X-Men: First Class (2011)

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Nicholas Hoult, January Jones

Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, (story) Bryan Singer and Sheldon Turner

Running Time: 132 mins

Original Cert: 12A

Original UK Release: 1st June 2011

The X-Men, Marvel’s masterpiece in most comic book fans eyes, have had a very bumpy journey on the big screen. Bryan Singer almost got it right with the first film and then managed to make an even better sequel with X2 but handled the reins over to Brett Ratner for X-Men: The Last Stand, which was flashy but lacking in substance. The final nail in the coffin was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which, quite frankly was the worst comic book adaptation yet. So could Matthew Vaughn, the man responsible for Kiss Ass, bring the series back to life? The answer is undoubtedly yes!

Set in the 60s, the film follows the beginnings of the X-Men. Charles Xavier has just become a Professor of mutants when he is asked to help the CIA, who have stumbled on a plot to start World War III. led by evil Sebastian Shaw, who has surrounded himself with mutants. In an operation to stop Shaw, Xavier saves the life of Erik Lehnsherr, a man after Shaw for revenge of his treatment during the World War II, where his mother was killed in front of him by Shaw, who at the time was a doctor in a concentration camp. The men team up and bring together a group of mutants in order to stop the forced war and the Cuban Missile crisis.

The first smart move is to not follow on from X-Men: The Last Stand but to start all over with a prequel as such. So no Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen. Instead we have James McAvoy as Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik. This is the first master stroke. The two actors take their roles very seriously. McAvoy the more lighter of the two, finds the perfect blend of serious and comic while Fassbender could quite easily be the new James Bond, an ultra cool presence with a violent undercurrent.

Master stroke two is the casting of Kevin Bacon as the baddie. Bacon, in my books, is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors and here he is allowed to shine but is almost out-shadowed by the gorgeous January Jones as his side-kick, Emma Frost, who not only looks good in almost every scene but has a presence on screen that is almost bewitching. She is most definitely one to watch (in more ways than one).

The film takes its time to develop characters and relationships which also works. We don’t get long, unnecessary action sequences but we get to learn about each of the characters. Erik’s past and his search for Shaw is played out nicely with a couple of globe-trotting scenes where he speaks German, Spanish and English. Xavier’s relationship with Mystique (nicely played by Jennifer Lawrence, before stardom came knocking with The Hunger games and her Oscar winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook).

The costumes and period feel of the 60s makes it look and feel like a lost Bond film from Connery’s time. In fact the whole Cold War storyline could quite easily be an assignment for 007. This builds to a superb finale with involves the reason why Xavier ends up in a wheelchair and how Magneto came into being. There are plenty of moments that work well, the invasion of the safe haven for the young mutants being a stand-out. The ending is a little wobbly but it can be forgiven for a film that zips along at a great pace and has so much else to offer.

So often Summer blockbusters tend to be flashy, empty and somewhat disappointing.  This is smart, intelligent, sometimes very funny (with a brilliant surprise cameo that gets the biggest laugh) and very cool movie. I’d be very hard pushed to find a better film this summer and if you are a fan of the X-Men, you will not be disappointed. Vaughn has finally got the mutants right. This is is rightly titled. It is certainly First Class. Cannot wait for Days Of Future Past with the return of Bryan Singer behind the camera and a clash of old X-Men and new (although they are older…head scratching time!)

4/5

(This review was first published on Flixster 1st June 2011. It has been edited and modified)

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