After a successful and enjoyable X-Men Trilogy, started off by the inspired Bryan Singer, and an alright but fairly forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Matthew Vaughn has gone back to the origins of all the mutants. Back in the 60s, bad guy mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, who can absorb energy; Shaw, not Bacon) is playing the Americans off against the Russians so that they start nuclear war. At the same time Charles Xavier is completing his PhD in genetics at Oxford; whereas Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) is trying to track down Shaw to make him pay for killing his mother at a concentration camp during the second world war. Charles and Erik are recruited by the CIA and are then able to locate and recruit other mutants (brilliant cameo F-bomb during this montage); and ultimately confront Shaw narrowly preventing the escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis to nuclear war.
I thoroughly enjoyed First Class. Despite Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart being so iconic in the first three films, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender completely make Xavier and Magneto their own, and are every bit as good. As well as the main good vs evil story, there is the other story regarding Charles and Erik and their different views about whether or not humans will accept the mutants into society. McAvoy and Fassbender work really well together, and the fact that we see them become really good friends makes their separation at the end of the film all the more emotional.
Kevin Bacon is usually entertaining (Ahh Pyrates!), and here is no exception. He plays the manipulative Shaw very well; I can’t comment on his Russian but I thought that his German was very convincing. His character reminds me slightly of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds (wonderfully depicted by the brilliant Christoph Waltz): quite cocky and very sure of himself the whole time; though he doesn’t get the opportunity for his world to come crashing down around him as Landa does. The rest of the cast are alright, though there are some fairly rubbish mutations; Angel, Banshee (sorry but he was just an ugly Ron Weasley), Darwin, and Emma Frost (telepath and made of glass; that’s handy!). Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) get more screen time than the other newbies, and so are able to get to grips with their character a bit more; but the other mutants are really just a canvas for the the art of Xavier and Magneto. It was nice to see some other familiar faces: Van Stanten (Corey Johnson) from Dr Who; Boris the Blade (Rade Serbedzija) from Snatch; and of course Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) from Scanners (these films are just where I first saw them btw).
The story is good, and there are plenty of great action sequences, thought there is the occasional ropey cg effect. The only other niggle I have is the continual finger-to-the-forehead visual cue that McAvoy employs whenever he is reading minds. I can see that it could be useful/fair enough a few times, but every fecking time just gets boring. I can also see that initially Xavier is still learning to control his power, but so is everyone else, and all the other guys develop theirs, whereas Xavier is still being all spoon-bendy at the end of the film!
Minor niggles aside, I though the film was great; stand out performances from Fassbender and McAvoy, good story, great action, and a great return to the X-men series.