Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Jason Flemyng and Kevin Bacon
Plot: Two young boys discover they are mutants, gifted with incredible powers. However, those two kids have very different ways of handling this knowledge.
Be warned. Seeing as this is a prequel, I will mention some slight spoilers, assuming you have seen the previous X-Men films. If you haven’t seen a X-Men movie before, proceed at your own risk.
First Class’s biggest weapon are its two leads. James McAvoy is incredible as Charles Xavier. Seeing as Xavier has always been an idea rather than a character in his own right, a beacon of morality, I hadn’t really paid much thought into what his character would have been like in his student years. McAvoy channels the wisdom of Xavier, but adds the flirty arrogance that a young kid as successful as Xavier would be. It is also heart-breaking to see his belief in the goodness of humanity bend and come very close to breaking. We will have to wait for ‘Days of Future Past’ to see if his faith actually broke. However, McAvoy is almost brushed to one side, the moment Michael Fassbender steps onto the scene. Magneto is by far the more interesting character and his addition almost makes you stop missing Hugh Jackman. For most of the movie, he spends it hunting down those who have wronged him, coming across as a globe-trotting James Bond, albeit a nasty one with super-powers. When he meets up with the ‘X-Men’, his character feels somewhat constricted, but he wins us back over in the climax. Well, almost… For some reason, mainly bad time-keeping and awful editing, Fassbender turns Irish in the last twenty minutes. It takes you completely out of the movie, which is a crying shame as we could argue it ruins the two key scenes of the movie: the forming of the Brotherhood and the crippling of Xavier.
Sadly, performances aside, First Class is strangely lacking. While everything is good, there is far too much going on. Vaughn needs to get from point A to point B, but at the same time, he wants to slow down and focus on certain points of the story. The entire movie ends up feeling a little plot-heavy, making it X-Lite rather than as action-packed as the original trilogy. We get the appearance of Emma Frost, one of the more exciting new faces of the movie, but her character never really does anything but some window-dressing. I could have done without the original X-Men team, as with the exception of Beast and Mystique, few brought anything new to the table. As someone who is reading the original comic series where we encounter this movie’s antagonists, The Hellfire Club, I really feel that they were created once the writers had run out of ideas. They all have copied and pasted powers from better mutants and Shaw’s absorbing talent isn’t explained enough for us to understand what the character is really capable of. There is nothing wrong with Kevin Bacon’s turn as Sebastian Shaw, but it also feels like your bog-standard criminal mastermind, trying to take over the world. He doesn’t help he has the Magneto helmet, giving the impression that you would really rather spend this movie with Ian McKellan. As a result, the action in the finale is quick and routine. No shocks, no surprises; it just does the job
However, while the action is a little lacking, Vaughn excels at the quieter moments. They become the best bit of the film. I love Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique (seeing as Fassbender has the bizarre accent change, Lawrence wins star of the show for me). Her character is complex and her relationship with Xavier was something I did not see coming. It has made one of my favourite Marvel villains ever more complex and exciting. If you can ignore the jaw-droppingly awful CGI on Beast, Hank is quite a fun character and when he gives Mystique the cure, that scene is very well written, with the actors bringing it to life with the smaller quirks. Rose Byrne, who is turning into one of my new favourite leading females, also has some good moments, even if Vaughn isn’t quite sure what to do with her, halfway through the movie. I love her final scene and anyone that knows Xavier and Moira from the comics, will appreciate the emotional impact of Xavier’s decision. If only Vaughn didn’t enjoy the 60s sexist jokes so much, Byrne would have had a great action movie credit to her name.
Final Verdict: Weak, compared to the other X-Men, but as a chapter to the story, it makes the bigger picture look even more masterful.