Let’s get this straight – I am a geek.
Wolverine #90 got me into comic books and since that fateful day in 1995 I have dipped in and out of the comic book universe as I saw fit. In fact, tracing it back further still, growing up watching Christopher Reeve save the world as Superman influenced my life with and love of the superhero genre, definitely. But we’ll come back to him later.
Back at the turn of the millennium, Bryan Singer, whose directorial arrival was heralded by the sublime Usual Suspects, was tasked with bringing the world’s most unluckiest superheroes to the big screen.
To be fair to the guy, he didn’t do a bad job. Generally considered to be more of a taster of things to come, the first X-Men film definitely proved the concept, and when X-Men 2 (X2) arrived, we finally saw Singer’s vision fully coloured in before our eyes; Wolverine cut-loose, cameos-a-plenty and of course, that epic epic Nightcrawler opener.
Since then though, with the X-Men at least, we have not been so lucky. X3: The Last Stand was frankly, terrible. A rushed schedule (largely in part to a last minute director change) not helping much and what with Mr Singer departing to work on [the extremely underrated] Superman Returns, the wheel was left unchecked and the series lost its course.
The less said about X:Men Origins: Wolverine the better.
Which brings us to First Class.
A few years ago the ‘Origins’ moniker was attached to a number of X-Projects (with Wolverine getting the first stab, so to speak) and First Class was one of them. When the news broke that the film was going ahead, it was promising to say the least.
First off, irrespective of takings (both X3 and XO:W both broke $200m at the box office) the studio knew they had to do something to prevent yet another bad X-film being made. This is a good sign. Second? Singer was back. This time taking a writer/producer credit and – in a match that seems to be made in geek heaven – Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (fresh from their own successes on the fantastic comic book adap, Kick-Ass), stepped into the roles of screenplay and director respectively.
The Gods were smiling.
But then, reports of a rushed production started appearing, followed by a poorly received above the line campaign and, to top it all off, every time a set pic was leaked, the ‘fans’ heaped scorn upon a franchise that was already fighting an uphill battle. Not cool.
When then trailer finally dropped, people did not know what to expect –
“Hang on, this actually looks quite good…”
Four months later, tickets were purchased and with much trepidation, we entered the cinema. Set in 1962, just before and during the Cuban missile crisis, First Class riffs on its 60s backdrop perfectly. With retro black lines drawn across the inevitable training montage scenes as well as a very suave, almost Austin Powers-like, Charles Xavier – brought to life by my second favourite actor in this film (I have a top three), James McAvoy. The time of the piece is set perfectly and trust me, it works.
Coming in third in the aforementioned trio of awesome, comes Kevin Bacon as the nefarious Sebastian Shaw. Hell-bent on world domination through a hitler-esque survival of the fittest, Bacon excels here. Fans of the books will understand that physically, in build at least, the two aren’t exactly similar however, with a combination of sheer
stage screen presence and the film’s iteration of Shaw’s mutant power, this is swiftly forgotten – Kevin Bacon is Sebastian Shaw.
In at number one, our star of the show, Erik Lensherr – aka – Magneto.
Brought to life magnificently by Michael Fassbender. The vengeful intensity that he brings to Magneto’s early years is completely believeable and, once his solo mission of revenge comes to the end of its first chapter, you understand completely why people are already calling Fassbender out as the next James Bond. Seriously.
The rest? Mystique and Beast (who share a number of interesting moments together) are noteworthy as is The White Queen, Emma Frost. However, the others are fairly forgettable. Perhaps it’s only Banshee’s Irish charm that keeps him from fading from my memory… Additionally, whilst Riptide manages to get through the film without uttering a single word, the award for most criminally under-used character goes to Azazel.
In comic book lore, Azazel is the father of X2’s Nightcrawler and, colouration aside, shares a similar look and power of his future son. It’s just a shame then that his [slightly russian?] origin was not explored further. But hey, there’s always future films – right?
Let’s be clear; X-Men: First Class is by far and away the best X-Men film to date. Given that X2 set the standard pretty high, this is praise indeed – especially for a franchise that was close to coming to an end.
Finally, don’t try and worry yourself about the time line too much; if you work under the assumption that Singer ‘did a Superman’ and ignored the third and fourth films in the series, then they kind of plug in together nicely. You learn how and why Mystique is the way she is, why Magneto is the way he is and – crucially – what happens after a young Erik Lensherr is spotted bending gates in a Nazi concentration camp.
In closing; if you’re a geek (and can forgive a bit liberty thievery here and there), you’ll get a kick out of this. If you’re not, it’s still a bloody good, almost caper-esque, action flick.
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t leave the cinema completely blown away but now, a few days on from seeing the film, it has definitely grown on me.
Go see it.