X-Men: First Class is a breezy slice of blockbuster. It’s fun while dabbling in the conventional superhero stuff – origin stories and brief banter, all interspersed with the mandatory action – but stumbles when it tries to be something more than disposable entertainment.
There’s a lot to like here. Matthew Vaughan frolics through the sixties setting with a colourful abandon, and you could hardly ask for a better-qualified cast. Maybe McAvoy and Fassbender aren’t necessarily convincing as a younger Stewart and McKellen, respectively, but that’s hardly the point: a great deal of the fun comes from the movie’s irreverent disinterest in hewing closely to the films that have come before (or after?).
The unconventional choice to focus the final showdown on the Cuban Missile Crisis suggests a political subtext, but unfortunately anything of the like is clumsily handled. Cursory nods to mutation as an symbol of race/homosexuality are brief – “You didn’t ask, I didn’t tell” – and unfocused, particularly when minority characters either turn out to be evil or are quickly dispatched. Similarly, the script’s desire to perfunctorily explain every bit of X-Men backstory in the final ten minutes is a mistake. A good film that suffers from trying to do too much.