cold War, Erik (Michael Fassbender) has become the ­ultimate Nazi hunter. His main target, though, remains his ­tormentor, who has taken on the identity of Sebastian Shaw, an ­international arms dealer.

Meanwhile, Charles has just become a professor of genetics at Oxford University and is drafted by a CIA agent, Moira (Rose Byrne), to help catch Shaw and his trio of mutant bodyguards – Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Riptide (Alex Gonzalez).

Erik and Charles end up in the same hunting party looking for Shaw and quickly become best friends. Together, they start searching for other mutants to join their cause. Among the ­recruits are Beast ­(Nicholas Hoult), Angel (Zoe Kravitz) and Havok (Lucas Till).

In a hilarious cameo, Hugh ­Jackman as Wolverine tells Charles and Erik to get stuffed when they turn up at the bar he’s drinking in to recruit him.

Cleverly, the writing team has used the 1962 Cuban missile crisis as the basis for the story, ­interjecting the mutant army as the protectors and Shaw as the agitator who brings the two superpowers – the US and the USSR – to the brink of nuclear war.

Which, of course, means that this X-Men movie is also a period film. The women all wear mini-skirts, the cars are retro-chic circa 1960 and the X-Men’s supersonic plane is the stuff of sci-fi to the ­human onlookers.

X-Men: First Class eschews the ubiquitous 3D, instead allowing punters to be drawn to the cinema by a great production of a well-crafted script, augmented with state-of-the-art special effects and humdinger action sequences.

The gorgeous young cast is ­another drawcard with Fassbender leading the pack, proving he can have his way with any role – his last was as Mr Rochester, ­another tormented character.

McAvoy, too, makes a welcome return to movies since being a little scarce after The Last Station (probably something to do with having his first child last year).

Fans of the X-Men can breathe a sigh of relief that this prequel easily lives up to the standards set by the first three films.

It seems the five-year gap between this one and The Last Stand has been put to good use, making sure the product is worth spending your hard-earned cash on.

Wolverine is a spin-off rather than a sequel, but addicts will be pleased to know that another one is in the works.

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