X-Men: First Class - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
IT MAY sound glib but X-Men: First Class is an X-ceptional return to form for the franchise.
Directed by Matthew (Kick-Ass) Vaughn from a screenplay he co-wrote with help from several people, including Bryan Singer, the film is an exciting and emotionally compelling experience that reboots the franchise in spectacular fashion after the disappointments of X-Men: The Last Stand and the Wolverine spin-off.
It’s funny, sexy, intelligent and moving, combining the director’s own distinct visual style with close attention to both the comic book origins and Singer’s own first two X-Men films.
And, if anything, it fills in a lot of the blanks, fully explaining how the relationship between Professor Xavier and Magneto (as portrayed by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the latter trilogy) came to evolve from friendship to rivalry.
In doing so, it also introduces us to new characters in the X-Men universe, as well as some old favourites – whether that’s through seeing the evolution of Mystique from Raven Darkholme (as played by Jennifer Lawrence in a central role) or via a couple of brilliant cameos (the identities of which shall not be revealed here, except to say they’re brilliant).
The story, too, takes a tense chapter in global history – the Cuban missile crisis – and seamlessly integrates it into the X-Men world.
Hence, with the threat of nuclear war providing the backdrop, Vaughn’s film chronicles how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) first met Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and formed the X-Men of the film’s title.
It also explains how Charles came to be confined to a wheelchair, and where the X-Mansion and Cerebro came from, while providing another formidable opponent in Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw (a long-term comic favourite).
Indeed, it’s Shaw who provides the catalyst for all these events, first meeting and shaping Erik’s destiny as far back as the Second World War Concentration camps (first witnessed in Singer’s original movie) and becoming the target for his anger and revenge.
It is also Shaw who – with the help of fellow Mutants Emma Frost (January Jones) and Azazel (Jason Flemyng) – sets about bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war for his own ends, thereby raising the interest of Charles Xavier and the US government, led by Rose Byrne’s sympathetic agent Moira MacTaggert.
Together, they set about averting a global catastrophe, slowly bringing the X-Men team together in a bid to unite all mutants while simultaneously making the world aware of their powers and accepting of them.
As with the early films in the franchise, X-Men: First Class devotes a lot of time to themes of identity and civil rights, thereby allowing the ideological debate that continually exists between Charles and Erik to really unfold.
In doing so, it ensures that the talents of its formidable cast are not wasted amid too many action sequences or special effects, and providing the film with a strong emotional pull.
McAvoy and Fassbender are excellent throughout… whether together debating the morals and ethics underpinning each step forward, or separately forming their own destinies.
Fassbender, in particular, spends much of the early part of the film in Bond-like mode (a deliberate nod by Vaughn to ‘60s-era 007 and a possible early audition for Fassbender to take over from Craig), combines intelligence with a ruthless streak in tracking down Shaw.
But there’s strong support, too, from Lawrence as Raven (deftly tapping into the conflicting emotions of her struggle for identity), Bacon as the charismatic Shaw, Nicholas Hoult (as the similarly conflicted mutant Beast) and Byrne as the feisty but sympathetic CIA agent.
January Jones brings sex appeal and sass to Frost, Oliver Platt is great as Man in Black and several of the supporting mutants also make their mark… as do those aforementioned cameos!
Vaughn, meanwhile, proves more than capable of handling the demands of the spectacular special effects, ensuring that the set pieces do have wow factor, while expertly balancing strong sex appeal (there are numerous shots of women in bikinis or underwear) with ironic humour and gritty action (a nod to his Layer Cake/Kick-Ass days).
But above all, he ensures that the film carries a strong emotional punch, delivering a suitably poignant finale that makes the journey well worth the investment of time and money.
In doing so, he has helped get the X franchise spectacularly back on track and delivered a genuinely thrilling summer blockbuster that deserves to become a massive success.
Running time: 132mins
UK Release Date: June 1, 2011
- Read our review
- James McAvoy interview
- Michael Fassbender interview
- Kevin Bacon interview
- Jason Flemyng and Jane Goldman interview
- X-Men First Class Photo Gallery 2
- X-Men First Class Photo London Photo Call
- X-Men First Class Photo Gallery 1
- Watch the trailer