I don’t know much about the Cuban missile crisis, and I certainly didn’t realise the extent of Kevin Bacon’s involvement. Obviously I knew he had something to do with it, but I had no idea he actually caused it – until X-Men: First Class came along.
After the Juggernaut-sized mess of X-Men: The Last Stand, things can only get better, to quote Professor X. Or was it Professor Cox? Either way, it’s not exactly a tough act to follow, and 2011’s prequel more than fulfils its brief. Set in 1962, this is Magneto and Xavier’s origins story, showing the establishment of the mutant school and their battle against Kevin Bacon’s Cuban missile crisis-causing Sebastian Shaw. As in, will you do these stupid EE adverts? Shaw.
The casting of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the young Xavier and Magneto respectively is inspired. They’re two of the finest actors of their generation, just as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are of theirs. They even look like their future selves. If you squint. Fassbender’s Irish-tinged Magneto received its fair share of criticism, but he’s actually just displaying commitment to the character’s wandering accent as performed by McKellen.
Kevin Bacon from off of those EE adverts is on top bad-guy form and Jennifer Lawrence steps in as Mystique for a deservedly beefed-up role, even if it mainly involves walking around naked and blue. Come to think of it, all the female characters wander around in their underwear – Emma Frost (January Jones, almost as evil as Betty Draper), Angel (Zoë Kravitz, daughter of Lenny) and even Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, no interesting additional information), despite the fact that she’s meant to be a CIA agent.
As ever, secondary mutants are underdeveloped – who the hell is Banshee? – and there are some seriously stupid lines, mostly from Emma Frost – “I wouldn’t call it a war, exactly. That suggests both sides stand an equal chance of winning.” And then there’s the cringey epilogue, which undoes the strong work of the climax and throws in exactly one too many bald gags.
Nevertheless, X-Men: First Class is still the best of the four films, with fleshed-out characters, great special effects and exciting action sequences. Impressively, neither Hugh Jackman nor Bryan Singer feel hugely missed, as director Matthew Vaughn brings the combination of comic book flair and interesting themes that made Kick-Ass so successful. Despite the film’s flaws, it’s hugely rewarding to see the young versions of Magneto and Xavier so brilliantly played, nicely setting up the old-and-new collaboration of Days of Future Past. I really hope Banshee’s in it.