I saw X-Men: First Class on Saturday, and I know some other reviewers don’t agree, but I thought it was the best superhero movie I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve not seen any of director Matthew Vaughn’s other movies, but on the strength of this one, I think I’ll have to. It’s that good.
It was well-written too, which is a bit of a surprise since there are six credited writers, which is usually a very bad sign. Instead, the movie gives us a pretty good origin story for the X-Men as an organization.
Most superhero stories are escapist fun at a very basic level, and First Class delivers, but as with many of the best superhero comics, there’s a strong moral element. Some people complain that comic characters are too simple, but that misses the point. The characters in a story like this are simplified to make their moral choices clearer.
Charles Xavier is a mutant raised in a good home. He’s smart, wealthy, and in possession of a telepathic power with few downsides. He looks completely like a normal human and wants to get along with them.
Hank McCoy’s beastly mutation has its advantages, but he’s also noticeably deformed. He can hide it with the right clothes, but it makes him feel like an outcast. Charles’s adopted sister Raven, later to become Mystique, also feels like an outcast. Her power of disguise allows her to hide herself perfectly, but she resents the need to use it.
Then there’s Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto, who looks like a normal human. However, as a Jewish child in the heart of Nazi germany, he saw the cruelty that humans could inflict on those who were different. He hides now, but he thinks that a Nazi-like genocide of mutants is inevitable, unless the mutants destroy humanity first.
Please don’t let me give you the idea that First Class is yet another show about teen angst over “being different.” (I mean, Claire from Heroes was indestructible, and she whined about it. Sheesh.) There’s more to the story than just a morality play, including lots of fun with the various mutant powers. And the whole story eventually winds up at the Cuban missile crisis, which turns out to be instigated by a Bond-esque supervillain millionaire named Sebastian Shaw.
The film is visually impressive and at times beautiful. The special effects are impressive, yet they’re clear and clean, and about as realistic as you could expect from a superhero movie. They support the story rather than overwhelming our ability to understand it. In one of the key scenes that illustrates their relationship, Charles helps Erik learn to maximize his magnetic powers, which he tests by trying to move an enormous object in the distance. Rather than yet another special effects set piece, the distant motion is quiet and understated. It’s not what the scene is about.
All in all, X-Men: First Class is familiar fare, but it’s a decent story, well-told, filled with interesting characters and impressive sights.