Directed by: Matthew Vaughn | 132 minutes | action, drama, thriller, adventure, science fiction | Actors: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Lucas Till, Jason Flemyng, Oliver Platt, Edi Gathegi, Ray Wise, Morgan Lily, Bill Milner, Caleb Landry Jones , Álex González, Demetri Goritsas, Laurence Belcher, David Crow, Tony Rich
Following the success of “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”, it seems to be a trend to revamp superhero franchises. After “X-Men,” “X2,” and “X-Men: The Last Stand,” 2011 will be the turn of the Marvel mutants to get dusted and refreshed. “X-Men: First Class” is a so-called origin story, which explains how the protagonists of the series became what they are. Purists beware: the story is based on the self-made character backgrounds that director Bryan Singer gave to the actors of the first X-Men film, rather than the comics. In addition to Singer and four others, Jane “Kick-Ass” Goldman also signed for the screenplay of “First Class”. Goldman isn’t the only Kick-Ass connection, though, as director Matthew Vaughn took the director’s chair. Together they provide an end product that is worthy of: a fresh, boisterous action film that is never boring despite the flaws.
Like the original, “First Class” begins in Auschwitz concentration camp. The young Magneto – then still called Erik Lehnsherr – suffers the atrocities of Nazi scientist Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), who wants to fathom Erik’s ability to influence metal. In another part of the world, the young telepath Xavier leads a privileged but lonely life. When the adult Erik (Michael Fassbender) and Xavier (James McAvoy) bump into each other in the 1960s, a close friendship develops, despite the differences between the men. Xavier is a young dog with a full head of hair and a staunch belief in a society where humans and mutants live peacefully together, while Erik is consumed with revenge towards his camp executioners and distrust towards humanity in general. Still, the two join forces. They form a team of young mutants to protect the world from Dr. Schmidt, who now calls himself Sebastian Shaw and turns out to be the evil genius behind the Cuban Missile Crisis.
A flawless film is not “X-Men: First Class”. Like Spider-Man 3, it suffers from an overabundance of players. What starts out as a clear, straight story about Xavier’s idealism versus Erik’s cynicism, blows apart halfway through the film into a range of subplots around supporting role mutants, not all of which are equally interesting. Evil mutant Emma Frost (January Jones) may sparkle in a literal sense, but is somewhat dull as a character, and the storyline around trainees Beast and Mystique, who both struggle with their different appearance, seems forced and also contains some plot holes. There must also be the necessary artistry to ensure that some mutants eventually defect to the camp of Magneto, who increasingly sees non-mutants as an enemy. For an ex-camp resident who has personally experienced the excesses of human nature, rejecting Xavier’s polder model may be an understandable choice, but for other characters it is a turnaround that seems sought after.
Fortunately, it is easy to forgive “X-Men: First Class” for its shortcomings. The film is full of (black) humor and action and the special effects look great. In addition, the references to historical events give an extra dimension to the story and it crackles between the main characters. Fassbender is perfectly cast as a charismatic cynic who often gets right with his black view on humanity, but it doesn’t make a happier person, McAvoy has enough boyish charm to keep Xavier from being played off as a boring softie and Bacon turns out to be a deliciously bad villain. to speak a nice word of German. To top it all off, Vaughn treats his audience to insider jokes and you can enjoy some really fun cameos. All in all, “X-Men: First Class” is the origin story that the Star Wars prequels should have been. As far as we are concerned, the X-Men franchise can last for a few more years.