- 03 Jun 11
Intelligent, character-driven prequel breathes new life into X-Men franchise
Someone get Matthew Vaughn the Nobel Prize for Directorial Medicine. After the horribly asinine The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins, the X-Men series had a flashing neon ‘DNR’ sign above its head. But this intelligent, character-driven prequel not only manages to revive the franchise, but marks a much-needed return of the smart blockbuster.
Set at the height of the ‘60s nuclear arms race, newly-acquainted Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) have their own war to deal with. Machiavellian mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) is eager to exploit nuclear power to build a mutant army and eradicate the humans (Sure, why not? – Ed), and with their team of young mutant protégées, Xavier and Magneto are his only obstacle.
While McAvoy brings a youthful egotism to the young Professor, Fassbender’s superb turn as the tormented Magneto is utterly compelling. As a Holocaust survivor, his aggression towards the notion of identifying and controlling mutants is understandable, and he’s not presented as a villain in the making, but a man trying to protect himself in the only way he knows how – continuing a cycle of violence and war.
The big, action-packed, power-focused battle sequences are here of course, but with allusions to the Civil Rights Movement and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, they always feel purposeful and considered, reflecting not only the political climate but the characters’ varied and complex motivations.
Intelligent and pacey with fantastic sets, First Class is entertaining and accessible enough for novices, while also containing enough great Easter eggs to keep fans happy. More impressive though is that First Class instantly improves the existing X-Men trilogy, as depth and context is added to Magneto’s already complex relationships with Professor X and Mystique (a fantastic Jennifer Lawrence). Many of the scenes could have been trimmed, and there’s a serious Hugh Jackman-shaped void in the comedy stakes, but for the most part, X really hits the spot.