It took Matthew Vaughn four tries, but he's finally directed a movie The Middle Room can get behind. His first film, Layer Cake, was all style, no substance, and the end result - while not exactly bad - left us disappointed. He followed this up with Stardust, which we rank number 3 on our list of most disappointing adaptations of all time, in this or any parallel universe (full list forthcoming). Again, the style was there, but the pacing and story fell flat (as did everything else in Stardust: seriously, that movie sucks).
Despite this, we were extremely excited about his third film, Kick-Ass, which looked incredible from its previews. The movie itself, however, was once more lacking any real substance. There were plenty of brilliant scenes, but they never came together into a satisfying whole.
We weren't sure what to expect from X-Men: First Class. It turns out that the movie is, well, all style with little real substance; a bunch of interesting scenes strung together without regard to flow by a director who clearly doesn't know the first thing about pacing.
But that's all right. Because the style was THAT GOOD. Sure, there are a few bad scenes. Sure, the story lacks nuance. But believe us when we assure you that this movie has style. The first of this summer's two superhero period pieces, First Class unfolds in the 1960's and offers an origin for Professor X and Magneto. And, setting aside all the missed opportunities around minor characters, the origin created hits all the right notes.
There are the usual missed opportunities around minor characters, and we still don't have a real fight scene between two teams: everyone just pairs off to battle their opposite. But that's okay. Because Magneto starts this movie hunting down and executing Nazis, and he only gets more likable as the film progresses. Reviewers are tossing around comparisons with James Bond, and the parallels are definitely evident.
First Class doesn't get everything right, and it falls short of X-Men 2. To say it's better than X-Men 3 and Wolverine would be a cynical statement: after all, those were abject failures. A more telling observation is that it's far superior to the first X-Men movie, and that it's more than sufficient to get this flailing series back on track.
Matthew Vaughn's weaknesses are still evident here, but he's also given room to demonstrate his strengths. Sure, if X-Men: First Class had any less style, it wouldn't be worth seeing. Fortunately, it's saturated in style, and is absolutely worth your time and money.
Against the relative five stars of X-Men 2, we respectfully award First Class a relative four.