Despite those lackluster ads, X-Men: First Class turns out to be surprisingly fresh and engaging. The fifth iteration of a series that has been pretty hit-and-miss since it first appeared just over a decade ago, Class delves deep into Marvel Comics mythology in an “origins” tale that shows us the pair of youthful friends destined to turn into Professor X and Magneto, mortal enemies with whom we are familiar.
Set in 1962 against a backdrop of Cold War hostilities, the movie focuses on the relationship between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), a deeply troubled victim of Nazi experimentation. Both men are mutants with super powers, but Xavier is an idealist while Lensherr is obsessed with vengeance. The pair soon find themselves in mortal conflict with Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a Nazi scientist and fellow mutant who, in typical supervillain fashion, is scheming to get the American and Soviet military to start a nuclear war so that mutants can take over the earth. Xavier simply wants to thwart Shaw but Lensherr is determined to assassinate the man who killed his mother as part of a depraved medical experiment.
The action climaxes during the Cuban Missile Crisis, complete with news footage of President Kennedy threatening war if any Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles enter Cuban waters. And as a complement to those hostilities, a dozen mutants have their own much hotter war going on, led by the viciously cynical Shaw on one side and idealistic Xavier on the other, with conflicted Lensherr caught in the middle.
Class often feels like an early James Bond film, with glamorous international locations, a suave megalomaniac dreaming of global apocalypse, and macho military leaders ensnared in deadly political schemes. To that formula add a bunch of super-powered freaks with names like Beast, Banshee and Havoc and there is lots here to entertain adolescents of all ages. The action is laid out with bold crayon strokes appropriate to a comic book, only bogging down occasionally – mostly with the repetitious concerns about whether humans will ever stop fearing their mutant brothers.
The plot chugs along with style and a good sense of humour, aided in no little fashion by several strong performances. The two leads are talented and personable actors who take their characters seriously; and perpetually underrated Kevin Bacon brings some tastily fresh nuances to the well-trod role of the villain most vile. Add in a few incidental pleasures such as a very funny cameo involving Hugh Jackman, plus a sly reference to future baldness on the part of Professor Xavier and this Class has class.
X-MEN: First CLass ★★★
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Starring James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon
PG-13 – 131 minutes
Continues at the Odeon, SilverCity and Uni 4