X-Men: First Class absorbs the heroic energy of its predecessors and outputs much needed youthful power. The Cuban Missile Crisis. A sociopolitical confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union having uncovered the latter’s strategic tactic to deploy ballistic missiles in Cuba. What was supposedly an act of war between the biggest power nations on the globe, had in fact been initiated by genetically mutated individuals. Specifically Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club, possessing the ability to absorb energy and transform its kinetic flow into raw strength. Humanity fear the mutants for their range of inexplicable abilities, outcasted by society. And thus, decimating the already existing stage of evolution through potential World War III will soon make room for a superior race of mutants and propel Shaw’s exclusivist perspective.
A decade had swiftly passed since the initial release of X-Men, its fanbase and quality diminishing upon the release of latter sequels and spin-offs (poor Deadpool...). Franchise producer Kinberg suggested a loose adaptation of X-Men: First Class, and so Vaughn was employed to resurrect a rapidly declining series. How? By starting afresh. A prequel to the X-Men film universe. Establishing the discovery of mutants, the origins of both Professor X and Magneto, the conception of cringeworthy team names and, most importantly, how the X-Men themselves formed. From its promisingly dramatic introduction of Erik, as he becomes embroiled in grief and rage in the confinement of a Nazi concentration camp, to the altruistic intervention of the October Crisis of ‘62. Vaughn, alongside three other screenplay writers, managed to balance the general entertainment of superhero shenanigans with personable origins stories that held narrative gravitas, not seen since the exquisite sequel ‘X2’.
The sole reason why First Class works as a prequel, is due to its foreshadowed acknowledgement of future relationships within the mutant community. Commencing the feature with Charles and Raven suddenly befriending each other, although unexplained, serves as lucid breadcrumbs for their eventual disintegration, as shown in prior entries, allowing viewers to become invested in each origin tale. Same with Erik’s tantalising partnership with Charles. Everyone and their dog knows of their morally differing rivalry, however divulging into the events that initiated that contention allows audiences to experience complete different characters and how they developed over time. Charles in particular, a polite yet ego-fuelled telepathic, soon adopts the patriarchal figure for all things mutant that fans have known since the first film release. And that’s exactly why First Class works. It’s not just the extravagance of young mutants learning to harness their powers, from Havok’s energy blasts to Banshee’s ultrasonic screams. It’s the tantalising origins of Magneto and Professor X. They singlehandedly give this prequel life, whilst never losing vision of the multilayered story that is to follow. Every notion, motive and emotional complexity interlock with each other to create a precious seed that has the opportunity to grow with its characters. McAvoy and Fassbender, undoubtedly, slaughter the entire competition. Their dynamic chemistry, ambitious acting abilities and sensational emotional connection truly rejuvenated the franchise. Bacon a close third, portraying a suave morally righteous antagonist with ornate bravura.
Unfortunately the female characters were somewhat lacking in intensity, turning First Class into a masculine showdown. Byrne’s MacTaggart emphasising that notion by portraying the “woman in a man’s world” archetype. Her, much like Mystique, Frost and Angel, seemed to have utilised their sex appeal far too often in the attire and abilities they reside in. Mystique especially, whom is a complex character, underplayed by Lawrence who was swallowed up by her male counterparts. A shame really. Various mutants, and there are plenty, were presented as tools instead of legitimate characters. Banshee, Riptide and Azazel in particular. A chance to showcase the visual effects that had been succinctly integrated. Darwin was adapted incorrectly, considering his theoretical invulnerability in “adapting to survive”, and regrettably a wasted mutant within the film franchise.
Still, accompanied by Jackman’s charged score and instantly epic theme tune, Vaughn’s First Class manages to resurrect the X-Men that had since been buried on more than one occasion. Its broad scope and blockbusting visuals, condensed into an origin tale of two opposing ideologies that would exquisitely mould the themes of mutant supremacy and equality for future instalments. Despite the occasional clumsy plotting, it manages to be both entertaining and narratively complex, which is substantial enough to reinvigorate everyone’s thirst for mutant heroics once more.