One has to remember that Bryan Singer’s original take on the X-Men can pretty much take credit for the current superhero blockbuster trend. Whilst Blade may have proven that comic book movies could actually be good (something that hadn’t happened since Batman Returns), it was X-Men that showed Hollywood just how profitable the genre could be. Thus, First Class comes from an impressive pedigree, and has to fight an uphill battle, comparing itself with Singer’s creation.
This perhaps does First Class a disservice. For Vaughn’s feature is much more… comic booky… than Singer’s two attempts. Where Singer had taken the mutant premise and tried to make it as realistic as possible, Vaughn’s film is well within the realm of comic book fantasy. Thus, the emotion, the narrative twists and the wholesale destruction aren’t quite as impressive as they should be.
Set in the 60s, First Class tells of the meeting of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and the first time that the US government is alerted to the presence of mutants in society. We have a villain by the name of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) on the scene also, and much like the Magneto of the future, he has a grand and horrific vision for mutantkind.
First Class has an awesome cast. It’s wonderful seeing Bacon in a blockbuster again (it feels like ages since he last appeared in such a big-budget setting), and he’s fantastic as Shaw. Michael Fassbender perfectly portrays Erik (and indeed, looks a lot like a young Ian McKellan). James McAvoy’s performance as a young Professor Xavier oscillates between great and distracting, as if he’s trying too hard to emulate Patrick Stewart. Rose Byrne is present (and skinnier than ever) though she doesn’t get much to do apart from strip to her underwear, whilst Oliver Platt is similarly under-utilised (though, alas, doesn’t strip to his underwear). As you’d expect, the rest of the cast is made up of young ‘uns. Jennifer Lawrence (who got my vote for best performance of 2010, in Winter’s Bone) excels as the young Mystique, whilst Nicholas Hoult plays Hank McCoy magnificently. The rest of the ‘kids’ are a mixed bunch, and none of the others really get to show off any acting prowess.
The film does suffer from an over-abundance of mutants. Whilst it doesn’t try too hard to give everyone’s backstories, having so many superpowered folks does mean we’re never in awe of their powers, as we were back in 2000 with X-Men. The concepts behind the big, bombastic moments are beyond the reach of the special effects budget, which means that there are half a dozen occasions when the CGI is simplyRating: