Star Rating: 4/5
There is a theme currently in Hollywood not only to remake films, but also to make prequels of blockbusters, such as Batman and Hannibal. (Although, whether one would call Planet of the Apes a blockbuster is questionable.) X-Men: First Class is part of the wider X-Men Origins series that began with Wolverine two years ago. First Class is not as dark and gothic as Batman Begins; yet, it is an entertaining movie with strong moral messages.
Set mainly in early-1960s America, the film centres on the mutants Charles Xavier (James McAvoy – Atonement, Wanted, Trance), the future wheelchair-bound Professor X (played by Patrick Stewart in X-Men I, II & III), and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender – 300, Inglorious Basterds, Shame), the future renegade Magneto (played by Ian McKellen in later films).
Whilst the storyline is about how the US and Soviet governments need their respective mutants for espionage and to avoid going to war over Cuba in the run up to the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962), the mutants spend much time discussing how they just want to fit into mainstream society, despite being different: ‘mutant and proud’ they say (sounds similar to ‘gay and proud’ if you ask me). Oh how such slogans must make Lady Gaga happy! Nevertheless, one cannot help but note the political message here in First Class. The movie takes place at the same time as black people in America were starting to demonstrate and riot for equal rights. That mutants would want the same rights is understandable.
Yet, despite the civil rights aspect and the revising of history with a fantastic conspiracy theory about how the Cuban Missile Crisis played itself out, First Class is more about the contrast in mentalities between Charles and Erik: two friends who would become adversaries.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender both play well, without being brilliant. As a wise professor with little baggage, McAvoy has the easier of the two roles. Fassbender, without being crude or cliché, illustrates well Erik’s transformation into Magneto. (Arguably, more time could have been given to this, and it could have made for some fascinating psychological viewing. This is just a personal opinion though.) Alas, much of what Erik says is true; yet, undoubtedly, the crucial message of the film – ‘that killing will not bring you peace’ – is put across emphatically by Charles, who fears for his friend. If one thinks about an angry group of hate-filled people against the West in our own age, we might get a true understanding for who that message is really aimed at.
Charles and Erik are not, though, the only mutants seen in First Class. Although many of the bigger names of the later films do not feature, there are still some mutants that audiences may recognise. However, with exception of the beautiful, but insecure Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, The Beaver, The Hunger Games), none of the lesser characters are given much screen-time. Note though that all the women in the movie are gorgeous and sexy: Dr. Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne – 28 Weeks Later, Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids), Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz – The Brave One, Californication) and, especially, Emma Frost/The White Queen (January Jones – Mad Men, Unknown, American Pie: The Wedding).
If the women and the differences between Charles and Erik are not enough to keep one entertained, the action scenes and the mutants’ supernatural powers should do the trick. The training sessions, wherein Charles teaches his mutant pupils how to control their abilities, are very funny. The special effects are not bad either. They may not always be great, but they adequately enhance the scenes.
All-in-all, First Class gives the viewers what they would want from this sort of film. It may not be as dark as other prequels; nonetheless, the movie has action, a good-looking cast, and poignant moral messages. Most importantly, the director, Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake) shows us how Charles and Erik became enemies and sets up the context for X-Men I, even if some of the major characters have yet to join.