X-Men: First Class * * * *

Genre: Action

Director: Matthew Vaughn  

Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne

Running Length: 132 minutes

Synopsis: Charting the epic beginning of the X-Men saga, X-Men: First Class is set in the 60s, before Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) took on the names Professor X and Magneto and became archenemies. The two were young men discovering their powers for the first time, and were close friends working together to discover other mutants who have so far lived in hiding. However, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), aided by other mutants, is trying to ignite World War III by manipulating both the Russians and the Americans into the Cuban Missile Crisis. Charles and Erik must put aside their differences to defeat Shaw, but their alliance grows weaker by the day as the rifts begin to form.  

Review: I will be the first to admit that I hadn’t expected much from X-Men: First Class. After all, the X-Men movie franchise had been in a steady decline, apparent especially in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and it would not have been surprising if this fifth film (though chronologically the first) simply continued the trend. Surprise, surprise – X-Men: First Class is a summer blockbuster with brains, and apart from the usual assault on the senses, this is a film that actually remembers what makes a movie truly great: telling a compelling story.

The narrative weight of X-Men: First Class could have done the movie in – the 132-minute movie probably contains one of the densest superhero movie plots ever, packed with multiple plot threads, a whole slew of characters and origin stories, and integrating real-life events (the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis) into the fictional X-Men universe to boot. However, the screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn manages to pull it off, and the end result is a film that strikes a great balance between emotional character moments and exhilarating action set pieces, while moving things along at a very good pace throughout. Even the slightly weaker middle portion doesn’t feel like a drag, which in such a long film is no mean feat. 

This is further augmented by an almost uniformly excellent cast, with major props going to both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, whose nuanced portrayals of the tragic heroes form the emotional centre of the movie. There’s also great chemistry between the two, allowing audiences to become vested in their friendship and their eventual split. Kudos must also go to Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult, who are key characters in an important subplot and stand out from the supporting cast.

X-Men: First Class also boasts excellent art direction and production design with a keen eye for the period it is set in, allowing the film to exude a James Bond-esque vibe that adds to the allure of the movie. Special effects are top rate, as is expected these days, and the action sequences are well-choreographed and thrilling, with an almost operatic grandeur that is not often seen in movies of this genre. Additional brownie points go the filmmakers for not resorting to gimmicky 3D, presenting the film in glorious, old-school 2D.

Truly a first class movie, and not just in the superhero genre, one can only hope that this reinvigoration of the X-Men franchise will lead to other similarly excellent films down the line. Although there are a number of superhero films due to be released later this year, it’s going to take a lot to knock X-Men: First Class off the top spot.

Rating: * * * * (out of four stars)

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