Reviewed by Jim Holden.
A prequel of sorts to the existing X-Men trilogy, X-Men: First Class tells the straight forward, fast-paced 'origins' story of how mutant Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) became ‘Professor X’, began his feud with old friend Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and formed the X-Men. Against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, socialite Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) is forging a deal with the Russians in a bid for world domination, prompting the CIA to enlist Xavier, a scientist and expert in mutation, to help fight back. An uneasy alliance is created as Xavier - with help from his bitter new friend Erik Lehnsherr, who has an old score to settle with Shaw - attempts to avert nuclear disaster.
Being a fan of the X-Men film series (see my not-quite-harsh-enough review of X-Men: The Last Stand), I perhaps enjoyed this film more than it deserves. It does, however, have plenty going for it: an intriguing historical setting, zingy dialogue, thankfully well-executed action set pieces and, most of all, Michael Fassbender as Lehnsherr/Magneto (latterly, of course, to become Ian McKellen). Indeed, a great many of the film’s pleasures stem from the casting of Fassbender, who brings a youthful intensity to proceedings, his blossoming friendship and rivalry with James McAvoy’s Professor X definitely constituting the film's high points. It is a shame they don’t get quite enough screen time - either individually (their opening exposition scenes are somewhat hurried), or together, when their dialogue genuinely sparkles. The whole film could easily have been spent charting their developing relationship.
The film is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who previously almost made X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), and he does fine work with what was reportedly a rushed production. Vaughn is fast becoming a distinctive and stylish director, and whilst his last superhero movie Kick-Ass (2010) wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, with this and Stardust (2007) it’s now clear that he has a keen eye for fantasy and comic book aesthetics. X-Men: First Class doesn’t follow Kick Ass’ approach to slyly subverting the genre, instead playing solidly by the rules, giving us an effective origins tale which fits satisfyingly into the X-Men movie universe begun to such acclaim by Bryan Singer back in 2000. Although it may not reach the heights of Singer’s two films, it should certainly prove an enjoyable addition for fans of this franchise.
This review was published on June 06, 2011.
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