Revisitations: X-Men: First Class - (2011) Movie Review


There is something which is very special about origin stories. Sequels have their own power for not only the studios that make them but they also lure in audiences who had been there at the beginning. The origin stories where our characters go through their greatest transformations and are so inherently compelling that comic's, movies and television shows frequently reboot franchises to get a new crack at a very old origin. And that certain explains, First Class, which manages to pack in a dozen or so origin stories for all its characters into one, often crowded, world-spanning, two-and-a-bit-hour movie specifically designed to re-launch the X-Men movie franchise.

Despite there being so many origin stories to include, director Michael Vaughn and co-author, Bryan Singer, manage to maintain an admirable coherence and pacing all the way through. They almost completely toss aside the previous X-Men trilogy as they jump back a generation to allow us to see a 1940s Charles Xavier befriending the shape-shifting intruder, Raven. We also see a child Magneto developing his mutant powers during his time in a concentration camp. His powers make him get the attention to the mad, Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon. While Charles' privileged upbringing leaves him smug but wanting to help people like him, Erik's leaves him on a vendetta against Shaw. The adult versions of these characters, played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, both becoming involved in the recruitment of young mutants, in their attempt to stop Shaw from starting a nuclear war. The script manages to cleverly weave the X-Men into real history during the Cuban Missile Crisis, completed with little clips of JFK's speeches littered throughout.

First Class's cast is littered with big names, no matter how small the character. The roles will be familiar to comic book readers including Rose Byrne as Moira McTaggert, Jennifer Laurence as Raven/Mystique and a slightly rigid January Jones as the scantily clad, Emma Frost.

Vaughn and company manage to tackle each character by breaking the movie down into the well established X-Men undertones of adolescent confusion, self-rejection and the difficult decision about whether or not to strike back against a world who hates and fears them, rally to improve their world or to try and integrate into it quietly. Once again, the touchstones of a typically Marvel movie manage to creep in as their are plenty of in-jokes and deeply geeky references for the most die hard of comic book fans. But there are also plenty of broader gags for the wider audience and explosive set pieces and visual effects which should please both ends of the spectrum.

First Class doesn't come without its small issues, there is its slightly embarrassing use of clich├ęs, with the few non-Caucasian characters either being dead, incapacitated or evil by the half time mark. And there are a few, already highly embarrassing lines, which really clash with the movie's more humanistic look at the superhero genre. But First Class really does achieve what it sets out to do, which is to create another crowd-pleasing movie to kick off a new era of X-Men movies while still appealing to the die-hard comic book fans. And on that score, First Class really does succeed...

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