Review: X-Men: First Class
My fellow Mutants! The real enemy is out there.
X-Men: First Class received a lot of cred from the online community last summer, a successful reboot of a series that had lost its way with 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. My first impression was that it was good but not great and a second watch leaves me less enamoured.
Beginning in a familiar fashion that recalls Bryan Singer’s original with a frame-by-frame re-enactment of Magneto’s mutant capability. However this is one of the film’s problems: in using the original series as its template, it often comes unstuck when trying to glue all the pieces togetherthe.
The plot revolves around the politics of Fassebender’s Magneto and James Mcavoy’s Charles Xavier. Set in Sixties America, it’s the clearest reference the series has made to the Malcom X/Martin Luther King dynamic. Kevin Bacon’s suave Sebastian Shaw is looking to start a new age of mutant dominance by initiating a nuclear war that would pave the way for mutants to inherit the earth with the newly formed X-Men standing in his way.
Mixing real-life situations with fictional ones is, initially, an interesting choice made by screenwriter Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn. They give the film the tone of a Sixties Bond film but the setting is a dressing: an artifice that makes it visually dissimilar from modern comic-book adaptations. The film alludes to moments in history but does not deviate from them enough to create any substantial dramatic tension. It’s a fun ride but it feels empty at the same time.
Other problems emerge whether its the amount of set-up the film barrels through (the first ½ hour is mostly exposition): gender politics that borrows from James Bond, rushed visual effects, far too many characters to do justice to, some risible dialogue and, to top it off, some bland acting. It’s a Herculean feat that it feels as cohesive and as entertaining as it does. Vaughn keeps it going at a decent pace but when the film pauses, the seams are visible for all to see.
There are performances to enjoy and a few clever action scenes, though X-Men: First Class is a film that’s safer than it looks. Many of the more interesting moments (Azazel’s infiltration, Magneto and Xavier’s chess conversation) riff off other films in the series. It’s a case of ‘X-Men: The Greatest Hits’. Bonus points for the cameos but this film could have been a bit more than a re-heated version of what we’ve seen before.