Movie Review | X-Men: First Class
Movie summary: In the 1960s, super-powered humans Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr work together to find others like them, but Erik's vengeful pursuit of an ambitious mutant who ruined his life causes a schism to divide them. (IMDb)
In all honesty, I didn't really like X-Men: First Class at all on first watch. It just didn't really come together to work as a whole, feeling like two films smashed together: the relationship triangle between Charles, Erik and Raven; and a Bond-like superhero adventure.
I have grown to like it a fair amount on re-watches, but even then the more generic hero stuff doesn't really work. It's really the trio mentioned above and their incredible chemistry that stops the film from being forgettable - and no surprise the series centred around them from this point on.
Part of the reason for this isn't just how good the actors are in their roles, but also that they're given so much more screen time than the others, it was pretty much inevitable that they'd be more interesting characters to follow.
Rose Byrne as Moira and Nicholas Hoult as Hank suffer the most, doing their best with the smaller roles, but they end up as merely the best of the rest - at least they got to come back for the sequels. The others... either not good enough here to make any more of the role, or just not given anything to work with.
As for the main trio, this is probably the only time Jennifer Lawrence appeared to be interested in the material - much like The Hunger Games, it really is a case of diminishing returns from this point on, but credit does have to go to her for her performance here.
Considering who she's with in the original X-Men movies, I'm not sure whether the choice she makes here could be considered a spoiler or not, but it doesn't feel unearned or unbelievable. You completely buy into what Mystique believes thanks to Lawrence's performance, and her decisions feel rooted in character, rather than simply ticking off a plot point.
The real star performers here though are James McAvoy as Charles and Michael Fassbender as Erik, two men with very different backgrounds and even more different ideas about how mutants should take their place in the world - which, despite the story differences - is a perfect match for their comic book counterparts.
Too often, movies change characters from their source material to fit the story the director and/or writer wants to tell. Here, it's more a case of the comics defining the characters with Matthew Vaughn (director) and the multiple writers crafting the story around them.
McAvoy is perfect as Charles Xavier, starting the film almost more intention studying his fellow mutants than anything else, using his power to pick up women easily - much to Raven's irritation - but his arc absolutely transforms him into the father figure looking out for the future generations of his people.
But the real star of the whole movie - even if he fails to stop his natural accent coming through more than once - is Michael Fassbender as Erik. His childhood experiences as a Jew during the Holocaust gave birth to a dark side that he ultimately proves incapable of completely shaking off.
It also helps that he has easily the best music in the entire movie as his theme, meaning you know when Erik is about to dominate a scene, whether in use of his powers or through sheer screen presence - it does make you wonder how much of First Class was re-purposed from the rumoured X-Men Origins: Magneto movie.
The problem is that the rest of the film really doesn't hold a candle to its leading trio and makes the later cataclysmic misstep of X-Men: Apocalypse feel like an inevitability. The movie doesn't exactly look cheap, but it's clearly not high enough to comfortably depict what the story demands.
The action sequences are minimal at best, forcing the movie to rely almost on incidental, creative use of powers to show off the various characters' unique talents. If the story had been just about Charles, Raven and Erik, that may have been enough - with so many characters needing to be given a chance to shine, First Class struggles to keep up with the demands of the plot.
X-Men: First Class doesn't really live up to its name, with some under-written supporting roles not helped by Kevin Bacon going really over the top as the antagonist. While still very enjoyable, First Class feels a little bit 'stitched together' with some parts ultimately holding it back.