The original X-Men movie, with Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry, kicked off Hollywood’s comic book obsession and still remains one of the best yet. X2 defied the sequel trend and triumphed on all bases, giving nerds and regular movie buffs a rare cinematic treat. This was most likely due to director Bryan Singer (of Usual Suspects) being in control.
But Singer stepped down for the third to focus on Superman Returns, and left the franchise in the hands of Brett ‘fucking’ Ratner, the same guy who gave us not one but three Rush Hourmovies. Needless to say it was a pile of shit, and the over-hypedWolverine spin-off was no better.
So as with any franchise that has been completely destroyed, Hollywood does what it does best – and starts again from scratch. It worked with Batman and then again with Bond, so there was no reason why X-Men couldn’t continue the trend (with the next beingSpiderman).
This time, director Matthew Vaughn (of last year’s awesome superhero flick Kickass) takes the reins. It’s safe to say that he’s successfully revived the franchise, creating a quality superhero movie that satisfies nerd cravings, and throws in some cheesy teen-soap chemistry for good measure.
X-Men: First Class is set in the retro-inspired 1960s, where we meet young go-getter Charles Xavier (Professor X) and vengeful orphan Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto). Due to environmental conditioning, the two grow up with very different views of themselves, as mutants living in a human world.
But they’re not alone, and as the bad guys (Kevin Bacon and January Jones) set out to start World War 3, Charles and Erik recruit a team of gifted individuals to help save the day.
With all the characters in the X-Men universe, the writers selected a weird mix to join them, including a young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult, or Tony from Skins), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Havok (Lucas Till).
In the opposite corner, they’re up against Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw and his right-hand woman Emma Frost (Jones), as well as the devil-looking Azazel (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ Jason Flemyng) and the lame-powered Riptide (Álex González).
I guess the reason these characters were used is because all the major ones have already been done, or were ruined with shitty cameos in the other movies. Seeing as they respawned Emma Frost, I was actually hoping that they’d retry with the likes of Colossus, Iceman, Angel/Archangel, Juggernaut or even Gambit.
Not that I’m complaining about the Emma Frost 2.0 (she already featured in Wolverine), as it did lead to the casting of January Jones. The girl is ridiculously good looking. However she didn’t do her acting career any favours, proving that she can’t kick the sweet and innocent shtick of her Mad Men character. As a baddie, she really struggled to be tough or threatening in any way.
Other casting choices were hit and miss: Kevin Bacon is always good to watch, James McAvoy couldn’t find a balance between trying to mimic Patrick Stewart and creating his own Professor X, but the real standout was Michael Fassbender as Magneto. Having already proved his acting chops in films like Hunger and Inglorious Basterds, he created a strong character that stands alone besideIan McKellen’s role.
For me, the biggest appeal of X-Men: First Class was how it related to the other movies and characters within the X-Men universe in subtle ways. As a prequel, it was able to feature brief cameos from some familiar faces and hint at potential story arcs.
Hopefully they have laid the groundwork for more films within the franchise; selecting characters that are genetically and romantically linked with others from the series (the two biggest links involve Cyclops and Nightcrawler).
X-Men: First Class is definitely an improvement on the last couple, and hopefully it has set the bar for more to come. Definitely worth a look.