X-Men: First Class (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Matthew Vaughn, USA, 2011, 132 mins

 

Cast: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence

Review by Carol Allen

I’m not a great fan of the comic book genre though I’ve always enjoyed the X-Men series. And this one is a really good and entertaining film that stands up on its own, even if you have never seen any of the previous in the franchise.

The story takes us back to the sixties and the time of the Cold War stand off between East and West and the dawn of space travel. It’s also the time when the young mutant telepath Charles Xavier (McAvoy) meets Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender), they become close friends and we discover the events that are to turn them into archenemies Professor X and Magneto

The X-Men franchise has always featured strong central performances from good British actors – up to now Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen and now McAvoy and Fassbender as their younger selves (ok, Fassbender is actually Irish/German but has featured in a lot in British movies.) They are both interesting characters and the “bromance” at the centre of the film between them is engaging and believable. McAvoy is always good but the one who really shines is Fassbender, who is given a very strong and interesting back story, which connects him to Kevin Bacon’s villainous former Nazi character Sebastian Shaw. And Fassbender gives a positively charismatic performance in the role – helped of course by the fact that Erik, whose special power is his control over metal, does get the more visually impressive stuff. There’s also good support from Lawrence as Erik’s adopted mutant sister Mystique, who is frightened to show her real self to the world, Rose Byrne and Oliver Platt as mutant sympathizers inside the CIA and Bacon as an interesting villain. It is a really good cast.

Most importantly though the film makers have created a very strong, imaginative and engaging story with a good “what happens next?” feel about it and woven real life history skilfully, intelligently and sometimes movingly into their fictional tale, using the civil rights issue that was so prominent in the sixties as part of the mutants’ tale and incorporating the Cuban missile crisis into energy absorbing Shaw’s (inevitable) plan to take over the world. The climax of the film is real comic book action stuff but by then the characters have so convinced us of their reality, that we readily suspend our disbelief and believe a man can fly and indeed do all sorts of other interesting and impossible stunts. After the superhero spoof Kick Ass, Matthew Vaughn does a great job with a real superhero movie in terms of giving it all you’d expect visually, while still grounding his characters in a believable reality. It all makes for a great night out at the movies.

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