By Sandra Kraisirideja
“X-Men: First Class” aims to reboot the movie franchise by going back to the group’s beginning, but in the process some of the emotional depth and grit of the characters is lost.
There are decades of source material that could have been used for the storyline but the writers limited themselves to history that would be most familiar to fans of the other X-Men movies.
In “X-Men: First Class” we learn how many of the core characters—Charles Xavier, Raven and Erik Lehnsherr—meet and the backstory to their complicated relationships. We learn how they developed their code names and the reason why the X-Men was established in the first place.
The movie is strongest when it focuses on the friendship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, who later become Professor X and Magneto and go on to represent the good and evil mutants respectively. It’s also interesting to learn more about Raven’s history and how she became one of Magneto’s most powerful ally.
These may be facts that fans of the comic book history know all too well, but if your only exposure to X-Men has been through the movies then “X-Men: First Class” provides a deeper understanding of the main characters and their motivations.
“X-Men: First Class” was directed by Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Jane Goldman. Vaughn gets terrific performances out of all the cast although I was the least impressed with January Jones, who plays Emma Frost.
Her performance felt superficial and flat, especially when compared with Kevin Bacon, with who she shares most of her scenes. He was fun to watch as super villain Sebastian Shaw and he seemed to understand just the right level of insanity that was needed to play the role. Part of what makes a successful comic-book movie is a talented actor playing the villain and Bacon is a perfect fit.
Where the movie falls short is when it ventures into teen-action-adventure territory. There is a juvenile aspect to this version that the earlier X-Men movies avoided because of the presence of Wolverine, who has one of the darker back stories of the X-Men characters, besides Magneto.
If anything, “X-Men: First Class” does more to make Magneto the more sympathetic character. He’s got flaws but we understand the pain that causes his behavior and it makes him more human. Meanwhile, the young Charles Xavier comes across as a bit pompous and a little too perfect. James McAvoy does a fine job portraying the young telepath, but the character is not very interesting.
Overall “X-Men: First Class” is an uneven comic book adaptation that has some great performances but not enough depth to make it a real standout.