X-Men: First Class

Being a teenager is probably the most difficult period of anyone’s life. The pressure of behaving like a grown up & fitting in with the world around you is instantly at odds with the desire to be recognised as an individual & act independently. Responsibility is thrust upon you as you study for exams & try to deal with the fact that more often than not those girls which in years gone past had been smelly & weird suddenly make you feel weird  & cause you to suddenly start wearing massive amounts of Lynx Africa in an attempt to not be smelly. Maybe I’m just projecting my own life experience onto everyone else here, but being a teenager was not the best part of my life so far. It was crazy chaotic & confusing. While parts of it were a lot of fun it was also a bloody contradictory in places & annoyed the hell out of me. Which, funnily enough, is an almost perfect description of my feelings towards X-Men First Class.

The X-Men movie franchise has always been a bit of a mixed bag. Despite  a strong start & an even stronger follow up during the Bryan Singer era the franchise hit a stumbling block when Singer jumped ship to make Superman Returns. X-Men 3: I’m the Juggernaut Bitch The Last Stand was an overly busy stew of ideas with so many flavours thrown into it that the end product was overcooked turkey that didn’t taste of anything & well the less said about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better. However after hints that there would be a Magneto prequel & the head honcho’s at 20th Century Fox deciding that what the world really needed was another X-Men film to Xorcise the bad memories of the last one (see what I did there, that’s my mutant power – crap puns!), Bryan Singer stepped back into the frame as producer & decided to take us back to the early days of the X universe in First Class.

Behind the camera this time we have Matthew Vaughn, who along with his writing partner (the ever lovely Jane Goldman) set the comic book movie world on fire this time last year with Kick Ass. However where Kick Ass was an R rated movie about one teenage hero wannabee with no powers based on a comic that had only had 12 issues, First Class is a PG13 about a whole bunch of teenagers with powers based on a comic that’s been running since the 1960’s.  Yes it means that there’s a much bigger pot to throw things in, but that also means that there’s more to go wrong & as a result First Class ends up feeling like the stroppy teenager of the X franchise when it could have been its second coming.  Setting itself firmly in the early 40’s & then the early 60’s the movie starts at a breakneck momentum barely stopping to pause for breath until a good 45 minutes have passed. We see both Charles Xavier & Erik Lenssher AKA Magneto start out as friends who both see the way the world is moving, aware that their genetic mutations put them at odds with everyone else, whilst their opinions put them at odds with each other. Over the course of the movie Xavier & Lenssher spend their time tracking down young mutants for the CIA in an effort to train them to fight The Hellfire Club, a group of baddie mutants who have devised a nefarious plan to make Cuba glow in the dark.

Now, comic book movies & their success are often measured by how much lip service they pay to the established fans & how well they come across to the newcomers in the audience. This is a difficult act that requires some incredibly clever writing to pull off & it is unfortunately in the writing that most of First Class’s flaws are evident. It’s hard to know where First Class fits in first & foremost. It clearly wants to be respectful to the comics & movies that have spawned it & references them on numerous occasions, yet at the same time it is desperate to be recognised as an individual & tries to forge its own path. First Class tries so hard to be taken seriously that it flings ideas at you with ridiculous speed & challenges you to keep up. While the movie is never actually hard to follow it sometimes feels like there are so many things going on at once that the film seems like it’s starting on new ideas before its had a chance to properly resolve the other ones. As a result a lot of First Class tends to feels like it hasn’t been fully developed & the consequence of this is that there are some pretty noticeable plot holes. While Vaughn & Goldman have clearly tried to put in as many characters as possible in an effort to keep the established fans happy the sheer volume not only threatens to alienate newcomers to the story but also results in the characters feeling so woefully under-written that you start to feel as if you’ve missed something in between scenes.  When one significant character dies in particular the movie makes their death out to be a huge moment that as a viewer you should really care about. The only problem is that prior to their death said character has been on screen for roughly the same amount of time it takes to make a sandwich, so when  they do pop their clogs (in a method that seems to utterly contradict their mutant ability) you just don’t have it in you to care that much.

First Class isn’t an entirely bad movie at the end of the day however. Its action scenes for the most part are entertaining enough & provide the spectacle requisite of a big summer movie. Also on the rare occasions where an idea does become fully formed the movie does it well, it’s just a shame that it doesn’t do it enough. There are also the requisite comic book movie cameo’s to spot (one of which is the films outright best moment & caused an entire auditorium to spontaneously applaud). In amongst the maelstrom of confusion & ideas there are moments that make you hope that, should this movie become a franchise in its own right, there is still some potential there if only it could apply itself more.