X-Men: First Class is a brilliant prequel to the comics-inspired movies series X-Men. By going back to the formation of the ‘first class’ that enrols at Professor X’s mutant academy and the beginning of the uncanny friendship/enmity between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, First Class successfully manages to attract the fan base that Marvel films had lost with Gavin Hood’s queasy prequel Wolverine (2009) and Brett Ratner’s disappointing sequel The Last Stand (2006).
Being an X-Men fanatic (despite the recent disappointing movies) my expectations from the latest prequel directed by Matthew Vaughn were quite high in comparison to most of the people who just lost their interest over the span of years. And I can happily say that First Men does not only restore the credibility that this wonderful comics series earned on the big screen with the first two movies, but also delves deep into the lives of the main characters by going back in time and reintroducing them in a rather more impressive way than the first movie does.
Young Charles Xavier, superbly played by James McAvoy, is the star lead in the stellar cast. In contrast to the other X-Men movies, Charles Xavier can still make full use of his legs in First Class. He is portrayed as a charismatic academic who has just completed his studies in genetics and has great hopes for the peaceful coexistence of humans and mutants. The movie shows how he becomes the binding force for many mutants and helps them master their capabilities. McAvoy successfully blends the charms of a ladies’ man with the utopian dreams of a great visionary. Micheal Fassbender is equally remarkable in the younger version of Magneto.
The backdrop of the movie is the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s. Sebastian Shaw (played by Kevin Bacon) is the Nazi antagonist leading the Hellfire Club that seeks to destroy the human race by triggering a World War III that would leave mutants as the superior survivors of the bloody war.
Despite the fairly short 132-minute running time, the movie goes back to the starkly contrasting childhoods of Xavier and Lehnsherr and their first encounter, the foundation of the mutant academy and their clash with the Hellfire Club. The movie also chronicles the eventual rift that appears between Xavier and Lehnsherr.
The troubled relationship between Raven (future Mystique) and Hank McCoy (future Beast) is given ample attention. Jennifer Lawrence especially does a great job as the young Raven and her obsession with her self-image. McCoy (played by Nicholas Hoult) is shown trying to find a cure for mutation, an innocent wish that becomes the main thematic clash in The Last Stand.
Vaughn’s direction is superb. He brings a certain gleam to the storyline and characters, the special effects are brilliant and pace of the movie is so full of energy that there are no boring moments.
Final verdict: the movie certainly makes it to four-star status, if not beyond it.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 26th, 2011.
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