It turns out that all of the good buzz I’d heard about “X-Men: First Class” before I saw it was entirely justified. The film did a fantastic job in telling its own story of Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr and the origins of the “X-Men” themselves. It didn’t stick very close to how these events have been presented in the comics over the years, but its streamlined approach to showing how the characters come to grips with their powers and roles was quite refreshing. If Marvel announced tomorrow that the events in the movie were now canon in the comics... that’d be a decision I could live with.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first: The action scenes were just “okay.” You’ve got several sprinkled throughout the movie and a final showdown that’s appropriately action-packed. Still, there wasn’t really a sequence that struck me as being really cool. In fact, during most of them I wished that we’d go back to the characters because I wanted to know more about them and what they were doing. This leads in to my second issue, and it’s in the size of the cast. While the principles -- Charles, Erik, Sebastian Shaw, Mystique, Hank McCoy, Moira McTaggart -- all get substantial screen time and are fleshed out reasonably well, the rest of the cast doesn’t get the same treatment. The X-Men recruits that are scouted throughout the movie were nice enough, but we don’t get nearly enough time with them. Shaw’s henchmen (and woman) essentially remain ciphers throughout the movie.
However, it’s hard to complain too loudly about which characters served as the story’s focus. They may not be household names, but the cast are clearly all talented actors. James McAvoy gives us a Charles who, for all his nobility and good intentions, has very human desires when it comes to women and fitting in. Michael Fassbender’s Erik is very much the opposite, but the two work well together and you can see how they became friends even though their differences proved irreconcilable. I also liked the relationship between Mystique and Hank as it came off as pretty believable and cringe-free, as were their viewpoints on hiding/curing their mutations versus learning to live with and accept them. Villany also suits Kevin Bacon well, as you can see that he was clearly enjoying himself in the role of Shaw. The way the film shows him to be the mastermind behind the Cuban Missile Crisis was also appropriately comic-booky without being silly -- Stan Lee is probably kicking himself for not thinking of this first.
Though the film may have had a difficult birth, director Matthew Vaughn and all of the writers involved ultimately delivered a film that’s a worthy successor to “X2.” Vaughn has already talked about his plans for a sequel (Magneto was behind the magic bullet that killed JFK -- how’s that for an opening!), and I certainly hope that he and the rest of the crew get to come back and tell that story.