Since Brett Ratner’s abysmal X3, and the god-awful Wolverine: Origins, X-Men fans have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths. When FOX had mentioned the sheer possibility of a sequel to the popular series, everyone was left with a certain disinterest for a film focused on the beginning of the X-Men. It’s understandable, really. This news did come from the same studio which butchered many, many mutants during its tenure after Bryan Singer’s departure.
However, names began dropping and things started to seem promising. Matthew Vaughn was attached as the director, and his previous work has been critically acclaimed. He managed to pull off a magical universe perfectly with Stardust, and he even shocked and impressed everyone with the great Kick-Ass. The screenwriter was announced as Jane Goldman, who has been responsible for the great stories that were also directed by Vaughn. This was all well and good, but who were the mutants going to be? Who were the specific actors who would get to play the homo-superior heroes and villains?
Well, we finally discovered the specific roster of mutants which would be portrayed in X-Men: First Class. It was a strange line-up of students. A few characters didn’t seem to fit well within the continuity of the films, such as Alex Summers’ inclusion to the X-Men in a film set around the 60s. In the comics, he’s actually Scott Summers’ brother – but this was Vaughn’s project, so when James McAvoy was announced as Xavier, fans soon managed to forget about some of the glaring inconsistencies. However, when news of Michael Fassbender playing Magneto stormed the net, the anticipation swept in. Names began dropping, such as January Jones and Kevin Bacon. FOX weren’t messing around. This seemed like a promising cast.
The shooting schedule seemed to be troublesome and incredibly short. The promotional posters were possibly the worst designs ever used for marketing a film. FOX kept dropping trailers left, right and centre. It didn’t even seem like Marvel themselves were promoting the film, either. Was this going to be yet another Wolverine: Origins, or would this be the return to form, maintaining the charm and excellence of Singer’s films?
Well, surprise surprise. X-Men: First Class manages to entertain flawlessly throughout. The premise seemed dodgy, but it strangely pays off brilliantly. The film’s narrative never seems too shallow or short. Whilst Jane Goldman has reportedly complained about the lack of character development for the promising students which was cut from her script, it doesn’t appear to lack any elements which affect the film.
The first sequence will be remembered by many as being told briefly in Singer’s film, as a young Erik Lensherr is manipulated within the confines of a WWII concentration camp. It’s a harrowing set of events, which leads up to Fassbender’s unforgettable portrayal of Magneto, the master of magnetism. Set on a path of destruction and revenge, fans of the X-Men will be pleasured to death by insane set pieces and special effects, showcasing Erik’s powerful mutant ability.
James McAvoy also manages to pull off a convincing Charles Xavier, with the same wit and charm which made him so likeable in Atonement. Unlike his future nemesis, Xavier is more interested in downing pints and chatting up women than using his telepathic abilities to help others. When the CIA gets wind of the Hellfire Club’s intended world domination, he is recruited as a powerful force to fight against Sebastian Shaw and his mutant gang. You can definitely see this young Charles becoming the great Professor X with time. His chemistry with Fassbender is one that shall be written and developed in many, many fan-fictions.
Kevin Bacon plays a great Sebastian Shaw, who after watching the film; you’d begin to wonder why his character is so criminally underused in comics now. With the ability to absorb energy, he easily becomes the most interesting and dangerous villain for the X-Men yet. He’s suave, sophisticated, he also has a nice submarine to boot and he manages to occupy himself with Emma Frost. He’s got it all.
A few reviewers have criticised January Jones’ acting as the White Queen, Emma Frost. Whilst her acting talents were not completely used to their full capacity, she still managed to come off as a great Emma Frost. She’s ice cold, devious and she easily manages the skimpiest super villain costume of all time. Many reviewers may just compare her acting here to her role in Mad Men – but these are two entirely different properties. You can only be so convincing when being a diamond skinned, telepath with only a few rags attached to you.
The minor characters managed to impress, also. Nicholas Hoult, known for his work on popular E4 drama Skins, was perhaps the best mutant other than the main characters. It’s great to witness his transformation from the oddly limbed mutant, to the blue Beast fans love today. Hoult manages to portray an intelligent, loveable and enigmatic Beast. They managed to handle Banshee perfectly and whilst most don’t consider the Irish mutant’s power to be handy, they might just change their mind after his powerful display throughout the film.
A few characters were forgettable, such as Riptide and Moira but that’s to be expected. This isn’t to say they’re bad characters, but their parts just weren’t as interesting as the others. However, the character of Angel was by far the worst part about the film. Bringing nothing but a flimsy power and wooden acting, we could’ve done without. Watch out for Darwin too, whose powers and character stand out from amongst the crowd.
A lot happens throughout the film, but thankfully it manages to never lose its pacing, letting viewers take in all the information and action easily without losing any interest in the story. There is one thing that the film never seems to make you forget, that this isn’t necessarily a kid-friendly film. Take the harrowing scenes of WWII for example, which is completely subtitled for the first ten minutes of the film; ending in a climactic event which eventually turns Erik down a murderous path. Sure, this is essentially a story of growing up – as the students mature, evolving their powers and harnessing them properly. There’s slightly underlying morals about puberty but this is also more importantly, a tale of friendship and loss. The story of Erik and Charles is portrayed brilliantly through the film, as slight hints in their behaviour lead towards the inevitable fall out. When it happens though, the film ends with a satisfying bang.
X-Men: First Class is definitely a welcome back to the form, and it’s great to see such effort go into the great storylines which preceded its theatrical release. The action never falters throughout, with intense scenes which showcases the capabilities of these powers brilliantly. There’s little to no romance subplot throughout the film, apart from Raven Darkholme’s attraction to the young Xavier but this is never developed, thankfully enough. Fassbender will definitely be remembered for his perfect portrayal of the troubled, conflicted leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants. Here’s to the next academic year.