Tuesday, 27 May 2014

X-Men: First Class – The Mutants Just Got Their Mojo Back

The X-Men franchise has had its share of ups and downs. The Bryan Singer-helmed original was one of the early bastions of the new wave of superhero movies at the turn of the century, and it still stands up to this day (it’s sequel, ‘X2’, even more so). Then Singer jumped ship with the disappointingly dull ‘Superman Returns’ and left the X-Men franchise to crash and burn with the widely ridiculed ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ and, later, ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’.

So who better to bring in than Matthew Vaughn (director) and Jane Goldman (writer), the creative dream-team behind the excellent ‘Kick-Ass’. And they do a decent job of getting the whole mess back on track . . . at least enough to merit last year’s cartoony, but enjoyable, ‘The Wolverine’ and the newly released ‘Days of Future Past.’


Their most noticeable contribution is to warp the franchises timeline beyond any logical explanation. But playing fast-and-loose with the timeframe does provide a much-needed fresh slate. The action’s shifted to the swinging 60s and it turns out that it was a bunch of mutants who avoided starting World War 3 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s suitably bonkers, but never feels particularly well-integrated.

Individual elements are very effective, however, with Michael Fassbender’s Nazi-hunter a stand-out. His early scenes are brilliantly handled and truly terrifying (keep an eye out for some chilling, but exquisite, foreshadowing for the fate of one of the lead characters). In fact, Vaughn has a tendency to really ratchet up the violence. Alongside Goldman, he draws every last drop out of the darkest depths of some of these mutants’ powers. And, while it's mesmerising seeing Azazel tearing through ranks of soldiers in a way only he can, it’s really rather grim.

Fortunately, that’s more than made up for by the excellent ensemble cast, who look even more impressive three-years down the line. Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Nicholas Hoult . . . the list goes on. They elevate what is an otherwise uninspiring X-Men story, and add a touch of class to the proceedings. Like ‘Star Trek’ back in 2009, the cast, if nothing else, are a brilliant set-up for an ongoing franchise.

★★★★


P.s. And thumbs up to the creative team for pulling off the classic yellow and black outfits.