Eleven years and five films, with yet more in production, X-Men is the comic movie franchise that audiences love and forgive evermore. But can an installment without fan favourite Wolverine really please us rabid comic readers? Hell yes.
This is the X-Men film we’ve been waiting for, the origins of the mutants, and more importantly, the origin of Magneto. Fans have lapped up the new movie continuity, effectively giving director Matthew Vaughn free reign to play with the biggest team in comics. It’s not perfect, squandering its political time frame and playing it a little safe, but it is unmissable entertainment.
X-Men: First Class has taken the wise step of essentially starting over: travelling back in time to the foundation of the X-Men, and bringing Brian Singer (director of X-Men, X2) back on board along with the Kick-Ass dream-team of director Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman. The result is a quickly paced origins film, bringing together some of the key characters from the later films while also taking the time to properly explore some of their backgrounds.
Echoing the opening scenes of X-Men (2000), young Erik Lehnsherr is separated from his family by the Nazis, his tortured anguish resulting in him bending the gates that have fenced off his mother. This film though goes much deeper, introducing the Nazi sadist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his barbaric efforts to unlock Erik’s powers. Make no mistake, this is a dark film indeed, with violence often testing the 12A rating. But cleverly, it is also the most amusing X-Men film thus far, with some great humour sequences and enough little Easter eggs to make the fans grin.
I’m not going to spoil the Easter eggs but trust me, if you’ve enjoyed any of the previous films then get yourself to the cinema stat. Preferably take someone who hasn’t read the comics so you can annoy them by whispering “that’s so and so’s father!” and “that’s thingymajig’s brother!”; they love it really.
The 60s setting allows for some real James Bond fun, with covert operations, sleazy clubs and white suits in abundance. Erik Lehnsherr, Nazi Hunter, is an entertaining (and brutal) segment all on its own, and indeed there are many parts of this film you wish would last just that little bit longer. At 131 minutes, this film actually flies by; losing a little pace towards the end but overall very well balanced. You do get the sense that sometimes Vaughn is intentionally reigning it back in, but it’s hard to fault the tight plotting.
As with all X-Men films, First Class does suffer a little from the too many characters problem. The “bad” mutants in particular are given short shrift, with the spectacular looking Azazel (Jason Flemyng) in particular overlooked. Emma Frost (January Jones) is given her due time but denied a backstory to give her icy cold demeanour any context. The wonderful Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) could have done with a little more screen time to give her dilemma and affection for Erik more depth. Angel and Darwin aren’t really necessary, while Havoc (Lucas Till) deserved far more characterisation time.
That said, the above is entirely forgiveable and for two reasons: James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. The scenes of these two just talking have sizzling chemistry, as the two strangers become friends, aware of their very deep differences. Fassbender is incredible, portraying the deeply intense Erik as a sympathetic if understandably ruthless character. It’s very hard indeed not to come out of the film entirely on Magneto’s side. McAvoy has perhaps the more difficult job, keeping Xavier on the right side of charm rather than smarm, the young Professor being a wannabe ladykiller as well as a not quite insufferable goody two shoes. Admittedly, his ridiculously blue eyes do help.
All of the films problems are forgiveable in fact; an origins film is a hard beast to master, and this is an enjoyable romp that far surpasses the last two X-Men films, bringing us back to the best that comic book films have to offer. There are points that are frittered away – the youngsters a little overlooked, the henchmen having no lines, Emma Frost, the entire Civil Rights movement of the 60s – and the film could perhaps have stretched itself across two to touch these more deeply, but it has huge re-watch appeal. And there is the hope that future instalments will rectify these losses now that the introductions are over.
If anything, the main failing of X-Men: First Class is its major promise: what we don’t get this time may be yet to come. The time setting of the film is 1962 leaving plenty of time to tie in the mutant struggle with the political upheaval of the 60s, and the division of the mutants between Magneto and Professor X will surely let us explore backstories further now we know which teams they’re truly batting for. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get more scenes of just Fassbender and McAvoy.
A sign of a film well done? A desperation to see the next part right the hell now. Good job team.