I have to say this right now, this is the best of all the X-Men films. Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman both understand what makes X-Men great. Complex characters and over the top action and both come by the bucketload in this film.
Lets start of with the acting of the two main characters, James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr. It is mainly a competition between these two actors as to who can be the biggest badass. McAvoy does a great job as Xavier mixing in the intelligence of his character with a very likable party animal taking part in traditional activities for British students (flirting and drinking). However Fassbender is the real standout, he provides a factor that the audience both sympathizes with him for what happened to him during the Holocaust and is scared by him due to his determination and the levels of violence he will go to in order to fully achieve his revenge. Fassbender pulls this off through the usage of his voice and body presenting him as a suitable threat to everyone with his eyes and the look of sorrow that you can see in them making the audience feel sorry for him.
The young cast in the film is great as well with Vaughn continuing the trend of getting great performances from young actors shown through the performances of Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and especially Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass. Jennifer Lawrence keeps up the quality of her performances seen since her brilliant performance in the otherwise overrated Winter's Bone. She gives a new depth to Mystique through her being Xavier's sister in the film and through this and the ensuing conflict that arises that I will not spoil for those who haven't seen the film yet seens between Lawrence and Magneto come to show how much Mystique values Magneto and eventually reveals why she joined the Brotherhood. Nicholas Hoult is also brilliant as Beast, his voice and nature make you sympathize with him due to the way that he can be viewed by society whilst also providing a badass quality through his scenes as Beast. The makeup used to create Beast is also very natural and feels right for the film and the performance of Hoult really brings through the acceptance and denial that someone would face in the same position. The other young actors do a good job yet the characters didn't really make an impression on me, mostly due to them getting the least character development yet they all still have at least one awesome moment in the film.
The villains, like the young actors, are also a mixed bad. Kevin Bacon is great as Sebastian Shaw, having a lot of fun with the role and you can tell how much Bacon enjoyed doing his scenes. The scenes at the beginning in the concentration camp provide a good way to show just how evil and sadistic Shaw is. The other villains however aren't as good, Jason Fleyming is great and has fun as Azazel yet he doesn't have to much to do and you never really find out about his character, one of the villains, Riptide according to iMDB, doesn't even get a line of dialogue yet he still has some great action and then there's January Jones as Emma Frost. Whilst the male members of the audience will be satisfied by the costumes she wears she doesn't really provide much else, she gets very little character development and isn't a good enough actress to carry out everything that she needs to in terms of threat and menace that a character like Emma Frost needs to have.
The other actors do a good job with Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert and Oliver Platt as the Man in Black being standouts. Byrne gives a sense of wonder and excitement to her performance as MacTaggert and is very believable in the way that she views the new discovery of mutants. Platt also does a great job as the Man in Black presenting a great, trustworthy nature, despite him being best known to me for playing the villain in 2012. There are also some really great cameos which I will not spoil, go see the film, be surprised by the cameos for yourself.
The action scenes in the film are just the right level of over the top and goofy whilst still being incredibly awesome. This is a quality Matthew Vaughn presented in his previous films Stardust and especially Kick-Ass. The action is played in the style of James Bond films, solidifying the 1960's sensibility that Vaughn wanted to create in the film. The action scenes early in the film happen in short bursts in order for Vaughn to keep the focus on the characters and the big action scene at the end comes after half a hour of buildup making the action in the end all the more exciting due to the fact that the audience wants to see the action all the more at the end. The action also provides plenty of opportunities for each mutant to show off their respective powers with the villains of the film showing this off most of all.
The plot also plays with the 1960's sensibility that Vaughn and Jane Goldman wanted to create with plenty of cold war intrigue and still provides plenty of time for character development. A shot of one of Lenscherr's most treasured memories providing a real emotional punch to the gut that most superhero films would kill to have. The way that footage from the first X-Men film is used is very clever and you barely notice this footage in the film unless you are looking carefully and the motivations of each character to their situations feels very believable to the rest of the film.
In conclusion, X-Men: First Class is a fantastic film, the cast is excellent and the action scenes and plot are brilliant while it is just problems with underdeveloped characters and bad acting from January Jones that prevent this from being perfect.
My Rating: 4.5/5