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Jun 01

Review: X-Men First Class

My first reaction to the news of a new X-Men movie was concern. Although “The X-Men” was a really good film and “X-Men 2” set a benchmark, gold standard, for future superhero movies, “X-Men The Last Stand” was not great. It had some good moments and it was the X-Men so I forgave a lot of its short comings, but it was pretty average when compared to the first two films. It was followed by “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, a bitterly disappointing film that once again had good moments but the overall package is just forgettable.

So the thought of a new X-Men movie filled me with mixed emotions. Would it be like the first two films or would it be just another “X-Men Origins” quality film? Things perked up when I found out that Bryan Singer, director of the first two films, was back on board as producer. Singer then brought Matthew Vaughn on to direct the film. Vaughn had just had great critical success with the comic book adaptation of “Kick-Ass” so he seemed like the perfect fit. One of the great strengths of “Kick-Ass” was the script, so Vaughn brought on it’s writer, Jane Goldman, to polish up the “X-Men First Class” script. All systems were go.

So, what is the final product like? I’m glad to report that “X-Men First Class” is a solid film. It won’t change your world but it will entertain. To put it in perspective, it is far better than “X-Men The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and as good as the original, but not quite as good as “X-Men 2”.

“X-Men First Class” is not based on the comic book of the same name, rather it uses the name but then goes into pretty standard prequel, and origin story, territory and it is all the better for it. The comic book of “First Class” is a pretty average title, telling young reader type stories of the X-Men that don’t seem to fit into any continuity. The film is a very different beast, it is solid story telling with compelling characters.

Set in 1963, it tells the story of how Charles Xavier (before he became Professor X) became an expert on mutation, developed his powers, meet and befriended Erik Lensherr (before he became Magneto) and form the superhero team, The X-Men. The team of mutants start off as a CIA funded, covert team but events eventually make Xavier and his mutants go it alone and their first challenge comes as a group of mutant bad guys, led by Sebastian Shaw (played wonderfully by Kevin Bacon) and Emma Frost (January Jones), attempt to inflame the Cuban missile crisis. Shaw wants to start a nuclear war to kill off the humans and accelerate the mutation process around the world.

The film does try hard to fit into the timeline of the other X-Men movies and on the most part it is successful. It really only fails to fit in when you work in the events of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, but that film already messed with the timeline so much that I think we should give First Class a pass on continuity. “X-Men First Class” does open with a faithful re-creation of the concentration camp scene from the very first X-Men film but goes further, setting Erik on his path of revenge, first against the Nazis, then ultimately to the non-mutants. This scene really locks it together with the first two X-Men movies well. There are also two notable cameos for the fans, one is so quick if you blink you will quite literally miss it and the other is one of the funniest moments in the film. No, I will not spoil either of them, so don’t ask.

For me the two highlights of this film are the time period (love the retro costumes) and the relationship between Erik and Charles. James McAvoy as Charles and Michael Fassbender as Erik are excellent. Their relationship is believable and emotional with the two actors, Fassbender in particular, completely committed to the roles. Fassbender is now on my list of must watch actors. He is, excuse the pun, magnetic on screen.

Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Jason Flemyng, Álex González, Caleb Landry Jones, Edi Gathegi, Lucas Till and Oliver Platt round off a pretty solid cast but I will say that one big disappointment I had with this film was the make up on Nicholas Hoult’s “Beast”. I know this is pretty superficial, but it did bother me. The make up job was a little cheap looking and didn’t move very well. I think it bothered me because they had already done the Beast make up so well on Kelsey Grammer in “X-Men The Last Stand”. It is a small complaint and if you are not a big geek like me, it probably won’t bother you.

Overall, I enjoyed “X-Men First Class”. It is a really enjoyable and solid entry into the summer season, and much better than the last couple attempts in this series. Well worth watching.

“X-Men First Class” opens across Australia on June 2nd, 2011