X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011)

I really have to wonder how much influence Matthew Vaughn has on his screenplays- he and Jane Goldman share credits for the dull Kick-Ass, and similarly, the duo are credited with two others for First Class. Despite the group effort, First Class’ dialogue is even more infantile and monotonous than Vaughn’s previous film – silly one-liners are spewed out with such straight faces that one loses track of how many times credible actors embarrass themselves (note: Jennifer Lawrence racks up the most points).

First Class follows Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) an d Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) as they do battle with The Hellfire Club, led by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and Emma Frost (January Jones). Xavier and Lehnsherr are two sides of the same coin; both have their philosophies on the betterment of mutant life, though see the path to achieving such a life differently. The script’s muscle is shown during scenes shared by McAvoy and Fassbender, who elevate the script considerably.

Disappointingly, McAvoy and Fassbender’s exploits don’t take up the whole picture. There are a slew of mutants that we encounter throughout First Class. The previously mentioned Lawrence as Mystique is abysmal, hopelessly out of her element.  Nicholas Hoult as Beast is terribly miscast, along with most of the other young mutants who are recruited throughout the film. With a cast of about a dozen mutants, none of these characters shed much of a personality – we need scenes where each characters gets named, one by one, in order to keep track of these blank slates.

The script’s not-so-subtle nods to gay rights come across as disingenuous and false. And the way Vaughn frames scenes bares no mark of artistic relevance - characters are positioned to the left, right, or center of the frame at varying points throughout a scene. The stylistic mish-mash would be excusable if there were a glimmer of thought placed on camera movement, but Vaughn relies on the tactic in any and all scenes –from First Class’ action packed ending to quieter moments between Fassbender and McAvoy.

Perhaps the biggest problem that plagues the film is its lack of individualism from Singer’s first two films in the franchise. I may be viewing those films from a lens of nostalgia, but I recall them having an aura of coolness – they were fresh. Their use of sexual politics was actually relevant. With First Class, these attempts come across as rehashed and strained. First Class teeters on irrelevance, pushed at the last moment to safety by Fassbender and McAvoy.

Rating: 4/10