The titular First Class could relate to many a thing in Matthew Vaughn’s latest X-Men installation. It could be the first five candidate’s to constitute the X-Men, or the first class capabilities of the young mutants. Maybe Vaughn wished to prematurely predict the critical response to his addition to the franchise; a big-budget, star-packed camp caped caper.
The year is 1962. Charles Xavier (McAvoy), a cocksure Oxford academic, meets vengeful Eric Lehnsherr (Fassbender), who is tracking down mother-murdering ex-Nazi, Sebastian Shaw. Meanwhile, FBI agent Moira MacTaggart (Byrne) discovers that the same Shaw has got plans for worldwide domination up his sleeve, alongside his hot sidekick (and ample-bosomed) Emma Frost. Skipping past a few more long-winded narrative prerequisites, and MacTaggart has joined with Xavier’s goodie mutants to stop Shaw’s baddie mutants forcing a cold war related catastrophe.
The film is Fassbender’s from the start. His chilling opening scenes, where he utilizes his powers to painfully extract a filling from a bank managers mouth (something I’m sure many of us would like to do), sets the pace for a stand-out performance. Lehnsherr’s transformation into Magneto is one which could have provided a more dramatic turn had the script allowed for it. Instead, we’re bombarded with a hoard of potential X-Men, and a politically-fused context which weighs the story down so heavily that not even Magneto’s super strength could prop it up. Fairly patronizingly, the sexual wares of the women are made to be more powerful than their mutant might. January Jones plays Betty Draper in a raunchy catsuit, and Byrne’s FBI agent, in a bafflingly superfluous plot turn, is required to strip off to get into a secret meeting. However, to make up for all the T&A on display, female spectators are treated to a few homoerotic moments between McAvoy and Fassbender, not least when they grapple with each other underwater.
The promising excitement of the first half hour gradually descends into something much more derivative, and at times, torpid. Considering the recent display of talent from Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult, they seem wasted here in uninspired performances. When the grand finale finally arrives, it has all but been predicted. The characters tread familiar genre territory, played out against a backdrop of fairly naff CGI. Whilst it may be possible to glean deeper insights into the film (pro-Jewish, anti-women), it is unlikely that they alone will erase frustration towards what could have been a solid superhero success.