Charting the epic beginning of the X-Men saga, before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were the closest of friends, working together, with other mutants to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-Men.
‘X-Men: First Class’ comes from director Matthew Vaughn and is his follow up film to 2010’s ‘Kick Ass’. Vaughn was briefly attached to ‘X-Men 3: The Last Stand’ several years ago however after leaving that project his involvement in an X-Men film was delayed until now.
‘First Class’ takes audiences back decades prior to the original X-Men film directed by Bryan Singer, spanning from the years of World War 2 to the Cuban Missile Crisis taking place during 1962. The film explores the origins of the characters Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr that feature prominently in the first three X-Men films, and explains the beginning of events that lead up towards where the various characters and factions have positioned themselves at the beginning of the original film.
‘First Class’ is a film packed with content, it takes on many different aspects, featuring multiple sub-plots some of which could arguably be fleshed out to fill a self-contained film but it does this without falling into the traps of being too abridged so that certain scenes lack any emotional weight. There is a good balance of story progression and character exploration and development, with various scenes lingering on some of the many characters in this film, giving them some room to breathe in a multi-layered film.
Weaving between each story arc within, the film manages to tell its story in a logical manner, despite the various plot hooks things never become so convoluted that it leaves the audience behind, without over simplifying the story so that it loses a strong narrative. Vaughn takes the movie from a character origin tale, to an action hero team up, filled with drama and an underlying theme reminiscent of Bryan Singer’s earlier films all of which come together bringing us the best X-Men film in some time.
Taking place in a historical setting, there is much care given to the various set pieces, and the imagery of scenes in order to effectively capture the feel of the era. There are a few moments which come off rather cheesy, though not in a manner that detracts from the film, but more serves as a reminder of when the film takes place.
Given its context within the larger franchise, ‘First Class’ also does a good job of dropping in enough references to the other X-Men films including X2 and X3, while being its own independent installment, make sure to keep an eye out for one cameo which proved highly entertaining.
The two leads James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are simply terrific in their respective roles, they take these characters established so well by Patrick Steward and Ian McKellen and they make them their own, the remainder of the cast are also strong, however the stand out performances delivered by McAvoy and Fassbender do tend to outshine their fellow cast members.
The visual effects throughout ‘First Class’ did have some mixed results, they say the best special effect is one where the audience doesn’t know it’s a special effect. While this is difficult to achieve given the feats of some of the characters in an X-Men film, there were certainly moments were things were looking too computer generated. However these moments are generally sparse throughout and there is an emphasis on a practical approach to much of the film which really adds an authenticity given the era in which the film takes place.
Despite the few criticisms I found here and there, overall this is a great film, and is definitely a return to form for the X-Men series, hopefully we’ll be seeing more from this cast and crew over the coming years.
I’ve giving ‘X-Men: First Class’ 4 out of 5 stars, it’s released in cinemas around Australia on Thursday 2nd June 2011.
For more thoughts on the X-Men franchise up until ‘First Class’, be sure to check out our X-Men Retrospective under Reel Retro.