The original X-Men film and its “prequel” are the perfect films to demonstrate how superhero films have been forced to change. Back when the original X-Men movie was released, it was fine to be all flash and very little in the way of story. The novelty was that you were seeing characters you had only been able to read about in comics or watch on television, actually shooting lasers from their eyes or bend metal at will.
Soon though, that wouldn’t be enough. If you create enough of the same type of the film, something has to change. Fantastic Four, Ghostrider and more recently, Green Lantern, are all examples of why you need much more depth and/or maturity to create a successful comic book film, let alone franchise. Maturity doesn’t necessarily mean “dark” either. The Marvel films have developed their characters much better in their origin stories since the original Spiderman films came out but they are nowhere near as dark as Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
Which brings us nicely full circle because riding that line between comic book and mature, plot driven film is X-Men: First Class. Whether by accident or by actually realising what needs to be done to create a successful comic book film, First Class effortlessly mixes the fantastic with the historical. Setting the film in the 60’s gives it a very original feel and means that there is some context to the mutant story. In fact, the film is done so well that you could, with a couple of tweaks, take the superhero element out and still have a good spy film.
It also helps that the cast were expertly chosen. Beating the original X-Men film’s ingenious casting of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Prof. X and Magneto respectively, was always going to be a challenge. The casting of James Mcavoy and Michael Fassbender in those iconic roles was just as inspired. You can honestly believe that those characters will become their older counterparts and the development of their relationship makes sense, knowing what is yet to come.
In fact, the story is one of the best elements of the film. This doesn’t feel as straight-forward as “get powers, get beaten by villain, come back stronger, defeat villain.” The appeal of the X-Men comics, cartoon and now films, is that it was always a little bit deeper than that. Developing the idea of prejudice and the feeling of isolation and being “different” has always been a recurring theme in the films and it takes the forefront here again, giving some insight into the origins of “classic” X-Men like The Beast and Mystique.
It’s not absolutely perfect though. There is a mutant with a great ability who, to aid the story, gets “dispatched” very early. He seemed to be one of the more impressive X-Men and it was a shame to lose that character before they got a chance to “stretch their legs.” It also felt a little rushed at the end. There seemed to be a lack of confidence in how good the film was and the link to the original X-Men film, setting up the balance and placing the characters in the positions we are more familiar with, jarred slightly with a film that didn’t seem to rush to get to the resolution at any other time. It felt like the final scenes could well have served a sequel much better.
These are minor gripes though and only slightly take away from what is a strong, much more mature superhero film than the original X-Men movie or even the other mutant prequel, Wolverine. Here’s hoping the sequel can be as much of a success as this was.
Overall, an example of how comic book films have been forced to change and its no bad thing. Well crafted characters, very cool action, a great story and some fantastic depth into characters many people would believe they already knew. Although it has some minor glitches, it doesn’t take away from a fantastic, spy/superhero movie.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)