X Men First Class

X Men First Class

The bad bit: What’s worse than being a mutant? Being a non-white mutant, apparently. The good bit: Xavier and Magneto’s bromance = BRING. IT. ON. We check out ‘X-Men: First Class’ and make NO jokes about whether it’s first class or not because we’re, like, above that.

The X-Men film series has not been well received as late. While the first two films were popular at the box office, ‘X-Men: Last Stand’ was widely panned by fans and critics alike and ‘Wolverine: Origins’ inspired real anger in people familiar with the comics or indeed almost everyone who didn’t turn up purely to see Hugh Jackman shirtless.

So things have been bad at the X-Mansion for some time. In fact the last time things were peachy was when the military raided the school in the dead of night armed with tranquiliser guns and abducted the pupils from their beds back in X2.

‘X-Men: First Class’ was a pleasant surprise. It’s easily the most sophisticated movie in the franchise; clever, funny, fast-paced, sexy and epic in scale while still giving the characters room to grow.

Much of the credit for the film’s success must go to the actors. Because it’s set in the Sixties almost all of the recurring characters have been recast (or all, if you don’t count a couple of clever cameos). Though I was nervous about this, the new actors do a great job. James McAvoy in particular is brilliant as young Charles Xavier. Ever wanted to see Professor X win a drinking competition and pick up women (successfully) using biology? Me neither. But now you can and it’s amazing. The young Mystique/Raven is also played beautifully by Jennifer Lawrence and it’s her character arc which is charted throughout the film. Lastly, Michael Fassbinder is electric as Erik/ Magneto, commanding real presence and showing a more vulnerable, anti-hero side in his burgeoning bromance with Charles (shades of Dumbledore and Voldemort, there. Good!).

The plot is also suitably epic, spanning continents and threatening to plunge the world into nuclear war. The heavily sci-fi X-Men back story hasn’t happened yet, and this might contribute to the realism of the characters in ‘First Class’. I’m not saying that sci-fi is unrealistic – just that it’s nice to see the characters react to the amazing technology they use as they see it for the first time. The villains are also a lot of fun: with Magneto and Mystique on the side of good this time, the Hellfire club steps up to the plate and does a fantastic job. At last, after the sad, name-only expy in ‘Origins’ we get to see Emma Frost done right (although if you want to see the most crackingly bitchy version of her ever – and see the first appearance of Angel as well – then pick up a copy of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men Volume 1: E Is For Extinction TPB: E Is for Extinction v. 1).

On that note, ‘First Class’ has another surprise. Despite being rated as a 12A in the UK it’s very adult in tone, not just because it treats the audience like adults but because it’s sexy. To accompany the eye-watering bromance between Charles and Erik we have Emma Frost walking around in her underwear, naked diamond form or a scene involving a metal bed post and Magneto. There’s also a stripper who can fly… and this version of Mystique with teenage hormones and insecurities has to be seen to be believed. Good news, though: ‘First Class’ doesn’t rely on eye-candy to keep the audience’s attention. If we needed that we’d be watching ’21 Dresses’ or ‘Hilton – The Musical’. The strength of the acting and scripting by mooky icon Jane Goldman keeps the sexytime from being gratuitous.

The film is not above criticism. It has not escaped notice that the two non-white X Men have either been killed or defected to the bad side within about ten minutes of their introduction, unusual in a series built on the idea of belonging to a minority. From a storytelling point of view things sometimes seem to move a little too quickly: in particular, the last ten minutes could be a separate film. But overall there’s a lot to enjoy. Here’s hoping to see more soon.