X-Men: First Class takes us back to the initial formation of Charles Xavier’s mutant fighting force during the volatile Cold War era of the early 60s, shedding some light on the past that would eventually shape the ethos of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and lay the foundations of their lifelong rivalry.
What we thought:
The fifth instalment of the X-Men franchise has undoubtedly turned out to be the best yet. Though, that bar isn’t really all that high so it might not be saying much.
Nevertheless, with fantastic performances by James McAvoy as the young Charles Xavier, and Michael Fassbender as his good friend, soon to be turned lifelong nemesis Eric Lehnsherr, or as you might know him: Magneto, adding a sense of subtle sophistication to a genre that usually thrives on extravagant spectacle. This however, could also be attributed to a well-written and witty screenplay and the fast-paced style of director Matthew Vaughn known for his work in films like Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (as producer), and as the director of Layer Cake and the pseudo superhero comedy Kick-Ass.
One of the film’s greatest strengths lies in its early 1960s Cold War setting. It finds an odd resonance with some of the themes that were highly prolific in pop culture during the time of the original comic’s conception. As most of these characters are spawned from the issues of their time, they feel very much at home in the era they were born. This is perpetuated even further by a typified international-man-of-mystery, spy thriller-ish plot giving an even more authentic feel to the character’s progression and is flawlessly portrayed by McAvoy and Fassbender.
Though at times this might make the film feel like it could be bordering on the campiness of its day, with secret underwater lairs and ridiculous outfits, First Class bares the signature of not taking itself too seriously, something Vaughn also bestowed on Kick-Ass.
The film does suffer from the symptoms of a Hollywood blockbuster and as such is only quite loosely based on cherries picked from the expanse of the X-Men cannon. Fan boys might be outraged but for the most part the transgressions are for the sake of making the film more digestible to the mainstream audience. Also, one gets the distinct impression that the filmmakers were trying to squeeze as much into the two-hour-plus screentime as possible, making the final third of the film feel a little forced and all over the place, all for the sake of setting everything up for the sequel.
All in all, X-Men: First Class is a welcome addition to the Marvel film franchise, with a strong script played out to near perfection by an excellent cast under the stylish direction of Matthew Vaughn.