X-Men: First Class DVD Review

Are you different?

That’s the question that beats at the heart of any X-Men medium; be it comic book, cartoon or cinematic release.

If only the people behind the new X-Men film had thought to ask the same of the film they were making.

X-Men: First Class is that terribly fashionable thing in modern movie franchises; an origins prequel.

Unlike most of these reverse sequels though, the potential of chronicling elder X-Men statesmen Professor X and Magneto is certainly worthy of it’s own silver screen outing.

First Class begins by mirroring Bryan Singer’s opening scene from the original X-Men film way back in 2000.

The Second World War is drawing to a close, but Nazi armed forces are still funnelling displaced people to work in concentration camps or worse.

A young, polish boy becomes separated from his parents in the crush, and as the child desperately tries to reunite with his mother and father his mutant abilities are unleashed as he tears down the metal gates that lie between him and his parents.

This is Erik Lehnsherr, the boy who’ll grow up to be Magneto, and his gift has brought him to the attention of supposed Nazi scientist, Dr Schmidt.

And yes, that really is the best German name they could come up with.

What follows is an all too predictable and stereotypical caricature of how a “baddie” is supposed to act in a film such as this, topped off with a reaction so melodramatic it will make you laugh out loud.

This is not the intent, but when you realise heavy handed filmmaking clowns Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman are involved in X-Men: First Class, everything suddenly makes sense.

In altogether more bourgeois surroundings, a young Charles Xavier is coming to terms with his ability to read minds before toddling off to one of the Oxbridge universities to make best use of his abilities on the unsuspecting co-ed’s on campus.

These two men’s paths cross while both are on the trail of one Sebastian Shaw, a powerful mutant seemingly hell bent on world domination; and a fellow who used to go by the name Dr Schmidt.

Realising Shaw and his cadre of mutants are too powerful to defeat without help, Xavier and Lehnsherr create a fraternity of young mutants equipped to capture Shaw before he can bring about a Third World War.

X-Men: First Class is a curious hybrid of over the top comic book clichés and genuine talented actors.

Seemingly inspired by the on trend Mad Men, the film is set in the sixties; with unfeasibly well groomed girl’s dressing up in mini skirts and knee high boots for pretty much the entire movie.

Which sounds good at first, but this over the top sexualisation of every female character quickly starts to grate when you realise it’s a pretty obvious act of misdirection to distract from just how poorly conceived huge chunks of the script are.

This should come as no little surprise to anyone who’s watched Kick Ass, one of the most god awful films I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch, as the same people at the helm for that have taken up the reins for X-Men: First Class.

It’s very much a case of style over substance for both director Matthew Vaughn and “writer” Jane Goldman, whose fawning press coverage of their previous film was in no way related to the media presence of her egomaniacal husband Jonathan Ross.

So a cartoonish black and white palette is all we’re afforded.

Bad guys are stereotypically characterised as one dimensional representations of evil, with their frequent acts of senseless violence neither convincing nor plausible.

Whilst the good guys turn more cheeks than the messiah himself, in their desire to live amongst humans who seem determined to crucify them at every opportunity.

The ridiculous Hollywood habit of rewriting historical events this time parodies the Cuban Missile Crisis, manipulating this as a canvas for the original X-Men stories to be etched upon.

In the hands of skilled and able cinematic practitioners, this premise could have been deftly written into an effective plot device for X-Men: First Class.

Of course, skilled and able are not two adjectives I’d ever use to describe Vaughn and Goldman’s talents; what we get instead is a barely credible set up for how Shaw effected the Cuban Missile Crisis, coupled with some simplistic cold war caricatures from both sides of the Atlantic.

Which is a tremendous shame, as the cast assembled are close to spectacular.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are perfectly cast as Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr respectively.
McAvoy is understatedly persuasive in the first half as a young Professor X, although his performance wanes as the film unravels; particularly when he unfurls the same visual tell every time he uses his special powers.

We get it, we’re not idiots and you’re not supposed to be tabloid hacks. So why insist upon repeatedly forcing the same nursery school visual language down our throats?

Fassbender seems to take the opposite tack; growing into the role of Magneto as X-Men: First Class progresses. His portrayal of a conflicted Lehnsherr also takes up the mantle of rebellious maverick Hugh Jackman so perfectly embodied in earlier X-Men instalments.

A throng of supporting actors, most able others simply glamorous, help create the ensemble feel familiar in previous films, and there’s even a couple of cameos from ex stars that’ll bring a smile to your face.

Yet the overall impression left by X-Men: First Class is that of a missed opportunity.

The superhero genre is in grave danger of becoming staid, as film studios churn out endless cinematic interpretations of any comic book the can get their greedy little hands on. All in the vain hope that they too can cash in on the gargantuan success enjoyed by Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot.

Well, the reason these films were so profitable is because the scripts were so good, not because it was based on a comic book.

And, unlike the majority of factory line produced superhero films we faced with today, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were different.

Something I’d have thought anyone with the slightest understanding of X-Men folklore would have got, and infused into this kitsch prequel.

Unfortunately, X-Men: First Class is anything but.

Jonathan Campbell

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