If there was ever a reason to go to class in the summer time this is it. Though there is no actual school for gifted youngsters (or mutants for that matter) X-Men: First Class is well worth your attendance. Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn once again goes into his comic book stack and comes up with another solid flick.
X-Men: First Class acts as a prequel to the first two X-Men films by Bryan Singer, X-Men and X2: X-Men United. The story takes place in the early '60s with a young Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr before they are ever known as Professor X and Magneto. These two future adversaries form an unlikely friendship as they recruit and lead a team of young mutants to help prevent a nuclear war set in motion by a group of mutant supremacist known as the Hellfire Club. Complete with those classic dorky yellow and blue uniforms, the X-Men are born.
One thing is for certain: Matthew Vaughn can make some damn great comic book movies. Kick-Ass was definitely a comic book movie for the fans of the book, and was still able to branch out to a broader audience. X-Men: First Class falls into that same category. Vaughn's filmmaking shows tremendous range in First Class as the film deals with some serious subject matter, while still providing its fair share of action. Vaughn recognizes that even though comic book movies may be in their own film genre, the books themselves have different genres and he treats them as such. Watching First Class, you would never think this movie is from the same guy who brought a brutally-killing 11-year-old with the mouth of a sailor to the big screen for his last comic book flick. First Class may be nothing like Kick-Ass from a style standpoint, but Vaughn is able to adapt his style to fit one of Marvel's biggest franchises.
The main thing that may separate First Class from the other comic book movies over the years is that it is a movie for the comic book fans first and a movie for everyone else second. Very little time is spent on introducing certain key characters after they appear on screen for the first time; and for some they are never introduced. In making this film for the real comic book readers, Vaughn doesn't waste time giving minor -- or even major -- characters much or any backstory on the assumption his audience is already up to speed. Considering First Class is a prequel and that mutants don't quite have the same kind of origin story as other comic book characters, the film is able to get by without a whole lot of backstory or explanation. Although this movie is aimed at the hard-core fans, the average moviegoer can still ease into the story and enjoy.
Having Bryan Singer come on as a producer and co-story writer for First Class was a huge boost for the film, given he started this film franchise by directing the first two films. Singer's story helps take the franchise back to the relationship between Charles & Erik and their struggle to see each other's very different views on humanity. Singer not only contributes in the story department, as he also lends old footage from his original X-Men film from 2000. It wasn't a lot of previous footage, but I loved that it was used because it helped with the series' continuity. It also showed respect for the original having not erased or rebooted the franchise but just simply added a new chapter. Singer did this in Superman Returns and now Vaughn in First Class.
As far as cast goes, everybody is so properly suited for their roles it's uncanny (sorry I had to). Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw works great for the film's main villain and he really seemed to enjoy playing the bad guy. Each of the younger cast members are perfect for their roles, but it's Jennifer Lawrence who really stands out as a younger shape-shifting Mystique. But the main focus of the story isn't the young X-Men or their villains -- it's James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Charles & Erik who give the best performances. Neither actor tries to imitate Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen's previous performances and is able to make it seem like these are both brand new characters being introduced to the X-Men universe. Fassbender was probably my favourite because not only do we see a younger, more physical Magneto, but he makes the audience feel his pain, showing the reasons he becomes the villain he does. Also, be on the lookout for a few cameos I think most will enjoy.
Film adaptations of any medium can be a tricky thing to pull off. On one side, adapting a book to film is pretty straight forward, whereas at the other end of the spectrum, adapting something like a video game to film is damn near impossible. Just over ten years ago, comic book movies used to be in the same company as their video game cousins, but these days are somewhere in the middle and gaining... fast. First Class is better than most of the earlier X-Men films, but not Singer's original in my opinion. Vaughn replaces most of the subtext from the original with a grander scale and more characters, but for the most part the film's overall quality is still there. Superhero or comic book aren't just a fad anymore, they are here to stay.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.