X-Men First Class is the prequel to the hugely successful X-Men franchise. Bryan Singer (Director of X-Men, X2 and Superman Returns) returns to the franchise to co-produce and co-write this instalment while Matthew Vaughan (Layer Cake and Kick Ass) is on directing duties. The question is, can they put the franchise back in favour with the fans?
The film starts off in a pre-title sequence that begins with a young Jewish lad called Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in the same Auschwitz scene that opened Bryan Singers X-Men in 2000. We are then whisked over into our introduction to Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as a child, discovering a young homeless shape-shifting female rooting around the kitchen for food. We are once again brought back to Auschwitz where a doctor called Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) coerces Erik into unleashing his powers.
The film fast forwards to Oxford in the 1960s, where a rather debonair Charles Xavier, and his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) have also evolved special powers. Charles can read minds - a talent he uses to seduce women while Raven can shape-shift (change her appearance) at will. Xavier’s research into the mutated genes that gave him and Raven their powers brings him to the attention of the CIA, who are investigating the sudden appearance of more highly-evolved humans around the world. Highly-evolved humans like the now-grown-up Erik Lehnsherr, who is looking for the doctor who took him from his mother so that he may extract his revenge.
Charles Xavier and Erik both meet and a strong friendship develops between the two. The pair set about recruiting fellow mutants for Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, created to help mutants understand their powers. These include; Beast (Nicholas Holt), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Banshee (Caleb Landry James), Havok (Lucas Till) and Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz) along with CIA agent Dr Moria Taggart (Rose Byrne). Along the way they encounter the shadowy Hellfire Club led by Sebastian Shaw, which includes a varied mixture of gifted people such as the sexy Emma Frost (January Jones), the devilish Azazel (Jason Fleming) and Riptide (Alex Gonzalez).
From the movie we get to see the rift between Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) develop as the former is an idealist and believes that mutants and humans can coexist while the latter has a more militant approach. From this movie we get to see the foundations laid for the eternal war between Professor X's X-men and Magneto's Brotherhood. The sub text of Professor Xavier and Magneto is that one is Martin Luther King and the other Malcolm X.
Performance wise James McAvoy plays millionaire Xavier as a smooth, suave, intelligent and witty future leader of the X-Men. Patrick Stewart should be pleased that McAvoy adds another dimension to the role while not stepping on any of his toes. Michael Fassbender played Erik with a quiet menace that is very reminiscent of Sean Connery from the classic Bond films. If they ever need an actor to replace Daniel Craig then they could not go far wrong in taking him on, Both actors give terrific performances and their bitter-sweet friendship gives the film heart and soul. Kevin Bacon is on blistering form as Sebastian Shaw and January Jones as Emma Frost is a sexy bad girl in the mould of the classic Bond girl Pussy Galore. Rose Byrne's is also very sexy as the ballsy CIA agent, and the younger mutants are all excellent in their roles.
Consistency with the source material is going to be a bit of an issue especially for the hardcore fans of Marvel Comics. The chronology of the Marvel Universe has been mixed up and the age of Alex Summers (a.k.a Havok) has been edited somewhat liberally and as a result he is no longer portrayed as Cyclops' brother (as in the comics), this might upset a few people. Moira Taggart is a Scottish geneticist in the comics, in the film she has been repackaged as an American CIA agent. There are a few other niggles but overall the film ties in with the rest of the X-Men series very well and the core ingredients needed to make this an X-Men film are still there - in spades!
The real hero of the film is the director Matthew Vaughan who delivers a film that pays homage to the Classic Bond films with the cool gadgets, scantly clad sexy girls on tap and a megalomaniac villain who wants to destroy the world from his executive under-water submarine. The action scenes are handled deftly, as is the tongue and cheek humour while extracting excellent performances from his cast. He pays homage to The Godfather and we have Professor X donning a helmet that is reminiscent of a scene from Back to The Future. This film is going to redeem the X-men franchise after X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), while it also sees Bryan Singer redeem himself after the lacklustre Superman Returns (2006).
I look forward in earnest to the next two films in this series and I do hope that Mr Vaughan is on directorial duties. The film is on par with Batman Begins and the Star Trek reboot, fans of X-Men can rejoice! X-Men First Class delivers first class kick ass eXcellent entertainment, X most definitely marks the spot. The film has raised the bar for super hero films much higher!
I leave it now to the audience to make their own minds up.