X: Men First Class (2011) Directed by Matthew Vaughn. With James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Nicholas Hoult, January Jones and Rose Byrne.
What better way to follow up on your lovingly anarchic stab at superhero films, than to go and make one of your own? That’s exactly what Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn did when he signed on to direct this surprisingly refreshing X-Men prequel. As with Kick-Ass, the script is co-written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, with the additional help of Thor writers, Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz.
With so many pens at work, you might imagine things to be a bit messy, but in truth, the previous few entries into the X-Men canon haven’t been a feast of originality, or for that matter, fun. What Vaughn and his team bring, is a renewed sense of freshness. Often prequels can be join-the-dots exercises in endurance, but with a sexy cast of familiar faces and up-and-comers, X-Men:First Class has to go down as a near-perfect refit.
Taking to the story back to the early 1960’s, at a time when Professor X and Magneto first meet, affords Vaughn and his art designers to create a look that echoes the feel of an opulent, early James Bond adventure. In fact, tonally, the film is much closer to that of a 007 experience than even perhaps any of the existing X-Men films. So much so, that early on, James McAvoy treads dangerously into Austin Powers territory with two uses of the word ‘groovy’ while chatting up girls in a London bar. Furthermore, every time Magneto (Michael Fassbender) appears to do something either cool or dastardly, twangy guitars play him a ominous theme tune accompaniment. Thankfully, the side effects of these blatant, but mischievous nods, only serve to add to the overall sense of vitality that permeates through the piece.
Aside from being a colourful tale of goodies vs baddies, ‘First Class‘ cleverly weaves itself into real world history by using the Cuban missile crisis as a through-line for the plot, adding ‘political thriller’ to its many subtexts.
While the goodies are a whole bunch of fun, the baddies, dare I say, are even more so. A multilingual Kevin Bacon fills the shoes of the big bad, channelling his self-satisfied Orange ad alter ego to maximum draw. As his right hand woman, January Jones plays a joyfully over the top line of dangerously cool blonde in white leather, adding sex appeal to a film that’s already turned up to number eleven in those stakes.
In all honestly, I can’t think of a prequel that manages to be as much fun as this one. Vaughn has proved himself to be a bold director, willing to stick his neck on the block. Somehow, he’s mixed in many ingredients to to produce a confident film that revitalises a franchise in the most entertaining way possible. 4/5