Matthew Vaughn threw down the gauntlet shortly after the release of X-Men 3 by stating that he could make an X-Men movie “a hundred times better”. After the phenomenal Kick-Ass, I would be reluctant to gainsay him, and with X-Men: First Class he has the opportunity to demonstrate.
Is it a hundred times better? I don’t remember X-Men 3 well enough to answer this, but X-Men: First Class is an excellent movie, one with involving characterisation and a good storyline, something that previous movies haven’t always managed to keep up.
There are some plotting inconsistencies: the way Mystique interacts with other characters in chronological successor films isn’t consistent with her involvement here; it’s not clear why the villain has mutant powers or that he really is a “child of the atom”, and his scheme and behaviour are a bit bizarre; Emma Frost’s and Moira’s depictions here don’t match those in other films; the shifting alliances of some very minor characters is plot- rather than character-driven; and the relationship between Xavier and Magneto is so deep here that later skirmishes seem incredibly superficial.
However, these are nitpicks in a movie where the characters are excellently developed. Charles Xavier is an urbane and intelligent character, whose charm in this movie explains his leadership role in the others. Nevertheless he has blind spots, is manipulative, and intrudes into others’ minds without hesitation. Raven (portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence from the excellent Winter’s Bone) struggles with her own particular version of body image issues and self-acceptance, and is drawn to another “freak” who deals with the same things in his own way. Erik’s bloodthirsty independence and complex relationship with Charles gets much more screentime here. Kevin Bacon’s role was a weak spot, but he lends his own nuttiness and funny faces to a fictionalised version of a major historical event.
Vaughn even manages to work in the over-the-top names of the X-Men into the script – a difficult task – while making witty references to Xavier’s future baldness.
I definitely recommend this movie.