Review: X-Men First Class (2011)

| 6 June , 2011 | Reply

Keeva Stratton

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones

The latest installment to the X-Men franchise has arrived on the big screen. X-Men First Class has fans quivering with excitement and anticipation, while simultaneously being seized with bouts of anxiety as to whether or not this eagerly awaited movie will live up to the hype and expectation.

The film can be described as a reboot of the series, a strategy we have seen quite a bit in recent times, with Nolan\’s deft reclamation of the aforementioned Batman series, Bryan Singer\’s fresh take on Superman, J.J. Abrams\’ re-imagining of the Star Trek franchise, and even with Casino Royale as a revitalisation of the Bond films.

A prequel, X-Men First Class revolves around the friendship and eventual estrangement between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), as two young men coming to grips with their mutant abilities in the 1960s, in a world that increasingly becomes shaped by escalating conflict between mutants and humans. Charles and Erik, of course, later go on to become Professor X, the serenely calm (and attractively bald) leader of the X-Men, and his rival Magneto, the intensely broody yet charismatic leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants.

Let\’s not delay any further in casting judgement: the film is good, and lives up to expectations quite comfortably. At my media screening, there were unrestrained whoops of joy from various quarters at appropriately cultish moments, where bits of the story clicked nicely into place (Hugh Jackman\’s five second cameo appearance as Wolverine garnered an enthusiastic response), and also heartfelt applause from a significant portion of the audience at the end.

Importantly, you don\’t necessarily have to be a devotee of the X-Men franchise to get into and enjoy the film. X-Men First Class, to its credit, does not simply rely on spectacular action sequences (although they are certainly present and come across fantastically well). The film ultimately finds its success in actually being a beautifully paced, character-driven movie – driven by tight plotting, fine performances from a range of talented actors, and the nicely developed story arcs of the characters.

X-Men First Class is helmed by director Matthew Vaughn, who last year collected a whole swag of raves for directing the vibrant superhero send-up, Kick-Ass. His take on X-Men, however, veers more closely towards his earlier film, the stylishly elegant crime drama Layer Cake. X-Men First Class effortlessly exudes a sleek, unrestrained cool throughout its 60s settings, much like a superhero version of a Bond film, or a mutant action-drama take on the Mad Men television series.

Appropriately, the film of course, borrows January Jones from Mad Men, and her role as the telepathic, sometimes diamond-skinned Emma Frost, unfortunately will provoke some mild grumbles about X-Men First Class. A few of the characters – especially the female characters – don\’t really have much to do, and some are not as fully developed as we would like. Rose Byrne, as the CIA agent Dr Moira MacTaggart, also doesn\’t have much to work with.

But these are minor quibbles. The two leads, McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr, are well equipped, and the interplay between the two is particularly well done. McAvoy manages to convey intelligence, a suave charm, and emotional depth, while Fassbender does a riveting job of portraying Erik as a driven but fundamentally sympathetic figure, grappling with his own dark personal turmoil. Jennifer Lawrence also does wonderfully well in playing Raven, Charles\’ earlier mutant discovery and childhood friend, who later (as we already know) shifts allegiances to Erik and becomes known as Mystique.

This film has blockbuster written all over it – and don\’t take that as a negative. X-Men First Class is a welcome return to form for the franchise, providing compelling, story-driven big-screen entertainment for casual audience-goers as well as hardcore fans.

X-Men First Class is in cinemas now.


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