X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class

(M) James McAvoy, Michael Fassbinder, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne

The original X-Men movie in 2000 began the rollout of superhero movies that has blighted the box office ever since.

Brian Singer’s take on the X-Men had fan approval and made studios take note: comic books are big business.

Three films later (if you include the so-so spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and it is clear the creative well has run somewhat dry with the release of the prequel (some say re-boot) First Class.

The film cleverly starts the way the first did, back in 2000 with the introduction of a young Erik Lehnsherr who is delivered to an internment camp by Nazi’s in 1944, the film then extends the scene to include the fact that he was cruelly coaxed by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) into displaying his uncanny ability to manipulate metal. For Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbinder), it becomes a lifelong obsession to track Shaw down.

The film then moves on to Charles Francis Xavier (James McAvoy), a gifted young college graduate living in 1960s upstate New York who happens to possess the power to read and manipulate people’s minds.

when the misfits get tangled up in the Cold War, Xavier enlists his charges to use their powers to fight evil, even as they struggle with protecting a human race that treats them with fear and hate

When a CIA operative named Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) recruits him to help hunt down the now warmongering Sebastian Shaw and his henchwoman Emma Frost (January Jones), Xavier takes command of a group of young mutants that includes shape-shifter Raven Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence), an acrobatically-gifted scientist named Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), and — most pivotally —Erik Lehnsherr.

But when the misfits get tangled up in the Cold War, Xavier enlists his charges to use their powers to fight evil, even as they struggle with protecting a human race that treats them with fear and hate.

It’s a clever idea to transplant the story into American history, but it really isn’t as exciting as it should be.

The rapid-fire cuts as the story skims over the globe and the standard-issue mutants who are barely given enough screen time to become fully fledged characters are deployed at the expense of the complex relationship between Xavier and Erik. And a lot of what Xavier and Erik theorise about is telegraphed and feels inevitable.

This is also one of the more violent films in the series, with some particularly brutal acts perpetrated by the evil Shaw.

The mutant need for the mutants to be accepted was developed in the original films and the storyline feels a little worn as it is repeated here. Similarly, the sub-plot of a serum to cure the mutants of what makes them special has been raised in earlier films.

This reviewer was looking forward to some ’60s period detail and production design but, aside from the costumes (like Emma Frost’s go-go outfit), important details are missing.

So the film rests on McAvoy and Fassbinder as Xavier and Erik and, to some extent, the only mutant who is given a decent back story, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who clearly play to their older counterparts in the first series.

Perhaps one of the failings of going back to the beginning is that anyone with a passing familiarity with the mutants’ mythology already knows what’s about to happen.

Adrian Drayton

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