The X-Men comics were always far too... well, 40 years worth of being too big and sprawling for me to ever really start reading. I know bits and pieces of the X-Men’s history. I know the cliff-notes of the Phoenix Saga and the Extinction story arc, and I’m aware of who most of the main X-Men are. Like a good Joss Whedon fanboy I’ve read his short run on Astonishing X-Men. (Although, I got thoroughly confused as to what was going on when they got to Breakworld, but then that’s another thing entirely.)
I’ve seen all the X-Men movies a couple of times each, and I even watched Wolverine when it was in cinemas, despite it being a dull and pointless waste of two hours of my life. And so I can say this with some conviction – First Class is the best X-Men movie yet.
The story is fairly simple, and right there in the title. This movie takes place in the 1960s, when the two old guys from the previous movies were young. Before they were Professor X and Magneto, they were just Charles and Erik. Two people who happened to have superpowers, which they use to help the CIA track down an ex-Nazi trying to destroy the world. And the movie takes itself just as seriously as it should with a plot synopsis as bonkers as that.
This isn’t Batman, where a serious director is trying to fit the Dark Knight into a gritty and realistic setting to deal with dark themes. This isn’t Spiderman, where we see how an ordinary guy deals with the pressures and dangers of his responsibility. It’s a fun crazy blockbuster that moves quickly, with lots of characters with superpowers that they like to show off.
The real strength of this film is the cast. All of the main X-Men are great to watch, they have an amazing screen presence, and they all have their own story arcs, which we see in this first movie instead of being teased that it might come in sequels. They aren’t making progress for progress sake, they all have reasons for being who they are, and most important of all, for becoming who they become.
It’s a shame the villains are never that menacing, and that they don’t have much to do. Their ‘plan’ is under-explained at best, and a huge plot hole if you ever think about it, and so they don’t actually do much. Kevin Bacon is the only one who actually speaks, and all January Jones does is give people cold looks.
There are some very cool action scenes, and the finale (with the submarine) is the coolest scene I’ve seen at the cinema this year. It’s not a flawless movie, it doesn’t break new ground, and it isn’t a must see. But as a summer blockbuster, it is good fun, and I don’t ask more than that.