X-Men: First Class

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Runtime: 132 mins
Rating: ****

It’s ridiculously campy, has a mind-boggling number of characters and is ridiculously long, but here’s something: X-Men: First Class is good. Not even “good for a comic book movie” – this film actually stands out in comparison to the other films currently gracing the box office.

This is presumably in part due to the sheer amount of talent involved: Matthew Vaughn, whose resumé includes Kick-Ass and Layer Cake, directs a fantastic cast. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender do a decent job of matching the gravitas Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen lent to the roles of Professor X and Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence actually surpasses Rebecca Romijn in her portrayal of Mystique, and it’s a delight to see Kevin Bacon playing the villain, Sebastian Shaw. This is the sort of film where it doesn’t matter where you turn: everyone ranges from competent to just brilliant.

X-Men: First Class also sets a certain tone for comic book movies that so far has been notably absent. Comedy works for Iron Man – Tony Stark, after all, is an exceptionally dry character – but can’t be easily transferred. And too often, the commercial viability of comic book movies overwhelms their potential to be good.

It’s why Matthew Vaughn was the perfect choice for this film – his past credits are full of films that received critical acclaim while still raking in the cash. Here, the tone is slick, camp without being overblown, and has a distinct James Bond vibe (something a lot of critics have pointed out, but it needs reinforcing – there are times when this film is one martini away from being accepted into Fleming’s canon).

The film isn’t without its faults: the screenplay’s occasionally clumsy, and it suffers from a few pacing issues in the opening half hour, but once it gets going X-Men: First Class is fantastic. It also has the best cameo from Hugh Jackman you’ll see in a long time. Abandon all your preconceptions about comic book films at the door – you won’t be needing them.

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