X-Men: First Class launches today country-wide across cinema screens, and I was invited to the preview screening courtesy of Nu-Metro. I also asked a good friend, the owner of Reader’s Den comic shop, to tag along and give me his professional opinion of the film. This, the fifth film in the X-Men movie canon, is set in the 1970s and tells the story of the genesis of the X-Men. Usually, the more sequels there are in a film series, the worse the quality becomes, until it is a writhing, painful mess that is eventually left to rot in a dank, fetid corner, tossed aside with yesteryear’s garbage. However, X-Men is a highly beloved franchise, and First Class is less a sequel than a prequel. How does it stack up to its elders? Read the spoiler-free (as much as is reasonable, anyhow) review after the jump.
To allay any fears that First Class is a step downwards, I am going to state from the start: WHOAH! Not a Keanu Reeves type “whoah” but on the same level as being forced to drink the basest of coffees, and then suddenly being introduced to Kopi Luwak. Or being made to watch Police Academy 7, and then being introduced to…well, anything funny. There’s no real comparison. There are some amazing performances from the cast, which includes James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, January Jones as Emma Frost, Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, and Rose Byrne as Moira McTaggert. Some of the cast from the original X-Men movie also show up as cameos, but you will have to watch the movie (or read a spoiler-filled review) to find out who. The basic story is that of Xavier and Lehnsherr, whom anyone who already follows the X-Men saga already knows, were firm friends before they became archenemies. The film makes a good attempt at conveying the cause of the split in their ideologies, and the causes of the split in their friendship.
At no time did the film ever feel overly boring (despite the running time of just over 130 minutes), although newcomers to the franchise might feel slightly out of depth. McAvoy’s performance as a younger Charles shows that he has a great talent at endearing himself to the audience, and his portrayal of what would eventually become the driving force behind the X-Men is believable. And believability is all we ask of an actor’s performance. Despite McAvoy’s performance as the primary protagonist, it’s still veteran actor Kevin Bacon who steals the show, as usual. It’s what bad guys do, I guess. There is also a wonderful sense of Pokémon-ness about the two opposing sides gathering mutants. And as any true Pokémon fan knows: Gotta catch ’em all. Or beat the living mutant genes out of the ones you can’t catch.
The biggest flaw with the film—and the fact that this is its biggest flaw should indicate how wonderful the film is—is the continuity problems that disjoint it from the other films in the franchise, but this is so incredibly minor that you would have to know the other films reasonably well to pick it up on first viewing. The other problem it faces is that, bar Xavier and Lehnsherr, an otherwise international cast of characters have been Americanized. For example, Moira, who is Scottish in the comic, is depicted as American in the film. Yes, the problems are this minor. Director Matthew Vaughan has quite successfully, on the basis of a single movie, rebuilt and eradicated the terrifying freefall that the X-Men film franchise was in, and brought it soaring back above the clouds.
I highly recommend that you go see this film, whether you are a fan of the X-Men, a fan of comic books to movie conversions, a fan of action films, or a fan of just good, solid, brilliant storytelling. The story is solid, the film is enjoyable, and the acting and effects are still believable enough that they do not break your enjoyment of it. Fans of Police Academy will probably find it lacking somewhat in situational humor.
Score: 9 prawns (1 prawn loss for continuity problems, Americanization of characters, and minor CGI problems.)
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Zoe Kravitz
Director: Matthew Vaughan
Producers: Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release date: 3 June 2011