X-Men First Class is probably the best superhero film set in the 1960s since Austin Powers, it’s certainly a big improvement on typical superhero/blockbuster fare, though not really comparable to the much darker Batman films. It’s a strange film – the 1960s setting and political angle – with the X-Men trying to prevent nuclear war in Cuba – mean that the film seems like a cold war spy movie, and the bad guy (Kevin Spacey as Sebastian Shaw) is basically a mutant Bond villain – wearing a velvet tuxedo in a secret submarine headquarters, complete with smartly dressed henchmen and a telepathic Bond girl. If only his henchmen threw hats instead of teleported, surely there must be a hat throwing mutant?
To be honest, they may as well have invented a hat-throwing mutant, considering the bottom-of-the-barrel mutants that they used here, particularly Angel Salvatore (from the excellent New X-Men by Grant Morrison, also where the yellow jumpsuits originated) and Azazel (from nothing good at all). I get that having a teleporting mutant is very cool but what does Angel Salvatore add? I suppose they needed a mutant that could fly but as an X-Men fan it was a bit strange seeing her during these pivotal times. And a bit jarring seeing Alex Summers in the team before Scott. Why bother using obscure mutants if this is going to be a reboot anyway? At least, they are making 3 films so I find it hard to believe they will remain in continuity with X-Men 1 and 2 (X-Men 3 and Wolverine are definitely not in continuity apparently). But really, apart from this my inner comic book guy was satisfied.
The accents in this film are also strange. First we have Moira McTaggert who is about as Scottish as shortbread in the comics but is American here. So is the Sean Cassidy (Banshee) who is supposed to be Irish. Emma Frost is supposed to have a posh English accent that she affects just to be pretentious. Charles Xavier isn’t supposed to have an English accent and yet he does. And finally Magneto… what the hell is happening with his accent? It starts out as a sort of English accent but when he gets angry at then end of the film he becomes Irish. I found this quote from Michael Fassbender, who was definitely one of the best things in the film, at least until his accent went wonky:
“I’m kind of using my own accent and taking out as much Irish-ness as I can. People always say that I sound anything but Irish… most people say to me Canadian, or people have said Dutch, German, South African. But what do you do with the accent? Because he’s not English and he didn’t really have any sort of history in England. But I think he is well-educated… so I’m just trying to play a more neutral version of my own accent.”
The film starts really strongly – Magneto hunting Nazis was excellent (I would love to see an X-Men Origins film of the excellent Dr. Nemesis: professional Nazi hunter and sarcastic bastard). Even James Fucking McAvoy was decent, despite my intense irrational hatred of the fellow. I suppose it is harder to hate him when he is playing a hip version of Charles Xavier, rather than say, a faun. Considering he was voted the ‘hottest man in Scotland’ he is very short. And he has strangely wispy sideburns. But in truth, the film does misfire a few times, for example I felt that Beast was just terrible and had more than a passing resemblance to Sully from ‘Monsters Inc’. And there were a few occasions where the special effects were a bit shaky, which I felt was noticeable because of how rare this is these days – mostly incidental effects, but even some key ones looked a bit off – like Emma Frost’s diamond form or the missiles vs. beach scene. And speaking of those scenes – you can’t choke a diamond person with a metal bar, diamond wouldn’t shatter like glass.
Overall though the film was very enjoyable, fun like an old James Bond movie without being a full-blown parody like Austin Powers. They could maybe have played up the 1960s setting a bit more, as the costumes, clothing and hairstyles especially were occasionally almost anachronistic, and though there was some casual sexism it was not enough to be convincing. Plus no-one was smoking, which actually is not very authentic.
I enjoyed the film from start to finish, and never got bored, but then I have been an X-Men fan since I was 12 so I am a bit biased. Magneto can literally never be boring, and seeing Sebastian Shaw on the big screen is something I never though would happen (one day hopefully we will get Mr Sinister or Apocalypse). I could see that a less geeky cinema goer might find some of the talky scenes a bit dull – it certainly felt like a long film – and it did sometimes seem to sit uncomfortably between being a serious superhero film and a 1960s Bond movie pastiche. But overall, highly recommended. I will eat my slightly plastic-y looking anti-telepath helmet if Green Lantern is a better film.