X-Men: First Class (2011)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for Cineplex’s The Great Digital Film Festival. For more information visit cineplex.com/Events/DigitalFilmFest and follow cineplex on Twitter @cineplexmovies.
When X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened in 2009 to mainly negative critical reviews and legions of disappointed fans you could understand why further planned origin tales might be shelved. If the most popular and charismatic of all the X-Men can’t deliver box office success and satisfy a demanding pubic then what hope for the rest? The plan: bring in a director known for his visual style and energy and recruit a group of actors on the verge of greatness. The result: a series reboot that received acclaim from all quarters, refreshing the X-Men franchise while still remaining true to the legacy of the original films. X-Men: First Class was a determined and successful change of tone and direction.
X-Men: First Class was a determined and successful change of tone and direction.
The greatest challenge faced by any superhero or comic book movie is how to attract non-fans. There is a loyal, deeply passionate fan base to mine but real success lies in attracting the transient audience member who knows nothing of the backgrounds for so many complex characters. What First Class does superbly is draw the audience in, concentrating instead on just a few initial origin stories. The central figures of Magneto, Professor X, Raven (Mystique) and Beast are to the fore rather than peppering the screen with all manner of weird and wonderful heroes. In creating a character piece more time could be given over to developing stronger personalities and motivations, and allow a more filled out narrative to flourish.
We are introduced to Eric, latterly Magneto, whose story begins in a Nazi concentration camp, forced to watch the murder of his mother and provoked into action by the malevolently motivated Kevin Bacon. As the young Eric grows into Michael Fassbender we follow his quest to exact revenge on his German captors before meeting up with the more peace-minded Charles Xavier. Played with a cheeky innocence by James McAvoy, the soon-to-be Professor X oozes charisma as he begins a crusade to unite the mutant world. With Jennifer Lawrence on board as the idealistic yet misguided Mystique and Nicolas Hoult as the secretive, super-intelligent Beast director Michael Vaughn brought together a group of actors who could successfully and convincingly deliver a story full of fantastical powers emerging in a world on the brink of nuclear disaster through the Cuban Missile Crisis. In grounding the fantastic with real world events the filmmakers have given credibility to their alternate history, and ensured greater interest from audiences.
The film itself is an interesting blend of 70’s spy thriller, buddy movie and simply nuanced good vs. evil.
The film itself is an interesting blend of 70’s spy thriller, buddy movie and simply nuanced good vs. evil. The period setting works well given we are theoretically being introduced to these characters for the very first time. As Charles and Eric search the world for mutants, offering them safe refuge their simmering rivalry and opposing views remain barely hidden and you are tautly drawn along while constantly waiting for the proverbial gloves to come off.
For a new generation X-Men: First Class delivers all you need to know. Vaughn reverentially remains true to aspects of the original films but never slips into knowing nods that may baffle a new viewer. With predictably excellent performances from all involved and tight, unfussy direction First Class is a film for all audiences. Perhaps it doesn’t rival the “other” Marvel properties for size and spectacle, but it pulses along with an inherent intelligence that sets it apart and grounds this alternate universe in a more real and tangible history.
With predictably excellent performances from all involved and tight, unfussy direction First Class is a film for all audiences. Perhaps it doesn’t rival the “other” Marvel properties for size and spectacle, but it pulses along with an inherent intelligence that sets it apart and grounds this alternate universe in a more real and tangible history.