Expectations and hype can be really cruel at the best of times. X-Men: First class is the latest to stoke the fires of expectation, thanks to the first and brilliant trailer. First Class is the story about the early days of Magneto and Professor X and their relationship; it also covers the formation of that which would later become the X-Men. This is all taking place during the Cuban missile crisis which has been modified to represent the beginning of the war between man and mutant kind.
As much as I have enjoyed X-Men on the small screen in the past, I still have to say that the story is not something that sits so easily with me. Looking at the themes on an allegorical level, X-Men was also about racism and the civil rights movement but it was never so heavy-handed as to cross over from fiction to reality. Basing the story of man versus mutant within the already political complex minefield that is the Cuban missile crisis means the story doesn’t really shine. Fiction and reality should never cross over, especially in the case of the comic book movie.
The main problem I had with story was that it developed too quickly. This first film in the much-needed reboot of the X-Men franchise should have set up a world for the mutants to occupy. Instead first class sped along with the mythos and characters to a point where there is a scene midway through the film where the mutants are talking about their superhero names. Scenes like this might keep fans of the comic series happy, but a little restraint would have done the film the world of good. The examples of the lack of restraint are plentiful, the one that caused by the most chagrin was the arc of Hank/Beast. This film could be split into two and be a much better film for it.
Thankfully the negatives didn’t outweigh the positives, far from it. The positives are the brightest lights of First Class. The greatest strength of the film is cast, with the stars being James McAvoy (Professor X) Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Nicholas Hoult (Beast) and Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw). The greatest surprise here is Nicholas Hoult, partly through to the divisive nature of some of the earlier roles he has been in meant that I didn’t really take him that seriously as an actor. How could I take an actor from Skins seriously? Dev Patel with his brilliant turn in Slumdog Millionaire proved that line of thought wrong, and Hoult continues that here. His role may develop at a million miles an hour, yet everything that the role demands of him he delivers by the bucketful. This is an incredible assured and pitch perfect performance from Hoult.
I also had my suspicions about James McAvoy. He has an inconsistent career, for every Atonement and Last King of Scotland he has pretty much every other film he has been in. Nevertheless he holds the film together with his performance as Professor X. The thing which makes his performance is the humour and juxtaposition of what you expect the character to be and what he is here, the playboy professor X. Despite the serious overtones and the politics of the central narrative, First Class doesn’t neglect to have a sense of humour. Kevin Bacon as the antagonist Sebastian Shaw is clearly enjoying himself. The real standout is Michael Fassbender, the depth and nuance of his performance is staggering, the complexities and conflict of Magneto in First Class is the best acting you will ever see in a comic book film. Not only is his performance stunning, the story of Magneto is the best thing about the film from the early and brutal origin to the films violent climax.
First Class was never anything less than an enjoyable film to watch thanks to the cast and the spectacle of the film. It might all be CG but here the spectacle is truly something to behold thanks to some brilliantly choreographed and designed set pieces that run the gamut from clichéd to surprisingly dark and brutal. Imagine the spectacle of a Michael bay film only with the skill of a real director with some brilliant if consistent story development all housed within the stylistic tropes of an old bond film. Despite my initial qualms about the story, the general tone of the mood and tone of the film had complete possession of my attention.
If the film wasn’t in such a rush to get to a point of reference for fans of the original trilogy I would have no problem in saying that this film is the batman begins it wanted to be. It’s not the film I expected it to be but this is still the film the x-men always deserved, even if it is far too long.