X-Men first class is the new member of the X-men franchise and another studio jumping on the superhero origin band wagon which began with Batman begins. I was looking forward to this one I love comic book movies (not really so big on comic books though), and I’ve liked this origin trend, most recently in 2009 when I loved that JJ Abrams Star Trek Movie. High expectations so.
X-men has been going since 1963, so there’s a huge wealth of Story behind all of these characters. Like a long running TV show or a medieval saga the characters are developed and exist on there own and most people going to the movie will know a decent amount about them (even if only from the first three movies). So Matty Vaughan and Rossy’s wife (the team behind Stardust and Kick Ass) have their work cut out for them. People know the end result of the big plot points, more people will know that Hank McCoy turns into an angry blue Furby then that the Bay of Pigs even happened (the historical context the movie is set in). The trick they have to pull is tapping into the shared knowledge and still satisfying the audience. So when something happens that you already knew was going to happen you enjoy the build up and get kind of cathartic release, as opposed to just releasing a groan. This is what Star Trek accomplished with a clever narrative trick (what else did you expect from JJ) but X-men accomplishes with good old-fashioned story telling, apt for a movie set mostly in 1961.
Vaughan certainly brings a distinctive visual style to the proceedings with cameras almost constantly zooming in, slowly pulling focus and dolly zooming to bring out the tenser moments, he even finds a way to jazz up the inevitable training montage to take it away fro Team america territory. The story as well finds the balance between explaining the characters histories and actually fitting in a storyline (you can see they are cramming alot in as there is a lot of quick cutting and scenes ending a little abruptly but hey the film only runs 110mins and never really drops pace) and the acting is almost uniformly very good. James McAvoy is maybe a touch camp but he’s playing Patrick Stewart playing professor X so I’m fine with that. I would have spent most of this review lauding Micheel Fassbenders performance if it wasn’t let down by the Irish accent that I could hear more and more throughout the movie, maybe Irish people will just notice it more and it’s probably a quibble but it did distract me. Magneto is a jewish german who lived in America and was played but Sir Ian McKellan so I’m not sure where the Killarney brogue comes into it. Kevin Bacon also does well bringing his proto-magneto villian, Shaw, to the screen and even fares admirably well with the German he has to speak (I may not have been in the right frame of mind to Judge K-Bake here as I spent the whole previous day playing http://oracleofbacon.org and trying to get higher than 3 degrees… it’s nearly impossible and his mocking face stares out at you with each new failure!).
I think what struck me most is that Magneto and Charles Xavier are great characters with great Pathos and a depth to their history. Both flawed, these are two men who have their own demons and find themselves on the opposite sides of an idealogical line. Up there with the great literary characters they are deserving of a good movie in their own right and this is that movie. It may be my favorite in the X-men series so far (although that’s sort of a dubious honur considering X-men 2, 3 and Wolverine) What was with that Satan mutant though? 4 Stars.