Film Review – X-Men: First Class

by deerinthexenonarclights

Over ten years passed since I last saw an X-Men film; the original in the cinema was my first and last experience with the franchise prior to this, regardless of medium. So I came to this decade’s derivation with as close to a clean palate as will likely post here. This is fitting given that the film is itself an attempt at a fresh start, going back over five decades to where the characters began.

Fortunately though it’s not an origin story in the conventional sense, it has no interest in establishing a stark before-and-after shift similar to all the other efforts in the genre, nor does it feel the need to explain the existence of the characters powers. Instead it simply sets out to chart the unseen events that lead the characters to where they are today.

Unfourtunately this style of story is dramatically problematic in that we know exactly where everything will end; there are certainly ways to work around this but for the most part the film doesn’t even attempt them, choosing instead to just embrace the issue with a series of anvil-weighted winks and pin-up poses.

Given that the film is directed by Matthew Vaughn one wants to assume that there is some sarcasm at play here, but it feels too much like he has simply succumbed to all the same tropes he so skillfully subverted in last year’s Kick-Ass. There are moments when his freshness of perspective filters through but these are few and far between. It is almost as if he co-directed with a studio board, the combination channeling production to-and-fro between the separate shores of brave and banal film-making, leaving the final product a blockbuster with flashes of brilliance, rather than a film that is brilliant in of itself.

What save the film from being a mess of cliché and potential is the fact that Vaughn at least seems to have gotten his way with the casting. Though none of them are as famous as the common household names that the first film featured the stars are all superb character actors and their skill and the scintillating set design combine to make even the mediocre moments of the script into something involving.

Though the film itself isn’t as good as all the early reviews may have suggested Fassbender is, but for me Bacon matches him, bringing something special to his dangerously close to campy role; seeing the two re-enact deleted scenes from Inglourious Basterds is the highlight of the film. There is also an interesting relationship hinted at between Beast and Mystique that was, for me (a complete noob), the only part of this fleshed out backstory that surprised me; they also worked well as a romantic pair. The much hyped relationship between Charles and Eric however was something of a letdown, they sparred well enough but there was no deep sense of camaraderie nor any great revelation, nothing that was not already made clear elsewhere.

The story? It is what it is and that’s basically Brett Ratner’s Watchmen. There are certainly some interesting ideas being thrown around thanks to the political state of the chosen period setting, but these are used only to set-up action set-pieces. There is no deeper philosophical or intellectual insight here and while this isn’t exactly a flaw, it is a missed opportunity.

Overall this is a fun enough action blockbuster and even if it is not the first-class example of the genre that it was hyped up to be, it is probably still the top of the class it finds itself in; though that admittedly is one in a special school.