The X-Men films, whilst successful, have seemingly made little attempt to truly revolutionise the X-Mennarrative. Unlike Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, which have sought to reject and break down comic-book conventions, the X-Men films have instead remained firmly within the confines of the comic-book genre.
Here Matthew Vaughn, after having the foresight to walk away from X-Men: The Last Stand during preproduction, helms the partly Jane Goldman-penned script. Goldman and Vaughn, enjoying success with Stardust and Kick-Ass, are quickly garnering a reputation for well-made, entertaining films.
Here, X-Men: First Class decides to continue the current trend for a reboot of sorts, here depicting the familiar X-Men characters initially as young children, then later as young adults. This trend has surely been cemented most successfully in the aforementioned Christopher Nolan Batman series, in which Nolan strips down the gimmickry of Joel Schumacher’s films, attempting to depict Bruce Wayne existing in a world not-too-far removed from the viewer’s reality.
There is too, currently a new Spiderman film in production, which will depict a young Peter Parker during his years at high-school. This decision for a reboot can often be cynically viewed as a simple attempt to inject a failing franchise with new life, with writers failing to continue the narrative they have already created. Here a reboot was certainly necessary in order to break away from the relatively ill-received X-Men: The Last Stand: Vaughn’s film is certainly successful in burnishing all thoughts of the poorly paced previous film.
In Poland 1944 a young Erik Lensherr is separated from his parents. In his desperation to be reunited with them, Erik, through his mutant powers, is able to bend a heavy metal gate, observed by Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon). Schmidt, determined to force Erik to display his powers, threatens the life of his beloved mother.
Meanwhile, in New York, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), apprehending a young Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) in his house one night as she seeks to steal food, quickly realises he is not the only mutant in existence. Treating Raven like a sister, Charles goes on to graduate from Oxford University, now an expert in genetics. MoiraMacTaggert (Rose Byrne), a CIA operative, eager to uncover Sebastian Shaw’s shady operations, witnesses mutant activity and contacts Charles in the hope that his knowledge will aid her. Shaw, we learn, is simply Schmidt in Americanised form, Erik (Michael Fassbender), in revenge for Schmidt’s treatment, too seeks his location.
Charles and Raven, using Charles’ telepathic powers track down Shaw, intercepting Erik’s suicidal attempts to apprehend Shaw/Schmidt. Charles invites Erik to join them, and the two seek out other mutants, inviting them to join themselves and Raven.
X-Men: First Class is slow to start; the necessary exposition introducing individual characters takes a while to truly engage the viewer. Despite this rather deliberate start, X-Men: First Class quickly reasserts its pace with some entertaining action set-pieces. Lawrence and Fassbender are particularly impressive as the insecure Raven and the tortured Erik. McAvoy, whilst well cast, unfortunately strays too often into arrogance, perhaps indicative of the chosen depiction of Charles, who whilst well-meaning, is here not truly complex enough to develop as a character.
Vaughn’s film, certainly the best X-Men film of the current franchise, makes little attempt to truly break away from its comic-book origins, often feeling too confined within its genre. Despite an admirable effort, X-Men: First Class is not as revolutionary as it had hoped to be.