There has been a lot of tension and anticipation building up to the release of X-Men: First Class. In 2000, the first X-Men film, directed by Bryan Singer, launched a deluge of (for the most part) poor comic book adaptations that has lasted over a decade. Fans embraced Singer’s story about the iconic group of mutant heroes who battle evil mutants to save mankind mainly because they had been waiting for it for so long. Now comes the origin story of how it all started and fans are sure to connect with First Class even more strongly than they did with the original trilogy.
The film is set in the 1960s at the height of the nuclear arms struggle and Civil Rights Movement. We get to see Professor X as a young man named Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), a brilliant geneticist. He is also a telepath, a mutant who can read minds and manipulate thoughts. Living with him in England is Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) who is also a mutant and whom Charles met by accident as a young boy. Raven’s mutation turned her into a blue, scaly shape shifter that can take the appearance of any person she sees.
Picking up where the first X-Men movie left off, we meet young Erik Lehnsherr who is torn away from his family in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944. As an adult, Erik (Michael Fassbender) has vowed to find the doctor who tortured him and exploited his power (the ability to control any metal object at will). He has spent the last few decades hunting the man down like a much more dangerous James Bond.
The film’s plot is absolutely wonderful, so I won’t give any of it away here. Not only is it fun to watch the origins of these incredibly beloved characters, director Matthew Vaughn and his production team have gone to great lengths to give the world of the film a truly unique feel. The set design perfectly reflects the swinging 60s as do the costumes. Where Vaughn really lets loose is in the over-the-top villain Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his very Bond villain-esque hideouts. Think a slightly darker and more serious Austin Powers.
The casting is very well done, especially McAvoy and Fassbender. Though he is still young, McAvoy gives weight to every role he takes on, knowing when to play for laughs and when to be serious. He is at once smug, likeable, egotistical and humble. Fassbender, though, is the true gem of the film. He has been on the verge of being the biggest movie star in the world since his brilliant performance in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 masterpiece Inglourious Basterds and First Class might be the role that puts him on top. Without Fassbender as the man who becomes Magneto, the movie would be much less satisfying.
The rest of the cast is satisfactory as well. Bacon is especially having a good time playing the flamboyant villain Shaw who has only the worst intentions in store for mankind. The only real weak spot in the cast is the typically flat and lifeless performance of January Jones as Emma Frost. Why she continues to be cast in movies is beyond me. Jones, who is apparently
supposed to get by on her mediocre looks alone, fails to attempt even a single emotion or give a hint of preparation. The Mad Men star is the only blemish in the truly entertaining film.
X-Men fans will love the movie because the characters drive the story, not artificial plot devices that make room for obligatory action sequences. We get to know the main characters who, even though they are mutants, have very human emotions and weaknesses. The X-Men franchise has always connected with audiences because being different is something most of us
feel at one point or another in our lives. First Class succeeds points out that the characters are different but are definitely not alone.
The film is rated PG-13 and runs 132 minutes.