Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Film #52 X-Men: First Class

Perhaps against better judgement given the standard of recent comic-book adaps, I've been looking forward to this. For one thing, I'm a big Matthew Vaughn fan (Layer Cake is an undersung classic); for another, the cast list looks great - even beyond the main players, I'm always happy to watch Ray Wise, Oliver Platt and, of course, Kevin Bacon.

So, for those who haven't been paying attention this is a prequel/reboot (preboot?) to/of the Bryan Singer X-Men movies. Set in the early sixties against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it's basically an X-Men creation myth: Magneto and Charles Xavier, allies this time, are played by Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy respectively. Bacon is the main antagonist, Sebastian Shaw, intent on bringing mutant-breeding nuclear apocalypse to the world via military confrontation between the superpowers. Xavier, Magneto and their team of young, untamed mutants (including a junior Beast, Havok, Banshee and Darwin) are tasked simply with stopping him.

I'm delighted to be able to say that it was great - really top-quality entertainment. Unlike more recent superhero outings it's played fairly straight, and because it eschews the sly-winking nudgery of the Iron-Man/Avengers sequence it ends up being much the better film for it. The story, fundamentally, is solid and gripping - of course it's fairly silly, but if Watchmen proved nothing else, it's that comic-book adaptations shouldn't take themselves too seriously, and X-Men: First Class walks the line with aplomb.

The performances are excellent too, particularly Fassbender as the tortured Magento/Erik Lehnsherr - bringing many subtle touches to the stateless character, speaking impeccable Castilian Spanish in Argentina etc. -  and Bacon as the Bond villain, immaculately sleazy in white blazer and crimson cravat. Additionally, Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique is given a chance to actually be a rounded character rather than a plot device, and January Jones adds an assured sexiness as villainess Emma Frost.

A word on the direction: I've declared my prejudices above, but Matthew Vaughn was an inspired choice as director - he's ultra-stylish, with a dynamic approach to mise-en-scene/shot and an intelligent way of visually hinting at the evolution of these flawed superhumans. The set design and props are marvellously, gorgeously sixties (I particularly loved the VTOL Blackbird) without veering  into Austin Powers self-parody. Throw the wardrobe department from Mad Men and you've got yourself a very good-looking movie.

If I have to have a few gripes, then I suppose the score was a bit overblown, there was a touch too much CGI and for all the build-up, the final confrontation is dealt with quite quickly (odd, seeing as the film is also overlong). The Russians, as ever, are ludicrously caricatured - all eyebrows and raised voices. And of course there's nothing transcendent about the film - it's played pretty safe throughout, though you really shouldn't expect much more from a Marvel movie. What we do get, however, is a well-crafted, entertaining film that is undoubtedly the best out-and-out Hollywood popcorn flick of the year

[NOTE: I originally gave this an 8/10; frankly I don't think this was worth an eight, so I've sinced revised it downwards to a still-worthy seven


  1. Highly recommended - lots of fun.

  2. Good review! Looking forward to watching this!

  3. brilliant review, one of the better films I saw this year