Inserting itself into the Cuban Missile Crisis with a vast CGI extravaganza, light-weight superheroes and paper-thin villains First Class has nothing new to add to the back-story.
While the new intake of teen mutants make no difference at all, and James McAvoy is an unconvincing Patrick Stewart impersonator, the saving grace is Fassbender, as ever, in a class of his own.
After the critical drubbing suffered by Brett Ratner’s X-Men: the Last Stand (Shakespeare next to this), the inevitable continuation of the franchise relies on younger replacements for Professor X and Magneto.
Attacking the 60’s period detail with gusto, First Class, does however feel like an extension of Austin Powers; bright, sparkly, colourful, with a rather creepy turn by cell-phone salesman Kevin Bacon as Dr. Evil stand-in, Sebastian Shaw: energy-absorbing super-mutant.
Somehow the Shaw character devolves from the sinister Nazi concentration camp surgeon Dr Schmidt into a wise-cracking, camp Bond villain. Skipping on to his 60’s Casino Royale gentlemen’s club, then his absurd Dr Evil nuclear submarine, Bacon spouts worse nonsense than everyone else put together, whilst plotting World War III.
Shaw also has a poor choice of henchmen, weather-freak Riptide, teleporting demon Azazael (Jason Flemyng) and double-super-powered, diamond-skinned telepath, Emma Frost (January Jones – Mad Men). Jones gets little to do but flash cleavage, mini-skirts and lingerie, achieving little and proving herself unable to evade capture or make her escape, effectively written out of a plot in which we thought she was indispensable.
Similarly Jennifer Lawrence’s (Hunger Games) Mystique does little but pout and complain with an angsty teenage whine. Zoe Kravitz’ Angel is rude and cross, probably because she was promised a better part than prancing about as a flying stripper.
Rose Byrne (Troy) recruits the X-Men for the CIA, only after attending the casino in her underwear. Even allowing for 60’s misogyny, nobody comments on it – which is fine for us social historians who understand it, but not for the legion of pubescent teenage boys who will watch this.
Of course, director Matthew Vaughan and writer Jane Goldman (both of Kickass) have form for making salacious and slightly unsavoury superhero movies and even tainted the otherwise entertaining Stardust. Vaughan, Goldman and their co-writers prove none of them can write a decent female role. But who cares? Just look at the cleavage on that…
Here, given the resources to do pretty much anything they want, they blow it all on the CGI’d alternate history of the Cold War through the prism of Dr Strangelove and The Man From UNCLE. At least the X-Men-proper knew how to develop rounded characters.
Only Fassbender has any real bite, his angry Holocaust survivor on a one-man mission of revenge, unable to overcome his prejudice against homo sapiens. It’s not easy being a mutant and Jewish.
Which makes the script sound trite. Which it is. Fassbender rejects humanity, McAvoy embraces it, Lawrence is indecisive about being normal or different, whilst Nicholas Hault (Jack the Giant Slayer) as Hank McCoy/Beast, craves normality but tragically turns himself into a blue furry live-action Sully toy. So much for being the creative genius of the band.
Even Fassbender gets short changed; his violent Nazi-hunt gets watered down at Charles Xaviers’ Mutant School (a daft, rushed comic montage), where even Magneto suffers a pained expression of constipation. That’s what extreeeme telekinesing(?) of giant satellite dishes will to do you.
It’s almost as bad as pointing at your head every time you want to do some telepathing (McAvoy). In fact, there are so many unintentional moments of cringe, it would be hysterically funny if it wasn’t so criminally disappointing. This is undoubtedly the Batman and Robin instalment of the franchise.
No question Fassbender and McAvoy should be the beating heart of the movie; unlikely allies turned unlikely friends and, as we already know (there’s the problem) certain enemies. McAvoy recites his lines like a man waiting for the pay check, and while Fassbender can act the telephone directory, even he can’t turn this curdled yoghurt of a script back into the multi-layered desert of earlier episodes.
This X-Men is ruined by a bunch of bored mutant teenagers coining silly names for themselves, while a middle-aged production team try to guess what real-world bored teenagers are likely to find ‘groovy.’ Well it ain’t the 60’s X-Men merely waiting for a better, more charismatic bunch of X-Men to turn up in the 00’s. RC
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner
Running time: 2 hr. 12 min.
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Jason Flemyng, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne
Related: Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)