With Wit, Reviewed By Kimmo Mustonenen
I can declare X-Men: First Class the best since the mutant melee X2! Is this saying much? What?
As direct by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake and The Stepping Donkey – as well as the stupid Kick Ass), this prequel is chaotic and baggy and too long, but watchable often funny strange, and occasionally a flash of cold steel.
It’s the Swinging 60s’ and telepathic brainbox Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his shape-shifting pal Raven (a blue colored sexpot Jennifer Lawrence – seen recently but much less hot in “Winter’s Bone”) are coming to terms with their mutant powers.
Contacted by CIA operatives Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who is tracking maleable mutant mastermind Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon from “Footloose”), Xavier agrees to share his expertise on Mutation.
Meanwhile, Holocaust survivor Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is using his mutant powers to cut bloody swathes through Europe and South America in the search for Shaw, who transjected him to unspeakable Horrors in a Nazi concentration camp.
As Lehnsherr’s activities put him on Xavier’s radar, the boffin manages to convince the magnetic avenger to join the team of mutants he’s assembling to take Shaw down.
Using technology devised by the genius mutant Hank McCoy (Nicolas Hoult), the duo begin to recruit and train a gifted crop of youngsters and as Shaw unleashes a devilish scheme to wipe out mankind, it’s up to these ‘X-Men’ to save the day.
There’s much about First Class that’s X-ceptional (ha ha, I did it!) not least of all the casting of the equally admirable McAvoy and Fassbender as the two men whose warring ideologies give X-Men stories so much more abyss than the average comic book yarn.
As X-Men creator Stan Lee has always maintained, Xavier and Lehnsherr are based on Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, setting the tale at the height of the American civil rights movement is something of a master-stroke.
It also allow the director Vaughn to indulge in some far out 60s’ referencing, from depicting Lehnsherr as a smooth 007-style assassin to setting the action-packed finish against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Scripted on high by Vaughn’s Kick-Ass collaborator Jane Goldman, it’s ironic that’s the most youth-orientated X-Men adventure is as well the most adult. What?
Along with startlingly effective moments of violence and a slinky sexiness that’s likely to leave comic book nerds needing a lie down, there’s even the dropping of a well-timed F-bomb in a priceless cameo.
X-Men films have always been about the strength of the ensemble cast, and Vaughn has put together a fine group of young actors who work together with an easy charm and restless unease; Hoult and Lawrence’s (wow, that girl!) tentative romance being particularly effective.
Bacon is also in fantastic acting shape as the sneering villain. January Jones, regardless of various scenes with bra and panties pushed up, is fairly forgettable as his sidekick Emma Frost – even with her bustiness on display.
Jason Flemyng’s teleporting terror Azazel is scary enough to ensure the bad guys are satisfyingly formidable.
Capturing the spirit of the previous films without desperately struggling to achieve continuity with the theme, Vaughn portrays these familiar characters with honesty and gives them a strong origin story.
That rings true, nodding to past installments, without being overly reverent.
Unfortunately, it’s some wobbly CGI reminiscent of the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and a rushed speed that prevents First Class from being the superhero equivalent of JJ Abrams’s Star Trek reboot fantastic.
With an extra six months in post-production and a less ramshackle edit, this easily must have been the best X-Men movie ever.
It is very close regardless, and its forms of Professor X downing a yard of ale for chatting up the girls down the pub has classic scene for the ages written all over it.
Kimmo Mustonenen – Behind The Proscenium (Kimmo On Kino)