Mags in sweats
For the information of gentle readers: this review is spoiler free (as far as I can tell, and I should be able to tell - I wrote it.).
X-Men: First Class a prequel of sorts that serves to bring the X-franchise back to basics after the underwhelming X-Men: The Last Stand and the incredibly dull X-Men: Origins movie. Following established characters Professor X and Magneto before they were Professor X and Magneto (and before they were dear old Patrick Stewart and that silver stallion Ian McKellen) First Class keeps it simple and makes for a totally fun comic book movie. Mags and the Prof team up to stop the evil Hellfire Club from starting World War III, setting up a team with other mutants and learning how to control their powers.
The film starts off with young Magneto in a Nazi concentration camp, nicely mirroring the first X-movie that came out way back in 2000 and firmly establishing it as a part of Bryan Singer's film series. Whether or not that includes X3 or Origins is up to personal preference but I won't dwell on continuity issues. Main point is - if you have a problem with continuity, you're doing it wrong, because there is so much to be enjoyed from this film, starting with the swinging '60s setting which frames the movie and makes it a part of an alternate history that clearly attempts to place the film in a more serious light.
After the main characters (Charles, Erik and Raven, i.e. Prof X, Mags and Mystique) have been set up, along with the main antagonist Sebastain Shaw, First Class moves on swiftly and gives us some history of mutants as well as establishing the Big Question - should mutants blend in with humans, or fight them for the right to live freely? This crops up frequently throughout the film, again keeping in line with Singer's two X-movies and maintaining the serious tone. However, the writing in the film is in general fantastic and it does not suffer from the drastic shifts in tone that Kick-Ass (same creative team) suffered from. Light comedic moments and witty humour break up the grave situations rather splendidly whilst also portraying the characters perfectly.
Speaking of characters - they're all pretty great! There's development all around, with Charles moving from a suave womaniser to a tactical genius, Erik sorting out his revenge issues, and Mystique learning to accept herself, as well as Beast's self-loathing and many little nuances from the supporting characters. Nevertheless, there are a few weak links in the chain with a couple of characters, namely Angel the winged woman and Darwin (is he indestructable or...?) seeming a tad pointless. Similarly, January Jones as Emma Frost left something to be desired, but you can't have everything. Also, a big TAKE THAT to the naysayers comlaining about pointless characters back when they were being announced - demonic Azazel, CIA agent Moira McTaggert and all the rest with the aforementioned exceptions were all perfectly acceptable (Azazel's badassery reminiscent of X2's Nightcrawler scenes were a nice touch also).
First Class makes up for its few weaknesses, stepping up from X3 simply by toning things down. Whilst the previous X-films seemed intent on using Magneto's magnetism powers as an excuse for big set pieces and special effects, First Class shows the more personal side to his powers in scenes that are both gut-wrenching and badass. Magneto's scenes in general are highlights of the film, making
At 130-odd minutes, First Class isn't a short film, but so much happens in those 2+ hours that the time really does fly by (no clockwatching here - take that Watchmen!). This is largely due to economic writing and the aforementioned humour. Obligatory X-fuelled teen angst is perfectly balanced by engaging, well paced action sequences. There are so many memorable moments in this film, and so few drawbacks, that you will be waiting for more (oh, and if you are one of those people who eagerly await the stinger after the credits, don't waste your time, unless you actually enjoy reading random people's names scroll up a black screen for five minutes. There sadly is no little tidbit at the end!). It might have had some interesting creative decisions and some horrible marketing, but X-Men: First Class is possibly the best X-film to date.