X-Men: First Class
Set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis, X-Men: First Class highlights the events that first brought Charles “Professor X” Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) together. Shortly after receiving his doctorate, Charles Xavier and his companion Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) are recruited by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to assist in tracking down Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Leader of a group of mutants known has the Hellfire Club, Shaw plans to bring the United States and Russia to war for his own personal gain. While pursuing Shaw, Xavier meets Lensherr who is hunting Shaw to settle an old score. Joining force the two men, along with a team of young mutants, attempt to stop Shaw before he starts another World War.
In many ways X-Men: First Class is best viewed as its own separate entity. The film tries too hard to align itself with the narratives of the X-men films that came before it. This however is a mistake as the continuity errors become apparent the more they reference the other films. However X-Men: First Class is a film that does not need to acknowledge its legacy as it has its own unique voice. Director Matthew Vaughn creates a film that is smartly reinvents the mythology of the X-men while keeping the lighter tone found in the comics.
What makes this film work so well is the strong performances by both Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. Although the X-men have always been team based, the story would have still worked if the film featured only Xavier and Lensherr. These two characters are the most interesting aspect of the film. McAvoy may not carry the same commanding presence that Patrick Stewart did in the other films, but he does manage to make the character of Xavier exciting again. The way he conveys Xavier’s struggle between his ideology that mutants and humans can co-exist and his desire to fight side by side with Lensherr comes across well in the film. Fassbender in particular does a fantastic job of providing his own unique take on Lensherr. Bringing a mixture of compassion and coldblooded rage to the role, Fassbender walks the thin line between good and evil displays why Magneto is one of the more compelling villains in the Marvel universe.
The rest of the cast is hit or miss at the best of times. Kevin Bacon continues to have fun in the villain roles he has been taking of late and Jennifer Lawrence does the best she can with the limited script given to Raven. Although the Raven/Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) subplot was interesting, the triangle between Xavier/Raven/Lensherr did not carry the punch it should have. Similar to the comics, the problem with most X-men films is that there are more characters than there is enough time to truly develop them. January Jones’ Emma Frost is not given much to do besides look pretty, and henchmen like Riptide and Azazel join the long list of quickly forgotten characters.
Still, as far as comic book inspired films go, X-Men: First Class manages to make the X-men entertaining and relevant again. Vaughn offers up several exciting action sequences that are designed to highlight each character’s mutant ability. Plus, the overall story works well and actually generates interest in seeing these characters again in a sequel. Is X-Men: First Class better than X2? Not quite. However this is a film that soars when the previous films are ignored.