A young boy in a Nazi concentration camp is separated from his parents and, in his attempts to get them back, reveals previously hidden powers. Familiar? It should be. X-Men First Class opens with the same scene as the first X-Men movie – however, that is where most the similarities end.
Emma Frost: Can you guess what my mutation is? No, not those.
From there were are treated to half an hour of Bond-esque globetrotting, with Michael Fassbender’s Eric Lehnsherr seeking out the German doctor who killed his mother.
We’re also introduced to a boozy, flirty James MacAvoy as Charles Xavier (not yet a professor). Though these scenes are quick and do jump around a bit, they also offer some of the best character set up’s in the series and lay the foundations for the rest of the story well.
It is also these two threads of the story that provide the heart of movie – and its most interesting story.
Magento: Get used to that chair, buddy.
Magneto was always the more interesting of the pair in the first movies, with Professor X coming across as a bit too goody two shoes.
What Vaughn and screenwriter, Goldman do, along with MacAvoy’s excellent performance, is add meat to the bones of Professor X.
Through First Class we see him grow from a young, rich boy, without a worry in the world, into the father figure he is in X-Men as he discovers more mutants and plans to help them. His joy at not being alone and the chance to help these people is contrasted with Magnetos despair as he realises that he will not be alone in his suffering.
While the scenes between Eric and Charles are brilliant, much of the battle of wits happens over the future of Mystique, who gets an almost starring role and a few lines from the other movies is developed into a full story arc – ‘why should we have to hide?’
It’s this that shows Xavier’s hypocrisy. He wants to free the mutants from their hiding, but also urges Mystique to hide her natural blue form. Lehnsherr, however, urges her to accept her mutant state and join him in his fight against human repression.
Like much of First Class, this raises a lot of interesting question but fails to develop them. Such as the idea that even in the mutant world, there is a split – between those who’s mutations take a physical forms (mystique, Beast, Angel etc) and thus makes them outcasts, and those who have hidden powers and can live normally in the world (Professor X, Magneto, Shaw).
It’s a themed touched upon a bit when the young mutants get together for a party and Alex Summer’s starts to mock Beast’s big feet. But beyond that it’s not really developed.
Much like many of the other mutants. Though they are interesting, it feels like they’re been added to keep the kids and fan boys happy. There’s loads of fun had in the training montage, but it’s only real Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy that gets any real story arc.
Again, his dilemma is brought to bear through Mystique. McCoy comes up with a potion to remove some of the physical aspects of mutations while keeping the powers.
Though this feels like a bit of a maguffin (surely much of his power comes from his massive feet) it again shows the central crux of the personal story – accept who you are or deny it.
Again, this is not fully developed. After he makes his full transformation into Beast, going from having a mild mutation to becoming a big, furry blue animal, he just shrugs it off and decides to becoming a super-pilot (just because you designed a plane doesn’t mean you can fly it).
Also, the “Mutant and Proud” story doesn’t really have much to do with Kevin Bacon’s plan to destroy the world. Though Bacon is great as Sebastian Shaw, with January Jones’ literal eye candy spending most the movie in her underwear, his plan doesn’t make much sense.
It’s implied that post nuclear holocaust, the mutants would survive – but again, the science is a bit sloppy and undeveloped.
The first two movies had a gruff realism to them. And this extended to the science. However, First Class feels a lot more comic-y. While X-Men and X2 was grounded by Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, First Class lacks this. But it does avoid the out-and-out cartoony feel of Last Stand.
It also feels like it was slightly rushed (reading about it before hand, it sounds like it was). Some of the effects are a bit ropey, much of the story seems to have been cut (none of the bad mutants get any back story and one doesn’t even get a line) and, as previously mentioned, there are a lot of unanswered questions.
Given six more months post-production, this could have been truly great. But overall, it works. Though some of the big action is missing and it feels like there’s more to be had from the story, it’s held together by the chemistry between the leads, its fast pace and a sense of humor.