Trailer screen grabs – click images for bigger view
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (CINEMA)
Release date: June 1st, mind 2011
Certificate: 12A (UK)
Running time: 132 minutes approx
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: James McAvoy, help Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon
Sometimes the past is at its best when we don’t see it happen, especially in the movies. There are prequels that are better not watched or even made. Star Wars’ Phantom Menace (1999) is shelved down there by many, and personally I’m not a fan of how-it-all-began stories either but the fifth instalment of the X-Men saga is a bright beacon in an otherwise dull prequelscape.
Depending on your likings, First Class might be even more about the superheroes’ origins than Wolverine (2009) was as it focuses on the two main characters of the franchise — Professor X and Magneto, and if I was to favourite among the five films, this one would safely come in second, right after X-Men 2 (2003). Possibly none of the other films placed the story in a more uncoerced setting — it has a retro feel to it that is neither pushy nor pretentious.
This may also be due to the historical scope of First Class, starting with a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and culminating in the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s. Those global events however, told here as a secret history of the Cold War, are rather the story’s backdrop and, quite literally, cannon fodder for a gripping finale.
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At its core, First Class tells the story of how the X-Men came to split up into their factions of heroes and villains. Many of the events and developments in the original X-Men trilogy receive a conclusive preface that doesn’t steal a bit from the convincing Marvel characters who are now even more figures I can connect with than before, and someone who’s never seen an X-Men movie still can go on watching the others — maybe enjoying an even deeper ride through the X-Men universe than we oldtimer fans could.
Charles Xavier alias Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr alias Magneto (Michael Fassbender) meet, become friends and ultimately arch enemies. Both discovered their superpowers at an innocent age but it’s Charles Xavier who takes it on to find and organise mutants and, in the end, teaches Erik how to control and harness his abilities.
Yet, their motivation couldn’t be more different. Predicting the fate of the mutants as a minority, the future Professor X is already a visionary with high ideals and goals, whereas the later Magneto is driven by the instincts of an avenger, seemingly unable to believe in the good of humans. Let alone that both McAvoy and Fassbender are extremely good at their character studies, the film doesn’t let up when it comes to focusing on a friendship that in the end can’t reconcile the opposing world views and motifs of the friends, and thereby setting the stage for the dawning conflicts between humans and mutants, and between mutants and mutants.
First Class is far from overdrawing its top protagonists though. There are the other mutants, the old ones as well as new faces, and obviously humans who are not just yet the semi-pathetic anti-mutants we meet later in the X-Men series. This rich mix of characters though might at the same time be the reason why the story felt a little drawn-out in some moments, in particular when the newbie mutants don’t quite act like they had formidable superpowers but rather like perplexed bystanders.
The film, however, has a few laughs and surprises that well make up for its slower stretches — and an infamous mutant who delivers the probably strongest one-liner in the known X-Men history. Despite its ambitious themes and issues and at times grand antagonisms, First Class doesn’t take itself too seriously which, not least, could make it one of the best prequels ever.
One of the Editors in Chief and our webmaster, Jonahh is a photographer and journalist who has been working in the media industry for over 15 years, mainly in television, design and art. As a boy, he made his first short film with an 8mm camera and the help of his father. His obsession with (moving) images and stories hasn’t faded since.
His passion for intricate stories and the ‘seven basic plots’ (ask him!) often times makes his friends and family put him in the doghouse for "predicting" too many twists and endings.
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