Ever wonder how history may have played out if a few superheroes were thrown into the mix? Matthew Vaughn’s new prequel to the comic-book franchise investigates the origins of some of the key players in the Mutant universe, set in 1962 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis.
Vaughn’s new directorial piece is a little bit more down to earth than his previous offerings of Stardust and Kick Ass but not too much (besides who wants a strictly realistic storyline involving superheroes anyway?)
The narrative follows privileged Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Nazi victim Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), destined to become Professor X and Magneto. The film opens by portraying the characters juxtaposed upbringings. Charles is an advantaged wealthy child growing up on his parent’s estate. He has the means and the smarts to attend Oxford University … oh, and also he’s telepathic. Compared to his his later Zen-like attitude, we see a different side of Xavier: drinking, partying and wooing the ladies with his wealth of genetic-themed chat up lines. Erik’s past begins with the concentration camp scene that we saw a glimpse of in the first X-men film way back in 2000. He has a rather devastating run in with a Nazi who employs typically cruel methods of research into the mutant phenomenon. In the years after the war he then begins a good ol’ fashioned, around the world, whistle stop tour of revenge; hunting down various former Nazis in some awesome scenes involving lots of metal manipulation. Eventually the two men cross paths as they pursue a mutant ex-Nazi by the name of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) with whom Lensherr has unfinished business. Shaw’s plan is to incite a nuclear Holocaust after which mutants can pick up the pieces, and it is up to Charles, Erik, and a team of new mutants recruit to save us.
As expected, all this is leading up to Xavier and Lensherr’s inevitable parting of ways that will result in them become arch nemeses. With the current scheme for First Class to become the first of a prequel trilogy, it’s a shame that they didn’t take more time over this so that the straining of bonds that lead to a fractured relationship would prove a little more convincing, perhaps over the course of the next film. But no matter.
As expected, McAvoy does a good job at the young, wilder Xavier. He brings a suave cheeky, Britishness to the role and we really can’t help but fall in love with his character. However, the first half of the film is stolen by Fassbender’s future Magneto. I absolutely love to watch this actor, especially when he’s called upon to treat us to a little perfectly fluent German à la Inglorious Basterds. His vengeance fuelled Nazi hunt is terrifically exciting and only makes me wish that it had followed a bit of a longer trail before he found his man. My only niggle with his performance is that he doesn’t seem to be able to settle on whether his character has an English or an American accent. A little puzzling coming from an actor who we know from past experience to be perfectly capable of delivering either to us.
Fans of the movie franchise will enjoy this serving. Just don’t worry too much about comparing the continuity to that of the other films. There is some confusion about whether it’s a reboot, a prequel or if it simply doesn’t really care and just wanted to make an awesome film about superheroes (I’m guessing the latter.) Comic book fans should be used to this anyway. With the amount of times that Marvel has been content to restart, reinvent and hurl their characters into alternative universes, should we really be surprised that the films are happy to do the same? In any case we had better get used to it. After the questionable X-Men Origins: Wolverine and with X-Men Origins: Deadpool and James Mangold’s samurai -era The Wolverine looming in the not too distant future, we’re going to see a lot of it.
If you want to watch a well performed, history bending spectacle of a superhero flick, this is a film for you. Worth the admission price alone is a touching moment shared by McAvoy and Fassbender in which they discover that there’s real beauty in the future Magneto’s past. Also be sure to pay attention during the climax as it turns out that both the Soviet and US Navies have alarms specifically intended to signal when it’s time to change hats. Fantastic.