X-Men: First Class

Matthew Vaughn‘s return to the World of X-Men following his abortive attempt to helm 2006’s X-Men: Last Stand (Dir. Brett Ratner, eventually) sees the British director drag the comic book adaptation back a dozen years to darker days.

Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 not only is X-Men: First Class a movie about another time it seems to be from another time where Hollywood picked up Comic book characters, jumbled them into a heap and made what they wanted out of them. The history of the comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby then refined by Chris Claremont and John Byrne is mashed into strange pieces. Characters are merged, events changed, and things put back in a way that suits a different story.

The world of faithful comic adaptation started with Spider-man (2002, Sam Raimi) which begot the Marvel Cinematic Universe of Iron Man et al which climaxes with The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon) is a long way away from First Class in which all is different and everything is unfamiliar again.

Which is perhaps why Vaughn’s film – for all its inaccuracies against source – is surprising and exciting in a way that his take on Kick-Ass (2010) was not when Vaughn fumbled the half finished comic copy the excellent first half of Mark Miller and John Romita Jnr‘s modern Don Quixote but missing the point in the second.

Not that Vaughn seems to miss the point of the Cuban Missile Crisis delivering the Superhero spin on events seen with Roger Donaldson 2000 piece Thirteen Days in which Kevin Costner aides Bruce Greenwood‘s JFK through the two weeks where the world nearly ends. The tenseness of Donaldson’s film comes from its reluctance to show inside the Kremlin leaving his Kennedy administration trying to second guess faceless foes that they cannot afford to push too far.

The faceless foe of First Class though is not those Damn Ruskies but rather Sebastian Shaw – played by Kevin Bacon – who attempts to play both sides of the Crisis off against each other to cause Nuclear War. Shaw is a bad man without redemption – something that Vaughn takes well from the comics – and in that way differs from Bacon’s finest hour in Nicole Kassell 2004 complex drama The Woodsman.

Bacon’s take on convicted paedophile Walter is his finest hour presenting a man struggling with his darkest thoughts, trying to be a better man than they will allow him to be. Walter’s path though his own mutated thoughts – and Bacon’s ability to generate sympathy for his struggle – creates an unlikely hero.


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