X-Men: First Class
Reviewed by Damien Straker on May 29, 2011
20th Century Fox
presents a film directed
by Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne and Kevin Bacon
Running Time: 130 minutes
Released: June 2, 2011
During the Second World War a boy named Erik and his mother are locked away in a concentration camp. But the boy's telekinetic gift is recognised by German doctor Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). When Shaw shoots Erik's mother in front of him he unleashes the secret to his power: to energise it through his anger. Meanwhile, in the USA a boy named Charles has the ability to read minds and inside his home he finds Raven, a girl with scaly blue skin, who can morph her appearance to look like other people. Forwarding to the 1960s, Erik (Michael Fassbender) is now determined to find Shaw. Charles (James McAvoy) is a wealthy professor still living with Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). When CIA agent Dr. Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) discovers that Shaw is alive and using his super powers to fuel Cold War tensions, she enlists the help of Charles and Raven to track him down. To combat him more easily they work to find other mutants like Hank McCoy, a scientist with ultra speed and Erik, who has a different approach towards their goal.
First Class is another adaptation of Marvel's popular comic, a prequel to the three part film series but most surprisingly, an intelligent character study. The initial thought of a Wolverine-less X-Men movie sounds dubious, but the central relationship between Erick and Charles establishes an intriguing premise for a prequel. This is a revenge story and the gap between two equally gifted but contrasting men provides the film with both conflict and powerful dramatic irony. Both their childhoods have had lasting impacts on their present lives. Charles was born into wealth, away from the war and relies frivolously on his charm, intellect and persuasion. Erik is still traumatised by the death of his mother inside the camps and he uses his obsession to fuel his anger. He lacks the poise and self-control for any stability. Director Matthew Vaughn controls the tone of the subject matter more consistently than he did with Kick-Ass (2010).There's a violent intensity about his craft here, with humour employed sparingly. And for anyone with the faintest knowledge about X-Men, there are some chilling scenes involving Erik's transformation into Magneto, which are utterly gripping.
The core relationship is indicative of a lot of the film's broader concerns. Having Shaw move through different type periods, manipulating military bodies, is not only a clever method of showing his development as a character but also linking evolution with fascism. It provides some variation to the standard 'take over the world' motive. And the film does not have easy answers to all its questions about conformity either. Just as it looks to be heading towards simplistic views of self-image the outcomes of some of the relationships, particularly the one shared between Raven and Hank, are surprising. Even visually there's more skill than the mere grandiose. As expected, the special effects are thrilling and superb. But here they do not so much as inflate scenes but give the action spontaneity because of the boundlessness of the mutant powers. It's refreshing to see action scenes that are not so ploddingly choreographed. There's also a wealthy, charismatic cast that gives us plenty of reason to care too. McAvoy is a charming, sometimes funny lead and Fassbender, is terrific as his steely, brooding contrast. Jennifer Lawrence is dashing in blue paint but also provides softer moments of emotion. And Kevin Bacon, a continually underrated character actor, has a lot of fun as the slimy Dr. Shaw. For anyone uneducated about X-Men, First Class is an absorbing introduction. And best of all, it's showing in glorious 2D only.