X-Men: First Class review

CAST a glance back to the 1960s (if you can).

The US is on the brink of a nuclear war with Russia off the coast of Cuba.

Battleship formations have been drawn up. Weapons are aimed. Add into that mix some mutants with other-worldy powers and you pretty much have the setting for a return to form for a franchise not only on its knees, but lying face down in the mud.

X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine had abruptly taken a promising superhero series of films from a major high to a depressing low.

So when Matthew Vaughn, the man behind the big-screen adaptation of Kick-Ass, revealed he’d be helming a new era of X-Men mutants it was met with some scepticism and apathy.

Could Vaughn re-energise the story after Gavin Hood’s effort left it on a life-support machine?

Well, in short, yes. He took things right back to the beginning, when Charles Xavier and Magneto aka Erik Lehnsherr were kids.

Little Erik is left traumatised whilst being led into a concentration camp during World War II. When his powers reveal themselves, he becomes a thing of interest to Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).

Elsewhere, Charles lives in a sprawling mansion, but is aware of his abilities – he can read minds (for those of you who have lived in a cave all your life).

He comes across a girl in his kitchen, she reveals her own ability to change her appearance – it’s Mystique.

Fast-forward to the early 60s and Xavier (James McAvoy) is graduating from University as a professor – with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) still at his side.

Meanwhile, a grown-up Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is trekking the globe in search of Shaw, to avenge the murder of his mother.

While all this is happening, Shaw has his own plans. With the help of Riptide, Azazel and Emma Frost (January Jones), he wants the US to go to war with Russia.

The CIA are aware of his plans and send in Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne).

When she witnesses the mutants at work with Shaw, she convinces the CIA to use good mutants to help fight back.

At this point Xavier is brought on board to help catch Sebastian, but his efforts fail.

However, he comes face to face with Magneto during a particularly impressive effects show which results in an anchor ripping a yacht in half.

With Magneto part of the good side (for now), the duo search for other mutants who can help. Welcome into the fold Angel (Zoe Kravitz), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Banshee and Darwin.

After learning how to hone their powers, it all culminates in a massive oceanic, aerial and land-based battle before a line is literally drawn in the sand, setting things up nicely for any sequels.

One of the major strong points for X-Men: First Class is McAvoy and Fassbender bringing a new look to Xavier and Magneto.

McAvoy’s subtlety never mimics Patrick Stewart at all (apart from his accent) while Fassbender is suitably brilliant as a man hell-bent on revenge.

Forget the fact his accent wobbles on a few occasions. This is Fassbender’s film. He is without doubt the star of the show. Although, no-one really allows proceedings to dip below entertaining.

Bacon, as the man who wants mutants to rule the world, is impressive too while the always delectable January Jones doesn’t have much to say but does what is asked of her well.

Seeing the backstory behind two of Marvel’s best characters helps deliver an understanding to why they end up enemies.

There’s also another story running parallel to Xavier and Magneto. Mystique is struggling to deal with her ability – annoyed, almost frustrated, that she has to hide it.

Struggling with being accepted by humans in her ‘mutant’ form, she develops a bond with Beast – or Hank McCoy, to be exact.

Any quibbles about issues with continuity can be disgarded as Vaughn begins a whole new X-Men story and executes it tremendously.

First Class is a top-drawer comic-to-big screen adaptation that is sure to entertain and help erase the bad taste of the previous two outings.

PS Look out for two cameos – one laugh-out-loud funny (in a fantastic way) while the other is subtle.

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