Top 10 films of 2011: X-Men: First Class
We arrive at entry number four in our finest films of 2011 list, so here’s Mark to explain why X-Men: First Class deserves so much attention…
Over the past few weeks, Den Of Geek writers have been voting for the films of the year. It's a democratic vote, which inevitably means that things end up in a slightly funny order that not one individual writer is likely to fully agree with. But it's still a fine list. Here's entry number four…
X-Men: First Class
Comic book movies live or die on the amount of emotional investment their characters can generate. X-Men: First Class was built entirely with that foundation, because if we don't want Charles and Erik to succeed, then the whole basis for the story and the franchise falls flat from the outset.
In this respect, the casting of these two parts was critical, and the choices of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were truly inspired. The story is exclusively theirs, and almost everyone else they interact with is superfluous to their friendship and ultimate divisions.
Many people have written about how, in the original Star Trek series, the personalities of Kirk, Spock and Bones are facets of a single identity, and in First Class, much the same idea is played out, where Charles and Erik are the flipside of the same mutant coin.
It's also been commented that there's a love story here, which is true to a degree, although this film represents only a small portion of its course. If you’re versed in X-Men lore, you’ll know it eventually brings Professor X and Magneto back together, but that's way down the line, and possibly not a subject for many films to come yet.
While I've played down the supporting cast's importance, they do fill the spaces between the meat in this sandwich very effectively, especially Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy, aka the Beast, and Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique.
What really makes this movie work for me is its historical context. The last of the original trilogy didn't appear to be set at any point in time, as it contained virtually no hooks to real events or people. First Class, however, is firmly grounded by its connection to the Cuban Missile crisis, the early 60s and the distinctive style that marked out the era.
From Erik’s tailored suits to Emma Frost’s revealing outfits, it all shouts 60s, but not in the camp manner of Austin Powers. The film’s makers then laid in the Kennedy TV broadcasts, and the movie has a world within which it can work without having to explain itself in any great detail.
What the running time is invested well in is the notion that the X-Men are starting from scratch, since it’s devoid of many of the more recognisable characters from the first three movies – though Wolverine does get a perfectly pitched cameo. this allows the script to introduce some less well-known X-Men, which was always going to be more interesting that rehashing the same personas and powers. Along with the new intake, we have some proto versions of more familiar mutants, like Mystique, filling their characters with an origin and agenda.
The point here is that people come to see these movies to experience something new, yet they also want familiar concepts and icons. The trick that First Class pulls off well is the mix of the new and the recognisable, a fine balance that director Matthew Vaughn conducts with finesse. But the guiding hand of the first two X-Men movies, director Bryan Singer, who served as producer on First Class, is also in evidence, because almost nothing in this origin story is at odds with his movies – and in general, the series dovetails rather elegantly for those geeks who appreciate continuity.
This might become more challenging in any sequels, as the makers attempt to insert more narrative between First Class and the original X-Men, but with such talented people as Jane Goldman, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Mathew Vaughn all contributing on the screenplay (although to what degree was up to debate), I expected no less.
What First Class also does is prepare the audience for another slice of mutant mayhem without making the set-up seem perfunctory or forced. There are still many X-Men adventures to tell, and if half of them are as well told as this one, then we'll be in for plenty more superb movies.