CONTAINS SPOILERS AND A SENSE OF DEJA VU
It's the start of the summer blockbuster season once more. From the end of May or the start of June, right up to about the second week in September, it's comicbook superheroes, franchises, CGI cartoons and sequels all over the place. If you're after anything that isn't aimed at kids with an attention defecit or doesn't have a junkfood merchandising deal, forget it. There really is no justice in the world when something as disposable, albeit entertaining enough, as Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 gets multiple screens for weeks at a time while an impeccably crafted thriller like Julia's Eyes is given one week only, or a reissue of a copper-bottomed classic like Apocalypse Now can only manage one screening on a Tuesday night. Pirates, Hangover 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2 are already out there, and (deep breath) Transformers 3, The Green Lantern, Harry Potter 7B, Cars 2, Captain America, The Smurfs are all on their way before the schools go back.... Obviously I'm not anti about all this stuff - it keeps the cinemas open, and the studios make vast pots of money that they might - possibly - invest in something more interesting.
X-Men: First Class is the second prequel to the original trilogy of comicbook superhero movies in which a variety of mutant characters with weird supernatural powers and snappy nicknames faced a choice between fitting in with "normal" people, seeking to become "normal" themselves, or subjugating "normal" humanity and taking over the world. This fifth entry in the series goes back to the origins of the X-Men team: how telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and telekinetic Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) set out to save the world with their small brotherhood of mutants from the apocalyptic plans of megalomaniac Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant himself. But while Xavier is driven by science, and the desire to live with humans, Erik is driven by revenge and anger, and will ultimately turn into Magneto, the ubervillain of the first three films....
Much like the Star Trek reboot from a few years ago, this features actors playing young versions of characters already made famous by older actors, so it's not enough to play Young James Kirk, you have to play Young James Kirk as Young William Shatner. Sometimes they got away with it, sometimes they didn't (Young McCoy was bang on, Young Scotty was miles away). Here there are certainly occasions where Young Magneto will obviously grow up to be Ian McKellen but there's no point at while Young Xavier would turn into Patrick Stewart (according to the IMDb trivia page, McAvoy wanted to do a Patrick Stewart voice but the director wouldn't let him, I think wrongly).
Like the other four films in the series (so far, at least - there will certainly be more) it's laden with big names and familiar faces (Oliver Platt, Michael Ironside, Matt Craven, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jason Flemyng, and there's a nice one-scene uncredited cameo that it would be spiteful to spoil. I also liked the 60s look, the period cars and hairstyles and costumes, and the narrative backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But it's overladen with computer effects that almost turn the movie into a cartoon. Obviously there have to be major effects set-pieces but there are points where it might as well be done as hand-drawn animation. It's also far too long at well over two hours.
And we have seen all this comicbook superhero stuff before, not just in the other four X-Men movies and the Spidermans and Batmans but the ongoing Avengers project that pulls Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and everyone together. Maybe afterward, someone will put that lot against the X-Men in another huge inter-comic, inter-studio smackdown, and the winner meets Batman, Optimus Prime and the Fantastic Four in the final. Maybe I'd have liked it more if I was an aficionado of the source books, but then I liked Thor a lot and I've never seen the comics for that either. X-Men: First Class is alright, it's perfectly well done and I enjoyed it well enough while it was on - but I seriously doubt it's making many Top Ten lists of the year. It's certainly not going to be on mine.