I’ve been getting a bit tired of the X-Men movie franchise. You may remember how disappointed I was with the Wolverine movie. So I went into this one with some trepidation, but also a secret hope that it would be good. After all, it’s directed by Matthew Vaughn, who previously directed Layer Cake, Stardust and Kick-Ass, so we have good reason to expect quality from him. And I wasn’t disappointed. X-Men: First Class was absolutely brilliant.
It’s a genesis story and tells us how the whole X-Men thing began. In essence, it’s really a Magneto story, focussing more on what made Erik Lehnsherr into Magneto than anything else, but it manages to be so much more than that. It touches on how the mutants are the children of the nuclear age and not an aberration but the evolution of humanity, thereby setting the stage for the stand-off between humans and mutants that we’ve seen in the other films.
Charles Xavier, excellently played by James McAvoy, discovers Raven (Mystique), played by Jennifer Lawrence, when they’re children. They realise they’re not alone in their weirdness and thus begins Xavier’s interest in genetics which leads him to become a professor. He’s a genius and a telepath and, through a few connections with the CIA, begins to gather other mutants together. He shows them they’re not alone and gives them a safe place and a purpose. I’m deliberately skipping a MASSIVE chunk of the story here, as it’s far better experienced through the film.
Alongside this story we see Erik Lehnsherr, forced through horrible methods by Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw, to embrace his own mutant powers, and there the seed of his genesis is planted. It turns out that Shaw is up to no good in a massive way and is trying to trigger a nuclear war. In this way the film manages to weave the plot of the mutants into the real world history of the Cuban missile crisis and it does a superb job of that. If you’re a serious history buff you might have trouble with some of the liberties taken with events surrounding the Cuban missile crisis. To this I would point out that there aren’t really mutant people with incredible super powers, so if you can suspend that disbelief and accept a young man who flies by screaming at the ground, you can let a bit of alternate history go.
The film is set in 1962 and the faith to the era and environment is really well done. The performances are top notch. I’ve already mentioned that James McAvoy was excellent as Xavier. Other stand-outs are Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast. Kevin Bacon is excellent as Shaw and creates in that character a very convincing bad guy. But the entire film is stolen by Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto. His performance is true brilliance.
The film largely focusses on Magneto’s genesis, and an integral part of that is the friendship between Xavier and Lehnsherr and how that grows and then fractures. The film does a great job of exploring that dynamic. Some of the best scenes in the film are conversations between Xavier and Magneto, which is some going for an action flick.
The political backdrop of the missile crisis provides an excellent crucible for the bigger issues explored by this film. Always the X-Men have been about accepting difference and this film is no exception. This is particularly well explored with the relationship between Mystique and Beast, with her spending all her time trying to conceal her true appearance, while he does all he can to cure his. Eventually, of course, they face the truth of who they are and make decisions based on those realisations. The film manages to get its messages across in entertaining ways, with plenty of humour thrown in and some stellar action sequences. Also, talking of humour, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in this one that will have fans nerdgasming all over the place. It’s hilarious and brilliant. You’ll know it when you see it.
So there’s new life in the X-Men franchise and this is perhaps the best X-Men film yet. Well worth your time and money. I already want to see it again.