Title: X-Men: First Class
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Álex González, Jason Flemyng, Zöe Kravitz, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Caleb Landry Jones, Edi Gathegi, Lucas Till
Don’t have the time or money to travel around the world? Just see X-Men: First Class. Within the first third of the film we jump from Poland to Switzerland to England to Vegas to Miami and more. But, of course, a little something is happening between jet setting. Well, actually, a lot of something.
After catching a glimpse of Erik Lehnsherr’s tortured childhood and Charles Xavier’s first run-in with Raven, ultimately Mystique, when he was just 12-years-old, we fast forward to 1962. Erik’s (Michael Fassbender) busy hunting down Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), the man responsible for murdering his mother in a Nazi concentration camp and turning Erik into the metal bending monster he is today while Charles is hard at work at Oxford pursuing his doctorate in genetic mutations. After a hefty dose of information involving Shaw’s hand in potentially kicking off a third world war, Erik and Xavier finally cross paths.
No, they don’t play chess in the sunlight. Oh, wait; they do. But they also join forces to train a group of young mutants in an effort to build an army to rival Shaw’s. With the help of CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), they teach Havok (Lucas Till) to harness his firepower, Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) to fly and both Mystique and Beast to embrace their, well, blue sides. As the US and Russia grow dangerously close to kicking off a nuclear war, Erik, Xavier and their new team are the only ones powerful enough to stop it.
Still hungry for more X-Men characters? Don’t you worry because this film is packed with tons more as well as a slew of very recognizable cameos. On top of that, First Class also comes with an incredibly complicated plot. Ultimately it boils down to a melding of fact and fiction, claiming Shaw drove the Soviets to place missiles in Cuba, putting the US on its toes to fight back. Perhaps the information delivered in the first act wouldn’t be as dizzying had the plot not hopped from location to location without abandon. While this does create a particularly jagged pacing, the scenes themselves are so engaging, it’s quite easy to reestablish a connection to the material.
While the film never manages to get on solid ground, it’s still a ton of fun, especially once the younger mutants enter. For someone who’s unfamiliar with the source material, the excitement here stems from the previous films and part of what made those productions so enjoyable was the comradery. Watching Mystique, Beast and the others throw a party in CIA headquarters is an absolute ball. Then, once they get serious, the obligatory montage during which they become the skilled fighters we know them to be is just that, something that puts the cheesy tactics we’ve seen time and time again to use and it works.
Even the CGI can be a bit tacky, but it still feels appropriate. Havok’s first showing of his ability looks a bit like Till is hula hooping and Beast is often cross-eyed, but it doesn’t matter because it’s so awesome watching them slice statues in half and man a suped-up fighter jet. Plus, there are some effects that look incredibly real, the most notable of which is a scene where both Banshee and Angel (Zöe Kravitz) share some air time.
The few issues that can’t fly under the radar generally stem from sloppy structuring. The jerky pacing doesn’t only affect the beginning of the film, rather the entire piece. The three acts of First Class are nearly indiscernible. It’s more of a series of skits pieced together. A handful of characters suffer greatly from the inconsistency. At one point, Emma Frost (January Jones) falls off the map entirely and, unfortunately, Moira never does. She is easily the most ineffectual character of the bunch. She merely follows the mutants around and once in a while reminds them of her CIA status. Till has a hard time finding his place in the film, too. Even with a similar amount of screen time, Caleb Landry Jones absolutely blows him out of the water. And this isn’t a script issue. Jones is incredibly lively and is clearly having a ton of fun in his role making him far more enjoyable to watch.
While January Jones does make for a pretty Emma Frost, she’s merely a visual element more so than a three-dimensional character. The same goes for Riptide (Álex González) and Azazel (Jason Flemyng), but, on the other hand, that’s exactly what they’re designed to be. They’re there for the fun of watching mutants fight and to that extent, they’re wildly successful. As for their leader, Bacon isn’t bad, but it’s often difficult to take his performance seriously. He tries so hard to look sinister, it can come across as laughable. Plus, it doesn’t help that he’s on screen with Fassbender as Magneto’s rage brews within him.
Fassbender is fantastic. Erik goes on an exceedingly intense arc and Fassbender holds strong all the way through. Even though Bacon’s character is First Class’ primary villain, it always feels as though Erik poses the bigger threat. Then again, when Erik gets buddy-buddy with Xavier, you’ll have no trouble viewing him in a different light. As for Xavier, McAvoy makes for a great pre-Professor X, he’s just contending with incredible talent. Yes, Fassbender steals quite a bit of his spotlight, but the one who takes some from both McAvoy and Fassbender is Lawrence.
It is absolutely impossible not to connect with Mystique. She’s got an incredible amount of chemistry with everyone in this film, making her tendency to jump from guy to guy impressively digestible. There’s also something wonderfully natural about her performance. While most of her co-cast is playing superheroes, she feels more like a human with a unique ability and, oddly enough, her ability is more striking than most. Unlike the other mutants, when experiencing mid-air turbulence in the heat of battle, she’s the only one that seems the slightest bit afraid.
Even with all of its flaws, X-Men: First Class comes down to one thing, it’s extremely enjoyable. While its jagged pacing may not make for a smooth ride, it’s quick enough to blend in the bumps and make them part of the fun. And you know what? I’d go again.
By Perri Nemiroff