X-Men:First Class

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"Listen to me very carefully, my friend: Killing will not bring you peace "

Nov 1st, 2011

I have an odd relationship with the X-Men films. The second movie ranks as one of my favourite superhero movies of all time, the others not so much. The first was a disappointment, Wolverine was bland and The Last Stand was an absolute joke. Superhero movies have come such a long way over the years but the X-Men always seem to fall short. I put it down to the fact that Fox were bashing out films every 2 years to remain holders of the comic licence rather than any affinity for the product. Then First Class came along.

When they first announced First Class was going into production I had no opinion of it either way - a prequel, sure why not? Then updates started to grab my attention. Matthew Vaughn was tipped to direct coming straight off the fantastic real life superhero flick Kick Ass. I was a fan of all his films so far (including Stardust) and had faith that he could add something to the ailing franchise; he couldn't do much worse than Brett Ratner. Jane Goldman was brought in to do script re writes (a task she also did for Kick Ass) and the time period was shifted to an alternate Cuban Missile Crisis (implausible but sounded like fun). After the first trailer I was actually excited.

Set during the 60's a young Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lensherr (Magneto) travel the globe recruiting people with special powers for a secret government branch of the C.I.A. At the same time a more sinister group known as the Hellfire Club are attempting to influence a war that would bring about the destruction of mankind, allowing those with the X gene to dominate society. With shades of grey and oppression towards both teams of gifted individuals we witness the fallout as they question their allegiances and choose sides as war looms ever closer.

I can't express what a fantastic time I had with this movie. I was introduced to the X-men via the 90's cartoon which then coaxed me into reading the massive back catalogue of comics. The reason I loved the universe they created was the ambiguous nature of the topics raised. Nothing was black and white and you could understand the reasoning behind each of the differing views expressed by the enormous cast of characters (villainous or not). I never felt that from the movies that made it to the big screen there was good and bad and very little between (there were hints but nothing major). The focus seemed more upon look at the fabulous powers these people have.

The plot here serves the shades of grey that the comic so expertly dabbles in which leaves us as an audience not sure who we should be siding with. While the villainess actions committed by many of the cast deplorable (and quite graphic for a 12a certificate) they are understandable as we get to know the cast and what they are trying to accomplish. I'm not usually the biggest advocate of prequels as storylines are limited by the timeline created in previous films and very rarely manage to serve up character advancements that don't contradict established facts. Fortunately First Class is very loosely connected to the previous movies (and only really enforced by a couple of cameos) and is set quite a bit further into the past allowing for almost a complete disassociation from all that has come before. This allows the film to have its own identity which is always a positive.

The change of time period is brilliant and really revitalises the franchise. I don't know why but superheroes who have spanned such a large timeline in comic form always seem best suited to the periods in which they were in their prime. The 60's setting allows for a retro look for both the locations and the costumes. This means that the X-men actually have distinct look rather than the bizarre black leather look in the older movies (clearly influenced by the matrix).

This also affected the plot in terms of how the cast operated with an espionage feel to the proceedings. The spy drama appeared to mirror the Sean Connery Bond era which I feel most are quite fond off (I am at least).

Our two main leads are phenomenal putting in performances that do justice to the already established film universe as well as their comic counterparts. I know a lot of criticism could be aimed at the fact that the other characters have less characterisation but it's a sacrifice that needs to be made in order to fully develop certain characters fully. With the X-Men having such a large ensemble even the comics side-line members to push others to the forefront. First Class just happens to be Charles and Erik's story.

James McAvoy (Charles) manages to convey power and presence despite lacking the years and wisdom of the older Professor X. The character is given a far more playful persona and we get to see him mature over the course of the film.

Michael Fassbender steals the show as Erik as he has a far grittier and complex character to portray. Even with the characters own inner turmoil and tragic background he is able to infuse the character with a dark sense of humour without becoming goofy comic relief, his characters eventual downfall is always present. The only downside to his performance is a wavering accent that dips between American/English/Irish but it's a minor quibble.

The thing that really stands out though is how conclusive this feels in terms of narrative scope. In today's movie making world blockbuster movies tend to spend most of their time sowing the seeds for an eventual sequel. When First Class was in production I remember this being mentioned as a potential new trilogy which is why I got a shock when the storylines actually came to a close and left me more than satisfied. For the first time in a long while a Superhero movie left me wanting more by giving me a great movie rather than leaving unresolved cliff-hangers.

First Class now sits atop my favourite Superhero movies with Kick Ass and Batman Begins (yep I prefer Begins to Dark Knight). It may not be the most complex superhero tale but it perfectly represents the source material it was based on and what more can we ask for than that. I didn't think Fox had it in them.

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Movie Details

Movie Poster Here


Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jane Goldman
Matthew Vaughn

Released: 2011
Rating: 12
Starring: James McAvoy

Michael Fassbender

Rose Byrne