X-Men First Class: top marks or flunking out?


This prequel to the existing X-Men franchise takes us back to the origins of the X-Men unit and the beginnings of that troubled relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr. We meet a whole host of new mutants (or old as is the reality), mainly youngsters, with a variety of abilities. As you’d expect from an X-Men film, they get to learn their powers, they have super powered battles, and they have fun along the way. However they are essentially second fiddle to the overall plot, which hurtles along at a startling speed towards its inevitable destination.

There has been much talk over the past few months about this reboot becoming more dark and gritty, similar to the way in which the Batman Begins / The Dark Knight have reinvigorated the Batman franchise. Indeed, the film takes a more adult approach than we’ve seen in the other X-Mens, and this is definitely to its credit, as more often than not, superhero films can be overly cheesy. It is more brutal and demanding of the audience, as its plot hurtles through some very tough facts, some of the harsh realities of the characters and a very uncomfortable time in world history.

The backdrop

The majority of the story takes place set against a very serious political time in the world: the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was an explosive point in the Cold War relationship between America and Russia. However, before this begins, we learn of the comfortable upbringing of Xavier and the unimaginable horror of Lehnsherr’s life in a Nazi concentration camp at the hands of Sebastian Shaw (Bacon). Whilst one may consider the latter the more important in forming the deep and troubled character we know Magneto to be, this is quickly dealt with and we are thrown forward in time to see Fassbender’s character hunting down his Nazi tormentors, fuelled by his hatred and desire for revenge.

Of course, Xavier appears, they become friends, then club together, with some young and newly trained mutants, to stop Shaw from doing the terrible deed he has planned. In fact, Stan Lee, the comic creator, often cites Malcom X and Martin Luther King as the people on whom these two characters are based, and their philosophies are barely played up in the film, especially given that its set in 1962, during the height of the civil rights movement.

The characters

The characters themselves leave a lot to be desired, namely development. Even those with little knowledge of any actual history of the comic books know enough from the other films to understand there is a troubled friendship between Xavier and Lehnsherr, but as individuals very little is given to each. Of course, Xavier downing a yard of ale and using corny chat up lines based on mutations is amusing, and naturally, making jokes about one day becoming bald are funny given our knowledge, but rather than joking about the future, maybe some real development of the past should have been undertaken in this prequel?

The younger members of the cast do a good job with a bad lot – they have the powers and some of the best scenes, but their dialogue isn’t fantastic! They barely get the chance to develop, except for Raven and Beast, and perhaps they’ve taken too many people to throw in all at once again, as we cannot get to know them all whilst we need to be advancing the story arc.

The Journey

In fact, this is its biggest problem. As a prequel, we know where the film is going to end up. If you don’t, you are probably unlikely to have the urge to see it in the first place. So getting from point A to point B seems to have been the driving force behind the film, the plot being all important and the characters just along for the ride. The special effects seem restrained, the action fairly limited, and scenes are over after seconds with one or two lines delivered in order to move the plot along.

The women

Lets be honest, how could I go without mentioning the women in this film? There are some real stunners, and some that may take you by surprise. The best moments will come at the beginning of the film, as a gaggle of party “hostesses” enter a party in their lingerie. The character playing Emma Frost, January Jones, is pretty darned hot, and although the jury is divided on Rose Byrne, she does a good job of looking pretty on screen in some tight outfits. I couldn’t pick a favourite, but then why would I want to? Zoe Kravitz looks pretty good when we first meet her as well, not wearing much at all in fact, although you know mutants, they’re never as they seem.

The verdict

It is a good way to restart the franchise: its more adult, more engaging and more violent than the others. Let me remind you, this is not Batman, so please don’t cast comparisons between this and the Dark Knight! On its own, this is an average film, where the characters are there but barely developed, and the journey is more important: the sum being more than the parts in this case. With some great acting by McAvoy, Fassbender and Bacon, it seems a shame to have let their talent squander whilst they run around throwing plot devices and in-jokes left, right and centre. Entertaining? Yes. Will you love it? Probably not, no.

The clanger

Oh, and although Fassbender was great as Magneto, really great, he lets the team down in his epic speech, doing a Russell Crowe, as his accent seems to jump between American, English and Irish.