Reviews

X-Men: First Class

4

Matthew Vaughn gives Marvel's mutants their mojo back...

 

Kevin Bacon as a mutant Nazi! Rose Byrne in her pants! Nicolas Hoult done up like Sully from Monsters, Inc! And these aren't even the best things about Matthew Vaughn's vibrant, sprawling, ensemble origin story (well, maybe the Bacon bits...).

A franchise reboot reminiscent of JJ Abrams' 2009 Star Trek overhaul, this is the fifth film in the X-Men canon and even if it can't quite match Bryan Singer's X2 (among the finest of its kind), First Class is still fast, fresh and fun.

It's intelligent and emotionally resonant, explosive and eye-dazzling. Factor in a zeitgeisty, hot-list cast and First Class is likely to be one of the summer's best biggies. It sure as hell razes Brett Ratner's disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand (which Vaughn was slated for at one point) and Gavin Hood's time-waster Wolverine.

Poland, 1944: a young Erik Lehnsherr is separated from his parents in a concentration camp; meanwhile, in an affluent but isolated stately home in New York a young Charles Xavier happens upon a strange blue little girl who's able to disguise herself as other people.

Eighteen years later, Erik (Michael Fassbender) and Charles (James McAvoy) have matured into powerful, charismatic men with opposing agendas.

Their paths cross in the pursuit of former Nazi Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a ruthless mutant supremacist plotting to use the Cuban Missile crisis to provoke a war among humans.

Extensive globe-trotting (Argentina, Russia, America, Switzerland, Poland, the UK) in a Cold War context lend this the feel of a '60s espionager.

But at heart First Class is the story of how close friends become bitter enemies and of how Charles and Erik become Professor X and Magneto.

Heard this one before? Whether it's Clark Kent and Lex Luther or Peter Parker and Harry Osborn, the 'frenemies' angle is a well-worn superhero staple. But strong, sympathetic performances and bromantic chemistry between dashing, dangerous Erik and compassionate humanist Charles inject fresh heft.

An early scene sees Erik in an Argentinian bar toasting then torturing two Nazi associates of Shaw with a single-minded menace reminiscent of Inglourious Basterds' opener.

Yet the sequence occurs before he's ever met Charles, and the possibility of redemption that this relationship brings is all the more affecting when played to its conclusion.

Dramatic irony works less in the favour of the Cold War plot, yet the stylish production design - the sleazy, sexy Hellfire Club, the yachts, submarines and covert military bases conjure a James Bond glamour.

Meanwhile, the sea battle that crescendos the action doesn't fail to thrill.

As for the supporting cast... it looks like the Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon game just got a whole lot easier. Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar-nommed, just snagged the lead in The Hunger Games) brings vulnerability and Winter's Bone stoicism to shape-shifting future-Mystique, Raven, while Nicholas Hoult (BAFTA-nommed, the lead in Singer's next film Jack The Giant Killer) adds sensitivity then rage to brainbox-turned-Beast Hank.

Caleb Landry Jones (stand-out in The Last Exorcism) supplies humour as gobby baby-Banshee Sean Cassidy, and Zoë Kravitz (daughter of Lenny, star of festival hit Yelling At The Sky) gives the winged Angel Salvadore a hard-faced worldliness.

Her intro is a highlight too, with a pissed-up Erik and Charles checking her out in a strip joint.

Strangely, it's the mutant enemies who feel underplayed.

Vaughn regular Jason Flemyng's devilish Azazel, weather-bothering Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) and even Mad Men sizzler January Jones as icy Emma Frost are denied a backstory - and in the case of Flemyng and Gonzalez any real dialogue.

Thank God for scene-stealing, scheming, chocolate-munching, sociopath Shaw. Bacon makes effortless a larger-than-life role that evolves from guffawing Nazi sadist to slick Bondian baddie.

There's a lot of ground to cover to give the gang a chance to stretch their legs (wings, feet, etc), but fortunately Jane Goldman's tight script and Vaughn's zip and pacing (abundant in his brilliant anti-superhero Kick-Ass, where he also teamed with Goldman) mean the balance between big set-pieces and character business is deftly held.

