After several rewrites, late reshoots and a change of directors X-Men: First Class has finally hit the big screen. I was initially skeptical of this film. X-Men has long been my favourite comic book franchise but I felt burned with the last 2 releases (the ridiculous X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins) which squandered interesting story lines in the pursuit of ‘mutant power mania’, creating self indulgent CGI spectacles. So needless to say my expectations for X-Men: First Class were fairly low. However, director Matthew Vaughn was able to defy the odds and pull off a very entertaining and cohesive film. X-Men: First Class is very cleverly set during the The Cuban Missle Crisis of the 1960’s. The story follows the origins of Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) aka Magneto, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) , aka Professor X. Opening scenes focus on the childhood of both men; Erik was a prisoner in Hitler’s concentration camps while Charles led a privileged, though neglected life in New York. Fast forward a few years and Charles has finished his doctorate in genetics, while Erik is busy hunting ex-Nazi’s, looking for Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), the man responsible for killing his mother. In a twist of fate, both him and Charles team up with the CIA to look for Schmidt, now known as Sebastian Shaw, in the hopes of stopping his sinister plans with the Russian and US Army to start a new world war. The driving force of the film relies on the push and pull of Erik and Charles’ basic moral values. Erik is all about survival and has no confidence in man’s ability to accept and live in peaceful cohabitation with mutants. Charles, on the other hand, is an idealist and dreams of a time when mutants and man can mutually respect each other. This key characterization and the other moral questions presented play off quite well, especially since the ‘superhuman’ aspect of the film is muted. While there is of course the obligatory training montage of super powers and a few awesome action sequences, they are hardly the focus of the film and are not used as a crutch for an underdeveloped story (a common problem in many superhero films). X-Men: First Class’ also boasts an excellent lead cast. Michael Fassbender in particular stands out above the rest, fusing Erik with appropriate amounts of brutal morality and passionate conviction as he seeks revenge and ultimately strives to stop history from repeating itself in the form of a mutant holocaust. The story moves quickly, making it’s 2 hour and 12 minute run time fly by. I have only a few qualms with the film. One glaring issue is the quality of January Jones’ acting. While beautiful, she spends most of the film walking about in her underwear looking vacuous and unfortunately for Ms. Jones, her talent is not nearly as developed as her breasts. While her character, Emma Frost, is meant to be calculated and cold (pun intended), Jones’ complete lack of passion leaves the majority of her lines falling flat and lacking any conviction. Finally, there is the matter of continuity with the rest of the X-Men series. It is hard to tell if this is a reboot or a prequel. The entertaining cameos from former X-men actors, as well as the film’s advertisements, point towards it being a prequel. This could just be my raging nerd sensibilities talking but there are some points that don’t quite match up. Such as the use of Emma Frost, shown to be a young teenager in Wolverine: Origins which takes place roughly 10 years after this film or the differing roles of Moira MacTaggert (played in First Class by Rose Byrne) in X-Men: Last Stand and X-Men: First Class. However, continuity issues and January Jones aside, I tip my hat to Matthew Vaughn who rescued this fertile franchise from almost certain destruction.
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