Was X-Men: First Class, first class?
The marketing blurb from Twentieth Century Fox tells us “Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together, with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-MEN.”
As I detailed previously I am a big fan of the original X-Men cartoon (but have never picked up any of the comics) and now that my kids are a bit bigger it was much easier to get a late night pass to hit the local multiplex to catch the latest incarnation.
The first thing to note is that Bryan Singer is back in the writing credits and his production company (Bad Hat Harry) were again running the show, something that hadn’t been the case for films 3 and 4. I feel that this shows and the over-arching story is a good one and the screenwriters have done a pretty reasonable job of converting that story into dialogue that is not too cheesy.
So here we have a brand new cast and a jaunt back first to the 1940s (for an almost identical opening sequence to the one in X-Men) and then to the 1960s for the remainder where the plot is set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
We have mutants new and old but only four of them get any real form of character definition.
The mantle of psychic Charles Xavier has fallen to James McAvoy, who dusts off his posh English accent from Atonement and sets to work first studying and then seeking out and uniting the world’s mutants. Whilst I liked his Charles I did find that he lacked the right depth of gravitas and I would have hoped that he would have helped Raven more with her issues, rather than seemingly ignoring them, but that is more a criticism of the writing than the actor himself.
Erik (Magneto) is played by Michael Fassbender and much like James McAvoy, he struggles with the emotional depth of his character. He jumps from ANGRY to HAPPY and back with not much in between. Still he does ANGRY very well and the rage shown as he hunts down his childhood tormentor and matricidal nemesis is well portrayed.
Old hand, Kevin Bacon plays the villainous Sebastian Shaw, and here is the first problem… Ham Acting. Throughout the film, he is bad. Whether speaking German in the 1940s or speaking Russian or American in the 1960s he is just trying too hard. Ham Acting in a comic conversion is fine, if you can pull it off like Jack Nicholson in Batman, but get it wrong and you throw the whole genre over to ridicule.
Jennifer Lawrence, who was new to me, plays Raven (Mystique) and we see her struggle with her blue-ness as she grows up an Charles’s adopted sister. She is credible in the role, but I can see nothing here to suggest how she was nominated for an Oscar in a previous film.
Beyond those four, only Rose Byrne as CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert gets any real opportunity to shine. Despite the horrendous break from the X-Men canon, switching her from Scottish Geneticist to US CIA Agent (so no need for a bad attempt at a Scottish Accent), she comes across really strongly. I remember seeing her as one of the few lights to come out of the film Troy, where she played the priestess Briseis, and she continues here to show her quality. 1960s Moira is a much put down (by her misogynistic bosses) agent, aching to prove she is better than any man, as she shows right from the off by stripping down to her skimpies to blend in with the entertainment at the Hellfire Club or interrupting Charles mid chat-up to get him to talk seriously. The growing affection between her and Charles is downplayed to a comfortable level, leaving the ending rather poignant.
The rest of the ensemble are OK, but the material doesn’t really give them room to show off their talents so most of them just coast through the roles. I would have liked to see more from (we see plenty of) January Jones as Emma Frost, but her character is underused and there seems to be no reason for her to stay with Shaw.
So is this a good film? Absolutely, it is better than pure pop-corn fodder and whether you know the future or not it should be a fun romp for anyone who likes the genre. Comic book purists will no doubt quibble over the inaccuracies but they should have learned by now that what works on the page doesn’t always work on screen, and original X-men characters like Iceman (who the films have already set as a child born in the 1990s) and Miss Marvel add nothing to the plot mix.
If you like the genre you will like this film. If you are comic book fan-boy then you may want to stay away and go and watch the Green Lantern.
Post Script: The three trailers before this film were for Green Lantern, Transformers – Dark of the Moon and The Three Musketeers. They all looked universally awful! I shudder at the state of the summer blockbuster! Roll on Harry Potter 7 pt 2! Jase.