Are We Ready To Begin?
I will boldly proclaim this being the best X-Men live action feature film to date, that had all the right ingredients that make a summer blockbuster rock, with that rare combination of action, drama and characterization that puts this as amongst the best comic book superhero movies that have been churned out continuously by Hollywood in recent years. With some four movies already under the X-franchise belt, albeit X-Men: The Last Stand being a lightweight actioner and the Wolverine Origins film being a little of a mistake, it was a good thing that the origins film for Magneto got dropped, and then came this instant classic, which had what I thought was shades of what that film could have been, but more.
Bryan Singer's involvement in this film is a good thing, with his producer credit as well as getting involved in the story together with Sheldon Turner, since he was responsible for the first two critical and commercial hit of the X-Men films being able to show that an ensemble comic book film can work. But since a new direction was called for to wash away the bitter aftertaste of the latter two films of the franchise, in comes director Matthew Vaughn who did a class job in playing this film to its strengths, keeping the pace tight, the action eye popping, and the dramatic elements engaging. It seems like Vaughn is on a roll here in his choice of projects, and I'm hoping this one does well enough to warrant yet another outing with the X-Men, so long as the focus remains on wanting to tell a solid, strong story first like this one did, and not opt for something loud and mindless.
There are many elements of this film which made it enjoyable. For starters, having it go back to the good old 60s was an excellent move par none, taking us back to the point of the US-USSR nuclear crisis, where the US had strategically put nukes in Turkey, and the USSR soon to be responding with its own countermove involving Cuba. The historical context makes it a little bit more in line with our reality, though having the audacity to suggest that the evil mutants led by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Six Degrees Bacon) and his team of Emma Frost (January Jones, playing a character who will probably be a fan favourite after this), Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) and Azazel (Jason Flemying) have starring roles in stirring up the super power rivalry to WWIII proportions.
The plan is simple, and in Sebastian Shaw we see the precursor of the mantle that Magneto / Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) would pick up from, since it's an Us Mutants against Them Humans mindset they adopt, preferring a more vocal outburst of opposition against discrimination, even if it means annihilation of those who are ordinary. Followers of X-Men the comics or the films would find this theme familiar, but in Vaughn's film, ample time is provided to develop the arguments against, and the very sexy arguments for this cause, with lines being deeply divided thus showing why and who decided to join which side of the war.
Then of course there's the strong friendship between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto which was always hinted at in the earlier films, but this one brings us back to the origins of their friendship which developed so strongly given their unison to battle a common enemy, but their inevitable drift when their ideals and methodology start to differ drastically, one obviously preferring violence and using whatever means necessary to further the cause, and the other opting for a more peaceful approach, preferring to do good to convince us two-timing, fearful humans that those more powerful aren't necessary harbouring intentions to enslave, but just yearning for a peaceful co-existence. Both McAvoy and Fassbender excel in their leading roles as friends who will turn enemies in due course, making it all the more poignant when we see them do battle shoulder to shoulder now, knowing what will happen in the near future.
If it was an Origins film that was still mooted, then this one takes the cake indeed, with scenes showing off younger versions of Xavier and Lehnsherr, together with that of the other X-Men such as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who forms a tight relationship with Xavier before identity crisis meant a souring of sorts to what the future story would hold, the intelligent Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Havok (Lucas Till) amongst others in the first class fold, tutored and mentored personally by Xavier to harness their powers, before the big bang action sequence that expectedly combined everyone's strength to do battle against those on the opposite side.
Art direction was also down to a pat, where computers are large and imposing with plenty of buttons, gauges, valves and humongous tape drives, and who can forget the pristine looking Blackbird jet plane making its debut as the de-facto transport of choice for the X-Men, and that predominantly yellow suits also given a reason for the characters to don them. The ensemble cast of relative unknowns in leading roles also worked wonders, especially those amongst the new recruits since they are predominantly younger and are quite raw in the art of combat, and making mistakes, rather than being all too invulnerable, is the rule of thumb here. Visual effects are flawlessly employed to showcase their various powers.
X-Men: First Class brings us back to the time that examines the history of the X-Men before events of the first film kicked in, where Wolverine was still yet to be thrown into the Weapon X project, and before the likes of Jean Grey and Cyclops came into the picture. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for plenty of easter eggs and subtle references made in terms of what we already do know of the characters in the earlier films, and the irony in dialogue, making this X-Men history lesson first class indeed. Highly recommended, and a definite favourite of the summer films so far.