With a talented cast and gifted director, X-Men: First Class meets the standards set by the first two movies, while standing alone as a stylish and sexy entry into the ever expanding comic book sub-genre.
Prequels are not the most reliable of films, yet here is one that bucks the trend. With original director Bryan Singer back as writer/producer, he brings with him the heart and earnestness missing from a franchise which had lost its way, and a gifted director in Matthew Vaughn who delivers the type of action movie sure to boost his profile.
Themes wise, X-Men: First Class delves into the motives, actions and philosophies of mutant telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and especially Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), whose dark soul is given insight to make for an almost sympathetic character.
Their story is set during the 1960s, where the “groovy” style and cold war politics of the time are expertly weaved into an espionage action romp, when a group of mutants known as the Hellfire Club try to instigate nuclear war to the benefit of their revolution. Leading this charge is the Machiavellian Sebastian Shaw, brilliantly played by Kevin Bacon as a mix of Hugh Hefner, Josef Mengele and the most sinister of Bond villains.
Together Charles and Erik select a group of mutants to head a CIA backed covert operation to stop the Hellfire Club and prevent war. Throughout the question of acceptance and self worth (which has been consistent through the X-Men series) help create some nicely composited, well rounded characters, most notably the blue skinned chameleon Mystique, played by recent Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence.
Of first notice is the pinpoint casting of these younger portrayals, with McAvoy and especially Fassbender making these roles their own. Fassbender has been on the cusp of mainstream commercial success for a while now, and it will be his portrayal of Magneto as a haunted, independent, and dangerously vengeful victim of human atrocity, that will see the gifted Irish actor become the superstar he deserves to be.
Other actors who make an impression is the suitably awkward Nicholas Hoult as the blue furred scientist Beast, a sizzling January Jones who is sure to make many men hot under the collar as the scattily clad Emma Frost, and the before mentioned Lawrence.
Making it all such an enjoyable blockbuster romp is director Matthew Vaughn. Unlike Brett Ratner and Gavin Hood before him, Vaughn is sure to be celebrated for his take on these much loved characters. He also proves that within the constraints of an M rating (PG-13 for American readers out there), he is able to create a much more entertaining comic book movie when compared to the sadistic nature of his Kick Ass.
Throw in a very tasty cameo from a franchise regular (who delivers the best line of the movie), and X-Men: First Class is a prequel that is sure not to disappoint.