Fans of The X-Men films have always wondered what director Matthew Vaughan would have done with the series.  Vaughan was originally
hired to direct X-Men: The Last Stand, but had to drop out due to family reasons.

Brett Ratner took over the project and provided a decent third entry that couldn’t quite live up to the first two films from Bryan Singer.

Vaughan finally gets his chance with X-Men: First Class; a film that takes the franchise back to its earliest days with Charles Xavier
beginning his recruitment of gifted youngsters and Erik Lehnsherr on a quest for vengeance.

Unfortunately, Vaughn’s touch doesn’t inspire any real confidence that The Last Stand would have been better with him at the helm.  First
Class is a run-of-the-mill comic book film in almost every regard.

Once again this franchise struggles with its overabundance of characters.  The filmmakers seem to think it’s essential to jam in as many
mutants as possible, and it comes at the expense of meaningful character development and narrative focus.

It also has a compounding effect as many of the newly introduced characters are too far outside of the mainstream knowledge to stand on
their own.

First Class could have been a far better film had the writers focused exclusively on Xavier and the soon-to-be Magneto.  These are strong
characters and this film’s greatest assets are the performances of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in these roles.

McAvoy in particular is perfect as Xavier.  In much the same way Patrick Stewart was able to effortlessly embody this character, so does
McAvoy.  Despite being younger and more impulsive, we have no trouble accepting that this is the character that we know so well.  It’s a
great performance that is congruous and unique at the same time.

There are some solid scenes between these two which do a good job in setting up the great dichotomy that defines their relationship.  But
they simply aren’t enough.  This is such a pivotal point for both of these characters that it seems a disservice when the film shifts almost
anywhere else.

There is too much time wasted with the goofy antics of the youngsters and with Kevin Bacon as the completely forgettable villain.  Bacon’s
performance is baffling at times, none more so than an early scene in which he murders Lehnsherr’s mother.  Why Vaughan and Bacon
would go for such a silly tone in a horrifying scene is beyond me.

The entire first act is incredibly disjointed; jumping from location to location and character to character with little focus and reason.  It’s not
until the second half that the film begins to gain some momentum.

There are a couple decent montages and Vaughn’s action direction is refreshingly steady.

But even as we become more interested in the plot, the film still feels like it’s just going through the motions and filling in the pieces of the
puzzle that need to be filled in for it to match up with what comes after it.

It’s a sad commentary that the best scene in the film is Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine cameo.  Not to be confused with Henry Jackman, of
course, who composed the film’s awful score.

It might have a couple very good performances and characters, but X-Men: First Class squanders its potential with its unfocused
screenplay.  Only the work of McAvoy and Fassbender elevate it above complete mediocrity.  It feels generic and forgettable, without any
real thrills or emotion.  Well, except for that cameo…

* * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Written by: Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz and Jane
Goldman & Matthew Vaughn

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer
Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon

Cinematography by: John Mathieson

Music by: Henry Jackman

Released: June 3, 2011; 132 Minutes