After 20th Century Fox had double dipped failure with the uninspiring threequel Last Stand AND the messy prequel X-Men: Origins, they found their franchise in somewhat of a critical nosedive. It was very apparent that what this series needed was an injection of new blood and fast: enter Matthew Vaughn, whizz kid wunderkind behind the ridiculously entertaining Kick-Ass to (literally) jazz things up but there was a noticeable problem. Vaughn was hired just under one calendar year before the movie’s set release date, so the question was could he possibly churn out a huge tent pole action movie in such a limited time and could it possibly be any good?
Yes and yes, are the resounding answers.
You see Vaughn and his trusty writing partner, Jane Goldman, not only got the film out on time but turned in something pretty funky too, by taking the X-Men series and essentially making a Sean Connery Bond film with it.
Set in the 60’s, when a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy enjoying himself immensely) isn’t boozing and using his awesome, God-like, telepathic powers to pick up women, he’s working on his thesis about mutation, which gains the attention the CIA approach him about the likelihood of any mutants that could pose a threat to America and her interests. Agents already have eyes on philanthropist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, also immensely enjoying himself), who’s cabal of evil mutants want to cause the destruction of mankind but there’s a wild card in the mix in the shape of holocaust survivor and mutant master of magnetism Erik Lensher (Michael Fassbender, who goes full Bond while – you guessed it – immensely enjoying himself).
Teaming up for a vastly satisfying bromance and employing the scientific talents of Hank Pym (mutant power: agility and feet that would make Donkey Kong blush), Charles and Erik start tracking down mutants to aid in their cause enlisting Havoc, Banshee and other fancy nicknamed superpowered loners.
Firstly, one thing that can’t be ignored is that the extraordinarily tight shooting schedule is, sometimes, noticeable. A little time for some last minute tightening here and there would have tidied up a couple of things like the odd duff FX shot, overlong scene or the curious fact that during his big speech at the end, Magneto goes a bit Irish.
However, even if Vaughn and co. haven’t turned in maybe the best or polished X-Men movie, they’ve certain made the most fun. Bright, vibrant and full of life, X-Men: First Class drops the moody leather outfits and “not too distant future” slickness for fetching blue and yellow flight suits and a groovy neo-sixties, Man From U.N.C.L.E. vibe which pays off huge. Plus the teaming of McAvoy and Fassbender is an inspired choice, extremely worthy of Stewart and McKellen and despite initially looking a little odd in the blue skin and fur of Mystique, and beast respectably, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicolas Holt shine.
The set pieces soar too with a finale that includes a teleporting fist fight, a floating submarine, and more missiles than the entirety of desert storm and all set to Henry Jackman’s magnificently up-beat score.
One thing that DOES irk, however, is how a film set in the time of the civil rights movement, that’s based off a comic BASED on the civil rights movement, can have NO MENTION of the civil rights movement, in fact on top of that, the treatment of Darwin, an African American character is almost downright callous. I only bring this up because a further win in First Class’ column is how well it shamelessly inserts itself into American history with a final battle taking place on a beach in Cuba during the American/Russian standoff during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact it’s a trick the franchise continued to use well into it’s follow up, Days Of Future Past which went as far as making Richard Nixon a supporting character.
Of course there are many out there that bristle at the fact the movie DARES call itself “First Class” when only one member of the original comic team is present, or Magneto stealing his iconic helmet instead of making it and if total comic accuracy is your thing, sorry bud, you’re not gonna be well served here but for everybody else, Vaughn’s franchise revitalisation is fist pumping fun, featuring swinging 60’s, superhero shenanigans in primary colours. Groovy, baby.