If First Class doesn't quite achieve the anarchy and irreverence of Kick-Ass it's partly because this is a different beast - not lacking in charm and wit, but occasionally in danger of veering towards broader laughs.

This isn't one for tots, though - carrying the same 12A rating as The Dark Knight, it mirrors Christopher Nolan's unwillingness to shy away from scenes of cruelty too bleak for infants.

"Mutant and proud!" asserts a naked, blue Jennifer Lawrence, in the closest X-Men: First Class gets to a catchphrase. She could be talking about Vaughn's film, which takes DNA from Singer (back in the fold as producer) and Marvel and mixes it with Bond and Batman, bromance and coming-of-age angst to create a cool, character-driven actioner with a social conscience that's something to be proud of. Top class.
 

Verdict:

A classy addition to the X-series that expertly establishes a hoard of characters, navigates a Cold War plot and squeezes a tear for a friendship failed. Dream-team casting and quality FX make this the summer blockbuster to beat.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • r0rshach

      May 25th 2011, 13:09

      Will you f*** off with all the 'bromance'/ 'bromantic' bulls***! I am so sick and tired of hearing that b****cks associated with any film that happens to have male actors in the cast. I even skipped the rest of the review to the verdict just because of it. Just stop it, please.

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    • BruceShark

      May 25th 2011, 21:00

      @jcelsoco is the word Empire missing from the start of your comment? If not, shame on you.

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    • jcelsoco

      May 26th 2011, 17:16

      HAHA, it was just a bit of banter!! generally, Empire gives better , in depth reviews, than Total... i will however watch first class b4 judging which one delivered the better article!! so watch this space, ! :)

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    • jcelsoco

      May 26th 2011, 17:16

      HAHA, it was just a bit of banter!! generally, Empire gives better , in depth reviews, than Total... i will however watch first class b4 judging which one delivered the better article!! so watch this space, ! :)

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    • jcelsoco

      May 26th 2011, 17:16

      HAHA, it was just a bit of banter!! generally, Empire gives better , in depth reviews, than Total... i will however watch first class b4 judging which one delivered the better article!! so watch this space, ! :)

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    • willow138

      Jun 1st 2011, 3:47

      4

      An Epic movie! Really really enjoyed it. was one awful cgi moment towards the end involving a sub and a beach but other than that top notch job!

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    • BruceShark

      Jun 1st 2011, 10:27

      3

      Good film only let down by the final act. Feels rushed. Also the relationship between X and Magneto just does feel true enough. Could of done with this and the sequel showing how they became friends and then turning him into Magneto at the end of the second one. Still the whole set up to the end is rather good.

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    • BruceShark

      Jun 1st 2011, 10:27

      3

      Good film only let down by the final act. Feels rushed. Also the relationship between X and Magneto just does feel true enough. Could of done with this and the sequel showing how they became friends and then turning him into Magneto at the end of the second one. Still the whole set up to the end is rather good.

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    • Ghedebrav

      Jun 2nd 2011, 8:23

      4

      I thought this was rather marvellous (no pun intended), as it goes. My full review is here: http://www.multiplexs**t.com/2011/06/film-52-x-men-first-class.html - see whatcha think. Probably helped that my two faves- Beast and Magneto - featured very heavily. Also Kevin Bacon is excellent!

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    • Ghedebrav

      Jun 2nd 2011, 8:24

      By the way, the missing letters in my URL are 'lu' - so that's multiplexs lu t.com...

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    • juhiroddam

      Jun 5th 2011, 0:44

      4

      Loved the movie, by far the best X-Men film out there. Also, I'm a little surprised that you guys didn't mention the real star of the movie - Michael Fassbender! His performance was absolutely stellar.

