Before Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together, with other Mutants to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-Men.
Just as J.J. Abrams succeeded in resuscitating the moribund Star Trek franchise with his 2009 reboot, the new X-Men adventure looks highly likely to give the mutant superheroes a whole new lease of life.
X-Men: First Class isn’t just a turbo-charged boost to a series which was losing momentum after three editions and the 2009 spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Arguably it’s the most entertaining and impressively mounted of the lot and it will probably mark the beginning of a fresh batch of X-Men adventures if 20th Century Fox can persuade director Matthew Vaughn and the key cast members to suit up again.
Vaughn seems keen to do at least one sequel, telling Hit Fix, 'I've got some ideas for the opening for the next film. I thought it would be fun to open with the Kennedy Assassination, and we reveal that the magic bullet was controlled by Magneto."
The studio took a gamble in hiring the 40-year-old Brit since his last directing effort Kick-Ass didn’t live up to its title at the box-office, earning about $US96 million, and 2007’s Stardust and 2005’s Layer Cake were cult titles.
Turns out that was a smart choice because Vaughn and co-writers Jane Goldman, Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz, working from a story by Sheldon Turner and original X-Men director Bryan Singer, have delivered a rarity: a comics-inspired movie that’s intelligent, coherent, exhilarating, funny and superbly acted.
Moreover, for those who either haven’t seen the earlier films, which date back to 2000, or dimly remember them, the latest edition stands alone as a fine piece of entertainment.
The prologue, which borrows from the first X-Men movie, conveys the diametrically different formative experiences during WWII of Charles Xavier, the future Professor X, and Erik Lehnsherr, who later morphs into Magneto.
Interned in a concentration camp in Poland, young Erik watches in horror as his mother is dragged away by guards to her death and is then tormented by Nazi Doctor Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), who wants to exploit his mutant powers. Meanwhile, young Charles, raised in an affluent home in upstate New York, discovers he has telepathic abilities.
Fast forward to 1962 during the Cold War and Charles (James McAvoy) has graduated from Oxford and is happily chatting up young women in a pub while Erik (Michael Fassbender) roams the globe seeking revenge against Schmidt and others responsible for his mother’s death.
CIA agent Dr. Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) hires Charles and his adopted sister Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) to help track down Schmidt, a mutant who has resurfaced as criminal mastermind Sebastian Shaw and is in cahoots with the Soviets and plotting a global conflict, and his sexy sidekick Emma Frost (January Jones).
Eventually Erik and Charles team up as the latter recruits a bunch of fellow mutants including Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Alex/Havok (Lucas Till), Sean/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Armondo/Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Angel (Zoe Kravitz). None of these supporting characters is given much screen time to establish his or her persona but as a group they function effectively as Shaw’s combatants.
The action set pieces, including sequences at the Division of Mutant Powers’ headquarters and aboard a stealth submarine and futuristic aircraft, culminating in a US/Soviet naval confrontation, are a cut above the norm. Even better, they don’t overwhelm the narrative as Vaughn takes plenty of time to develop the friendship between Xavier and Lehnsherr.
Fassbender brings his trademark intensity to the role, spiced with hints of darkness, impulsiveness and angry outbursts. McAvoy rises to the challenge of bringing to life a character who starts out as cocky and charming and becomes increasingly driven and assertive.
Bacon’s guile makes his character more nuanced than the stock villain while Jennifer Lawrence is appealing as the blue-hued shape-shifter who yearns to be normal.