With a British gangster movie (Layer Cake), a family fantasy (Stardust) and a comic book adaptation (Kick Ass) under his belt, Matthew Vaughn can safely be described as a versatile director. Whilst boasting an impressive resume, handing him the reigns to an established franchise could have been disastrous (we’re looking at you Joel Shumacher, and the blights on the Batman series), so it’s a huge relief that First Class is exactly that.
Expanding on the topic of what they were like before they were “X-Men” that Origins: Wolverine touched upon, First Class introduces us to the younger (and wheelchair lacking) Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric Lehnsherr, who would later become known as Magneto. Eric simply wants to avenge his parents death at the hands of Sebastian Shaw (the always entertaining Kevin Bacon), whilst Charles is enlisted by the CIA to help find more like him. It’s not long before Xavier and Lehnsherr meet, and Shaw becomes the enemy to both men when it becomes apparent that he is building a mutant army with plans to start a nuclear war. The two men must forge their own team of mutants to fight a force that has the power to change the world as they know it.
Grossing over $1.5 billion dollars worldwide, and each movie making more than double its budget, the X-Men franchise is one of Marvels most successful. Whilst they have arguably declined in terms of quality, there’s no denying that people want to see more of the mutants. First Class is Marvels equivalent of DC’s Batman Begins: the audience are already familiar with who the characters are, but it’s taking the time to actually get to know them. In less capable hands, the whole thing could have fallen into disarray, but Vaughn and screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz neatly stay true to the X-Men Universe, whilst making a blockbuster that’s accessible to non-comic book fans. The first half of the movie is driven by dialogue, getting deeper into the character profiles. As I said, even though you’ve seen the characters before, it feels like they’re entirely new persona’s and it would actually be worth re-watching the other films after this one to see them in a whole new light. Mystique in particular is one of the more revealing focuses; her inner struggle with her blue appearance is approached with emotion and genuine care. It accomplishes something that the others failed: to bring out a human side to the mutants.
The casting is perfect – McAvoy exerts charm, intelligence and the occasional air of arrogance as the brilliant Charles Xavier whilst Michael Fassbender is fiercely convincing as Eric Lehnsherr, the man torn between using his power of metal manipulation for good or evil. Kevin Bacon uses his experience to showcase something that had yet to be seen on screen this year: a villain who poses a real threat to the protagonists. I’ve always been a fan of his work, with Stir of Echoes being the first psychological thriller I ever saw and it scared me for weeks, and his role in First Class is exceptional. January Jones (who can be seen in the apparently fantastic Mad Men) is the eye candy, barely wearing more than bra and panties in the majority of her scenes as Emma Frost. There are far too many mutants to mention here, but they all impress and I can see the younger talent getting the recognition they deserve with offers for more pictures after this.
With all the character introductions done and dusted, the time comes for them to show off what they can do. And though the meticulously choreographed action scenes, the mutants electrify with their abilities. As expected, the special effects are sublime, with an awe inspiring scene involving a submarine being lifted from the water which was teased at in the trailer. What First Class benefits from also is the wise decision to keep it in two dimensions, meaning no unnecessary and obvious moments of objects flying out at the screen: simply put, it’s big, bold and brilliant.
Whilst some could complain about the change of direction, and in some instances slowing the pace, from the other X-Men movies, First Class was never going to be an all out action brawl of a film. By dedicating a large portion of time on the characters, it means that when the scenes of action do happen, we care about the outcome, especially when equal amount of screen time has been spent on the enemies and it’s hard to determine who will emerge victorious. First Class could possibly be my personal favourite Marvel adaptation, and with a sequel already planned it seems this won’t be the last we see of the mutants. Oh, and look out for a hilariously vulgar cameo from.. well, we’ll let you find that out.