Review: ‘X-Men: First Class’

Just realised I hadn’t posted a movie review in a while. And this was a good one! As always, originally posted on iafrica.com.

Finally! A shining beacon of light in a movie season of bad sequels and pointless remakes!

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War – and eventually the Cuban Missile Crisis – X-Men: First Class looks back at the early days of the mutant storyline. We’re first introduced to telepath Charles Xavier and Polish Jew Erik Lehnsherr, who can manipulate magnetic fields, as boys in the later days of World War II.

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class

Charles grows up in a rich home, convinced that he’s a freak of nature and the only one of his kind. He meets shape-shifter Raven (who later becomes Mystique) and the two forge a close foster-sibling relationship. Meanwhile, Erik suffers at the hands of the Nazis as they try to rein in his unique ability.

Flash forward twenty years to the early 1960s. The CIA are hot on the heels of Communist sympathiser Sebastian Shaw – but when it transpires that he and his accomplices have unique abilities, the CIA drafts in the leading expert in human mutation – Charles Xavier. Charles and Erik share a common enemy in Shaw, and together they team up to draft a small army of mutants to fight Shaw and his companions.

A human story

First Class is a wonderful blockbuster film, effortlessly blending massive special effects and thumping action sequences with a distinctly human element that makes it all the more engaging. It’s an extremely moving film – although it does hover on the edge of being overly sentimental at times – and is driven by a smart, witty script laced with clever and cheeky references (“You didn’t ask, I didn’t tell” provoked a great chuckle from the audience).

But it’s the performances that make this film so successful. Yes, First Class is a thumping action film – but at its heart it’s a human story, driven by its characters and their need for acceptance. Central to the film is the fascinating relationship between Charles and Erik – and these two leads provide sterling performances.

James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) brings the quiet nobility and inner strength expected of Charles Xavier. But this is a younger Charles, one who tries to pick up girls using a pre-prepared chat-up speech and celebrates his graduation by downing a yard of ale at a pub. Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre) simmers with rage and a chilling sense of pragmatism as Erik. It’s remarkable how these two channel the older selves portrayed by Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and Ian McKellen (Magneto) – their transformation into these giants is easily believable. Continue reading

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