X-Men has had its ups and downs. Starting with the ups and then ending with the downs in equal measures. Bryan Singer started the franchise solidly with two action-packed films featuring the most famous of the X-Men, Brett Ratner introduced The Juggernaut (bitch) and killed the franchise where it was standing (from what I remember). X-Men Origins: Wolverine tried to do the prequel thing, and managed to mess up Deadpool, one of the franchises favourite characters, alienating fanboys all over the world.
BUT then X-Men: First Class came along, they nabbed Jane Goldman to write it and Matthew Vaughn to direct. This is where it got interesting, the Kick-Ass writer and director on board for a ‘real’ superhero film and they’ve only bloody gone and made it really good.
James McAvoy stars as the young Professor Xavier, Michael Fassbender stars as Erik Lensherr AKA Magneto and they both have to fight off Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, the leader of The Hellfire Club, who wants to start the nuclear war between Russia and America and kickstart his jump to being leader of the entire world. Sort of like Hitler, but with the ability to absorb power and then shoot it back out. He has the likes of January Jones in a bra, Nightcrawler’s red-skinned dad Azazel and Riptide, who throws whirlwinds around, on his side.
McAvoy and Fassbender are tasked by the CIA to sort Kevin Bacon out and stop World War 3, but Fassbender has other issues with him and wants to kill him, which is well Magneto. McAvoy wants peace. So anyway, they enlist the help of a handful of other mutants that they find by a budget version of cerebro (the thing that Professor X uses in the first films). These are the likes of Angel (she’s got wings and fiery spit), Banshee (he’s so loud at screaming it makes him fly), Havok (big red rings of powerfulness fire from everywhere on him) and Darwin (he can protect himself). They also have Mystique, who Xavier met when he was young and Beast, who has been making stuff for the CIA.
Now, after that extended synopsis that I wrote for not much reason, here’s the verdict:
It was really brilliant, not perfect, but really brilliant and it certainly sets the franchise up for a brand new timeline with some fantastic actors. Michael Fassbender steals the show as the complex Erik Lensherr, he’s the one with the history and has a real reason to be hateful towards the human race, it grounds his villainy in a real way, and you can really see tones of Ian McKellen’s Magneto in him. He does drift into his native Irish accent on a number of occasions, but that could be down to the rushed schedule that the production was under.
James McAvoy drifts between cool hippie womaniser and logical professor, which at times does edge into the cheesy side of things, but mostly keeps along the straight and narrow. He doesn’t quite embody the character as fully as Fassbender, but Xavier is the voice of reason and McAvoy shows some signs of that, but doesn’t really stand out for me.
As with all X-Men films, the other mutants take a back-seat until they have their ‘moment’ where their power comes into the storyline. Beast and Mystique get an interesting love-story which plays on their appearance. Other than that, the rest don’t do much, especially January Jones, who just spends her time looking pretty.
The storyline infuses the history of the ’60s alongside the mutants very well. Taking key aspects of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis and adding an alternate timeline, much like Watchmen did. It isn’t overly complex, and has some fantastic action sequences which should give it the Summer blockbuster power it needs to top the likes of Transformers and Harry Potter.
We’re well into the blockbuster season and X-Men provides a solid stand to go up against the big boys in the next couple of months. So far, we’ve got the one to beat right here.