Hold on to your adamantium claws – unbelievably, this past summer marked the 18th anniversary of the first X-Men hitting the big screen. That shows remarkable longevity for any film series outside of James Bond, Star Trek and Star Wars. X-Men has almost a full decade on the MCU, too, although that franchise will eventually exceed X-Men’s performance, given Disney’s procurement of Fox’s live-action production arm. Inevitably, there’s been a fair share of misses as well as hits (Logan) along the way. With Dark Phoenix due to hit cinemas in June, we felt it was time to re-visit 2011’s X-Men: First Class – the prequel to the original trilogy – a film which managed to not only reboot the series, but create a fun Swinging Sixties-style espionage romp in the process.
The screenwriting duo of Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn brought that era’s civil unrest and cold world paranoia successfully into a comic book milieu, weaving together big action thrills with an emphasis on character. While very much an ensemble piece, the two actors at the heart of it – James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender – still manage to infuse their characters with that same yin and yang Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen achieved in the earlier films, but here there’s something much more tangible about their friendship. While Fassbender’s Magneto is all coiled-up rage and anger, McAvoy’s Professor Xavier does his best to act as a calming influence. Their comradely friendship never once feels contrived or rushed, but that inevitable conflict feels all the more painful when witnessing Xavier’s unwavering capacity in helping and encouraging his fellow mutant to see beyond the alienation they’ve become accustomed to.
Fassbinder’s initial trajectory in the film follows his globe-trotting escapades on a quest to find his Nazi captor. It has an almost a rogue Bondian quality – Goldman and Vaughn having since scratched that spy itch even further with their two Kingsman films – and Magneto certainly isn’t averse to violently eliminating any other war criminals that cross his path, either. Bryan Singer crafted an altogether darker and more dystopian X-Men film upon his return to the franchise with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. He even went one step further in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse by introducing a devastating genocidal angle. Yet he still failed to really tap into what made Goldman and Vaughn’s film a standout. Outside of the spectacle – and First Class doesn’t skimp on the awe-inspiring set pieces – substance is required. That complicated and contrasting ideology between the two principal characters is what has always given the best X-Men films their heart, and First Class not only recognised this, but put it to the forefront of the struggle.
Watch X-Men: First Class on CHILI