X-Men: First Class

This origin tale is big on breathtaking spectacle but short on coherence

X-Men: First Class

X-Men Character Likenesses TM & (C) 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved. TM and (C) 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon
Time Out rating:

How to shoehorn gravitas into your superhero blockbuster? Plonk it at a critical juncture of twentieth-century political diplomacy by giving us a Red Dawn-style generic rendering of the Cuban Missile Crisis, before suggesting that our boys, the X-Men, were decisive in defusing this showdown? It's a neat trick, already attempted and bungled by Zack Snyder in Watchmen. But while the context of Matthew Vaughn's slick X-Men origin story feels like it's been filched from the notepad of a GCSE History student, there's no shortage of breathtaking spectacle elsewhere.

Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender), is out for the blood of Kevin Bacon's pantomime scoundrel Sebastian Shaw, the energy-sapping mutant Nazi who executed Erik's mother. Meanwhile, in the cosy real-ale pubs of Oxford, fledgling genetics professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has been roped-in by the CIA to use his telepathic powers to locate Shaw. What follows is a jolly collection of snappy montages, FX setpieces, a killer fanboy cameo and a torrent of disposable wisecracks that, while functioning perfectly as stand-alone episodes, fail to cohere.

McAvoy plays Xavier as a raffish boffin and his charming performance is one of the film's high points. Fassbender, too, is on teeth-clenching powerhouse mode, until his accent dies a death on the home stretch. Jennifer Lawrence is less convincing as shapely shape-shifter Mystique, the torch-bearer for the film's obligatory investigation into issues of identity and who dubiously adapts the black power slogan into 'I'm a mutant and proud'. As with the previous X-Men films, the many mutants look like they serve no purpose other than to be pretty punching bags for the film's climactic scuffle. You wish as much time was spent on drawing together the disperate elements and devising a ripping yarn than was spent concocting the shiver-inducing final death scene, which – props to Vaughn – really is one for the ages.

X-Men: First Class is out now

By David Jenkins
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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