Review: X-Men: First Class


Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by:Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones
Released: June 2, 2011
Grade: B+

The Cuban missile crisis was one of the most significant events of the 20th century.  It was perhaps the closest that the world has come to a nuclear war.  The United States had planted nuclear weapons in Europe with the capability of striking targets in the Soviet Union.  The Soviets responded with their own threats having smuggled a series of offensive missiles into Cuba.   The crisis was only averted after an agreement was reached between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev on 28 October 1962.

You’re probably wondering what the hell this has to do with X-Men: First Class.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going off on some strange tangent.  I remembered to take my medication this morning.  It turns out the writers behind this flick have found an imaginative way to weave this real life event into this fictional tale of villains and superheroes.  As well as being entertaining, it’s also a creatively disguised history lesson for those who didn’t pay attention at school.

It turns out that a sinister character by the name of Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) is out to destroy the world.  He and his mutant crew are using their special powers to inflame tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Shaw wants to eliminate the human race so that the mutants can live in peace and without fear of reprisal.

Not all mutants feel that way.  The telepathic Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and the magnetic Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender) are working with a secret government organisation to stop Shaw.  They’ve assembled a team of young, ambitious mutants who will risk their lives to prevent a nuclear war.  Perhaps Kennedy and Khrushchev didn’t deserve the credit after all.

X-Men: First Class is an amusing, action packed ride.  It clocks in at just over two hours and there’s seldom a dull moment.  Its strength comes from the assortment of cool characters.  Evidenced from his pick up lines, James McAvoy seems to have the most fun as the suave Charles Xavier.

The younger cast members also deserve credit and there’s a great sequence where they explore their superpowers for the first time.  I mustn’t forget January Jones’s breasts (as opposed to January Jones herself) who have a “big” role to play.

I’ve read many positive reviews for X-Men: First Class so far but I admit that it’s not without flaws.  By including so many characters, director Michael Vaughn (Kick-Ass) has bitten off too much.  Introductions are rushed and it’s hard to get to know them all.  What was Havok doing in jail when they first found him?  Why did some of the mutants change sides so easily?  It’ll be easy to absorb for those familiar with the comic books but others may be puzzled.

I also think an opportunity has been missed to take this series down a darker road (ala The Dark Knight).  These mutants are scarred, troubled.  They have grown up knowing they were different and have always had to hide their superpowers from others.  I can live with his approach but it feels like Vaughn was afraid to pull the curtain back and truly expose the mutants’ fragile state.  He’s kept things simpler, easier to handle.

The best example I can offer is the curious relationship between Xavier and Raven (played by Jennifer Lawrence).  It’s the best subplot in the film and there’s an obvious sexual tension between them but Vaughn decides not to pursue it in enough depth.  I found this juicy stuff much more interesting than the "seen it before" action scenes.

I realise this is a prequel to the earlier movies but it’s not often that you see a franchise with this much stamina.  This is the fifth X-Men film to be released (following on from the underwhelming Wolverine) and it shows that we have a lot more to learn about these mutants and the struggles to find acceptance.  I look forward to the next instalment.