First class by name, first class by nature, this explosive chapter in the wilting X-Men film anthology is not just the best of the bunch by an absolute mile, it’s also a complete game- changer. Following the abysmal Last Stand, it couldn’t get much worse for mutant buffs. Then it did; the awful Wolverine origins tale of rise and maul was a daft and rushed affair rife with flaws and frailties. It was the Batman and Robin of X-Men movies. Back to the drawing board, then; the failing franchise in desperate need of its Batman Begins.
Enter Kick-Ass helmer Matthew Vaughn and co. with a heady and rousing cold-war embroiled script charting the genesis of the original mutant coalition lead by then chums Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsheer (Michael Fassbender). Before they were worn, sworn enemies and answered to Professor X and Magneto, the two forged an elite class of mutants to help bring down a band of baddies hell-bent on sparking World War 3. X-Men: First Class chronicles the events that made the early-day mutants X-Men fans know and love and love to hate while shedding light on some unfamiliar faces like nasty Nazi Sebastian Shaw (a dastardly Kevin Bacon) and the seductive Emma Frost (January Jones).
Featuring a horde of nods and groundwork to what lies ahead in both the comics and films, Vaughn’s vision is an action-packed and highly satisfying benchmark in superhero cinema. Yeah, yeah, Chris Nolan’s Batman renaissance may be the bee’s knees but to class it in the superhero niche with the likes of First Class would be wrong. OK, they’re both inspired renewals of mainstream material with top-class acting but ask yourself this; would you see a submarine being plucked from the sea by a magnetic man in a Batman movie? Exactly.
Over-the-top First Class undoubtedly is, then, but that’s not to say it’s ridiculous in its scope and execution when its context is considered. Set in the sixties and amongst the paranoia surrounding an imminent nuclear war, the film’s historical backdrop helps establish an air of fidelity despite being pure baloney. There is plenty viewers can relate and refer to; prejudice, friendship, love, loss, anger, revenge, Nazis, the Cuban missile crisis, war and peace.
The brunt of the film’s class lies within its cast, though; both McAvoy and Bacon give exceptional and highly-convincing character performances inside their taut and tailored roles but it’s Michael Fassbender who owns all. Complex, tortured and conflicted to the core, who better to take on the vengeful Holocaust refugee than the intense and immense method man. The German born thesp of Irish descent turns in yet another absorbing performance of great concentration and great effort. His measured turns in the likes of Hunger, Fishtank and Inglorious Bastards ensured he earned the praise and respect of film buffs but seldom that of the mainstream. Until now. With this film and this performance, Fassbender can no longer be ignored. He could well be the best thing to happen to big-screen acting since Christian Bale. Expect more from him. It’s rare for a film of this ilk be praised for its acting. Without it, the emotional impact and poise of key scenes would be lost. It’s the best the action/adventure genre has had to offer since, you’ve guessed it, The Dark Knight.
X-Men: First Class is a spectacular slice of high-octane, globe-trotting cinema and is nothing short of a revelation that action film fans and X-Men nuts should ready themselves to marvel at; a loud and proud preface with balls and brains to spare. Add to that a chic and pulsating score, a wry Hugh Jackman cameo and the urgent need for a follow-up and you’re left with two words. You know what they are…
X-Men: First Class (2011), directed by Matthew Vaughn, is released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 12.