A solid, though imperfect addition to the X-Men universe, First Class is a quality action adventure.
It is anchored by two compelling characters, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Neither is three dimensional and both could have used more treatment, but they are fitting leads for a superhero drama.
Just as Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) is a fitting villain. He too could have used additional development, but his mutation facilitates interesting action, and his philosophy is rife with enough truth that it is never boring.
Though it is repetitive. Shaw is a more militant version of Magneto from the original X-Men movies, and we have heard most of his arguments before, many of them multiple times.
A problem that is further compounded by most of First Class’s conversations between Erik and Xavier. They too are reminiscent of previous films.
In that way, while First Class is always entertaining, it doesn’t advance the X-Men mythology. Mostly, it repeats it.
The film also under-utilizes important secondary characters. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the rest of the young mutants are wasted. Yes, each receives a side plot, but all of them are rushed and fail to register, especially Mystique’s. Her decision to side with Erik despite lengthy friendship with Charles might have made for gripping drama and intense emotion, but the filmmakers don’t focus on her enough. So it doesn’t.
First Class simply has too many characters. Fewer mutants would have meant more character development of those present, which would have produced more emotional resonance.
For all of that, this prequel accomplishes its objectives. It shows the origin of Professor X and Magneto’s adversarial friendship, how X’s school for mutants began, and so forth.
Plus, it cleverly incorporates mutants into the Cuban Missile Crisis.
And includes some exceptional visual effects, especially when Magneto lifts a submarine out of the ocean.
The action sequences are strong. The battle on the beach stands out, as does Erik’s assassination of three men in a bar.
All of the actors are terrific, as well, especially Michael Fassbender and Kevin Bacon.
Which is to say X-Men: First Class mightn’t be perfect, but it is good. And one of the better films in its franchise.