When director Matthew Vaughn took on X-Men: First Class, he went where many men have unsuccessfully gone before. The blighted world of sequels – or prequels in this case – is slippery ground. And when you take on an already successful film franchise with characters based on a popular comic book series, the risk multiplies.
Yet Vaughn comes out trumps in this two-hour-plus action-filled superhero outing. Fresh off the enjoyable Kick-Ass (2010), he gives this franchise such a punch right from the start that you are left engrossed right till the last minute.
There are many characters here and many stories to tell. Yet Vaughn keeps a tight reign, letting the narrative flow like a well-oiled machine with just the right dramatic bumps to push it along.
X-Men: First Class is Vaughn’s imagination of how the mutant superheroes first came together. He opens the film in Poland in 1944 where a young Erik Lensherr first displays his magnetic power when his mother is killed in a concentration camp by the evil Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).
The movie then cuts to the sixties where Oxford academic Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who possesses telepathic abilities, is about to publish his thesis on mutation. He is tracked down by CIA agent Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne), who informs him that Shaw and his team of mutants were hatching a plan to take over the world.
Together with his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who has the power of shape shift, Charles joins hands with the CIA to track down and stop Shaw. En route they meet a grown Erik (Michael Fassbender) also hot on the heels to track down, and destroy, Shaw and the pair join hands to destroy him and stop the then USSR and the US from starting a World War III.
For this, they build their own army: Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Alex Summers (Lucas Till), Armando Munoz (Edi Gathegi), Sean Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones) and Angel Salvadore (played by Lenny Kravitz’s little girl Zoe).
Each of these characters’s superhero names and powers are eventually revealed as the movie progresses. All the while there’s an impending world war and the tension builds as Erik and Charles close in on Shaw and his team of mutants.
And this is where Vaughn’s genius lies. Right from the time the first gun is fired in the opening scenes to the one in the end when Fassbender as Magneto stops (and sends back) hundreds of nuclear missiles mid-air, he holds your attention. Despite the multiple stories and characters, he is coherent all through. There’s humour too, all tucked in at the right places, and is most funny when a certain well-loved X-Men character makes a cameo.
Fassbender, much touted as Hollywood’s next big thing, is one to watch as his character, constantly in disagreement with best friend Charles (Mc Avoy’s character) about the mutants’ purpose, evolves into the future (evil) Magneto. McAvoy, perfect as the future Professor X, lends that right dash of sophistication.
But underneath all the amazing special effects and well-cast, goodlooking characters, Vaughn manages to also reveal a very human side of these super humans. They struggle with their identities, some will go to any length to suppress it and some, like Hank, will unsuccessfully try to change it.
X-Men: First Class is well worth every dirham and Vaughn’s fresh take might have just given this tiresome franchise a new lease of life.