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    • Legacy3D

      Jun 8th 2011, 0:33

      4

      “Before he was Professor X, he was Charles. Before he was Magneto, he was Erik”. Set between 1944 and 1962 X-Men: First Class tells the story of the origins of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr along with the beginning of what would become the x-men and the brotherhood of mutants. In 1944 Poland within a German Concentration camp, a young Erik Lehnsherr is taken from his family and finds that he uses rage and angry to control, move or destroy metal objects. After the killing of his parents he hunts down every one responsible for their deaths. Around the same time Charles Xavier discovers his abilities of mind reading and control. They both meet to battle a group known as the hellfire club led by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw along with the other members of the hellfire club including Emma Frost (January Jones), Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) and Azazel (Jason Flemyng) look to help the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) form their own team including Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Havoc (Lucas Till) to prevent Shaw and the Hellfire Club from succeeding. While the United States looks to be at war with the Soviet Union. Despite X-Men First Class being a prequel to the first X-Men eleven years ago, the movie is very different to the other movies in the series. There is a lot of element’s going on in this movie but the main focus is on Erik Lehnsherr becoming Magneto, questioning the need to make an origins movie on him which has been rumored after wolverine. Two stars that definitely stand out are Kevin Bacon and Michael Fassbender. Fassbender is very believable as a young Magneto and Bacon is great as main villain Sebastian Shaw. Jennifer Lawrence known from winters bone stands out also as a young Mystique. The story is good as it explains a lot of unanswered questions from the previous x-men movies, while keeping you interested throughout. Small problems are certain characters such as Azazel and Emma frost have little to no back story. Overall X-Men: First Class is the second if not the best X-Men movie to date, with a great cast, story and effects.

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    • jamiehalus

      Jun 9th 2011, 13:19

      Did nobody else started getting just a little annoyed by the irish accent of Fassbender, it came through so many times. Other than that, awesome movie.

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    • district9

      Jun 11th 2011, 10:03

      4

      Amazing film! The best summer movie so far. Mcevoy and Fassbender are superb as friends who turn enemies and for Kevin Bacon steals the show as the villian(and one of the best in a long time

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    • MikeyRix

      Jun 15th 2011, 21:35

      3

      It was okay coming from a non-X Men fan. McAvoy and Fassbender did really well though, shame about everyone else.

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    • jonnykerr13

      Jun 16th 2011, 11:33

      4

      X-Men: First Class should be used as an example of how to make comic book movie. The main story being the rise and fall of Charles and Erik's friendship with many other narratives branching off to keep the main narrative from becoming sour and dull, yet intertwined with the story and made for an extremely enjoyable watch. Social themes raised throughout (appearance, acceptance) made this movie about mutants, very human indeed. The cast was top notch. James McAvoy brought some of the wisdom and wise words which you would expect from Partrick Stewart's X, yet there is enough immaturity and naivety to show the viewer that this character has a lot of growing to do. Michael Fassbender brought exquisite menace and anger to the Erik we will know as Magneto, but shows his raw, emotional and overall good side and why he and Charles became friends. However, both characters expertly play off each other to show the cracks in their foundations which lead to their inevitable separate paths. Strong supporting cast, most notably Jennifer Lawrence, ensure there is not a dull moment adding a spark of humor and overall likability. Main down points are that enemy mutants such as Azazel are underused and only really seem to be there to add to the action scenes. This leads to the fact that I feel the story became a bit too pacy towards the end and could easily have have another half hour added throughout to allow for more fleshy roles for enemy mutants and more of a back story. Still, Vaughn has crafted an expert movie here. He is an alchemist and has just about got every ingredient right to provide a massively enjoyable experience.

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    • baldeelox

      Jun 24th 2011, 8:59

      1

      Can't quite match X-2??? get the f**k outta here this film is easily the best X-men film of ALL...and apart from Blade the best ever comic film. Wolverine's cameo is better than then his entire own film too. Mr Vaughn and Mrs Jonathan Ross are a dream team...Kick-a*s provided us with the insight...X-2 was very good but was subdued to say the least...like a good old fart this film lets rip nicely on all fronts and if it were the original we would be saying that it is the best super hero film ever. It would have set the standard fr al to follow instead of the half baked hollywood c**p we have had to endure over the years. I cannot see a better film coming out this summer.

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    • KingofSpain

      Jun 25th 2011, 0:39

      1

      There's so much wrong with this film I don't know where to start. The bookends aside, the film is choppy, rushed, lacking any character depth - it really just felt like a couple of hours of people "playing mutant". Oh and the very last scene almost made me want to go and ask for my money back on the cinema ticket.

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    • jackcarlin

      Jul 30th 2011, 23:21

      4

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    • dawko

      Feb 12th 2012, 3:13

      4

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