Film Review: X-Men: First Class

After X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there did not seem to be much life left in the X-Men franchise. X-Men: First Class has changed that; it is an unexpectedly good prequel that should do great business at the box office.

In 1944, two young boys with very different backgrounds discover that they have special powers. Years later (in the 1960s), the two meet as adults after the CIA discovers the presence of mutants among the human population. Charles Xavier wants to find other mutants in order to train and help them, but Erik Lehnsherr has his mind set on revenge…

Continuing with the superhero theme after last year’s Kick-Ass, director Matthew Vaughn steers X-Men: First Class with some aplomb. It is tricky to keep a prequel engaging, as the audience is all too aware of what is to come. Vaughn does an excellent job of keeping the audience entertained throughout.

The writing team adds sufficient humour to the film, balancing more dramatic scenes with lighter moments in others. The brief cameos are inspired; a nod to those familiar with the X-Men franchise. The inclusion and omission of characters strikes the right balance. Familiar characters anchor the film; it is after all the back story of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr. However, the screenwriters are wise not to saturate the film with too many well-known characters, choosing instead to introduce a young group that would mostly be familiar to fans of the comics.

Set in the 1960s, X-Men: First Class links the fantasy aspects present with real-life events. This is a masterstroke, as it secures the film firmly in the real world, despite the fantastical forces that appear. The film creates an imagined history from real events, twisting the Cuban missile crisis so that it included the mutants. Throughout the film, references are made to this period and these events; the group are shown watching Kennedy on a black and white television set, for example.

Performances are solid all round, but it is Michael Fassbender who steals the show as Erik. Playing a character so identified with another actor seems like a difficult task, but Fassbender inhabits the role, bringing great presence to the film. James McAvoy is good as Charles, while Rose Byrne is very believable as Moira.

The art direction of X-Men: First Class is great, as is the sound. The only gripes with the film are very minor. The film slackens in momentum once or twice, but recovers quickly. Similarly there are one or two artificial-looking CGI effects, but overall the film is visually pleasing.

X-Men: First Class is the best blockbuster of the year so far. It has set a bar that the upcoming summer blockbusters will have to match.