Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Principal cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones and Jason Flemyng.
Release date: 1st June 2011.
The prequel to the highly successful X-Men series reverts back to the early sixties to chart the formative years of Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender), two men with mutant abilities whose paths cross as they track down former Nazi and mutant criminal Sebastian Shaw (Bacon).
As Shaw plans to ignite a third world war by manipulating the politics of the Cuba missile crisis, Xavier and Lehnsherr embark on a search to find a team of talented youngsters to assist them in their attempts to foil the criminal mastermind’s plot.
However the friendship between the two men will be tested as society’s misunderstanding and fear of the emerging mutant phenomenon causes Erik to take a radical path which will see him harness his powers to become Magneto, an enemy not only to mankind but also to Xavier and his emerging X-Men.
Michael Vaughn’s origin story cleverly breaths some new air into the franchise after the limp finale that was Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), by turning back the clock and examining the early years of the mutants and their adventures.
In focusing on the early sixties, the film seems to resemble the original stories of Stan Lee’s comic strip whilst the almost absurd plot of an evil mastermind pulling the strings of cold war politics also gives a nod to classic Connery era Bond.
The Bond influence is everywhere and Vaughn is clearly having fun with it and the period, which visually marks First Class as a refreshing change to the ever increasing overload of comic based movies hitting the screen.
Also apparent is a more adult tone, with Shaw’s Hellfire Club seducing prominent world players (generals and politicians) with scantly clad beauties and even Xavier and Lehnsherr tracking down potential mutant allies to strip-joints.
The violence is also upped in ante, and no more so then Fassbender’s embittered anti-hero, the future Magneto’s command of metal and magnetic fields are at the heart of the film’s special effects and come to symbolise the justice branded out by the character as he emerges as a dark Bond like Nazi hunter on the trail of Bacon’s villain.
Xavier is also seen in a new light as McAvoy has great fun portraying the early years of Professor X as an idealist and womaniser at ease with his telepathic powers whilst gradually wising up to the unfurling events around him.
It is a credit that both actors have delivered something new to the roles previously inhabited by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. If this is the start of a prequel trilogy then the fun will be witnessing the younger incarnations of such well known characters evolve into their established selves.
But in creating a large ensemble cast in a film that focuses primarily on Xavier and Lehnsherr some supporting characters seem to miss out on their due screen time.
January Jones most certainly looks the part as telepath and villainess Emma Frost, but the performance never seems to fulfil it’s potential and Jason Flemyng’s devilish teleporter Azazel seems regulated to the role of mere henchman.
Likewise, with such a powerfully character driven opening, the film’s action based final act does not hold the attention as much as previous events and perhaps there’s too much tidying up of loose ends at the close.
But there’s more than enough to commend and one senses that the inevitable sequels will evolve all characters and their various plights further, which should not be hard given the richness and variety of the source material.
A refreshingly new spin on the X-Men formula which is headlined by two very likeable performances by McAvoy and Fassbender. Recommended.