X-Men: First Class

First Class

A-

X-Men is one of the few superhero franchises that really works well in a realistic setting. That’s probably because nearly everyone can relate to the feeling of not belonging. Almost all of the best X-Men stories have focused to some degree on the nature of mutants as a social minority akin to homosexuals, African Americans or any other marginalized group. None of us want to be persecuted for who we are, and the X-Men mythos speaks to that in a primal yet entertaining way.

At the heart of that notion lies the relationship between Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, aka Magneto. Their competing philosophies — which have been likened to those of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, respectively — provide the conflict which drives the X-Men in all media. We’re very fortunate that Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class chooses to spotlight that conflict. It makes for a truly compelling action movie that’s more about philosophy than special effects.

Like many fans of the film franchise, I initially responded to First Class with skepticism. How could the film recast roles embodied in Bryan Singer’s movies by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, two fine actors who elevate the quality of whatever they’re in? Silly me; I wasn’t familiar with James McAvoy or Michael Fassbender, the young actors who fill those shoes here. McAvoy and Fassbender totally own these characters; their interactions make the script come alive. Fassbender, especially, is a treasure: there are many scenes where Magneto’s intensity becomes palpable merely because of the look on Fassbender’s face. I’m of the opinion that Magneto is the best villain superhero comics ever created (and indeed one of the best characters in general ever spawned by the genre), and Fassbender here does excellently bringing gravity to this fascinating role.

To me, the best thing about the Xavier/Magneto divide is how realistic it all feels. Magneto wouldn’t work as a villain if we didn’t at least see where he’s coming from, but I think First Class takes that one step further — I think there are plenty of points, maybe even the majority of the film, when Magneto’s philosophy is more attractive than Charles’. Erik advocates that mutants not be ashamed of themselves, that they refuse to be marginalized by human culture and that they aspire to be the best, most powerful creatures they can be. That probably speaks to viewers a little more strongly than Charles’ milquetoast apologizing. When you couple that with the fact that Xavier’s actually a pretty persistent (and somewhat bad?) womanizer, he doesn’t always look like the monolithic hero superhero films usually throw at us. First Class happily chooses to give both its lead characters a fair shake philosophically, and I think that carries this movie throughout its hefty 2:20 run time.

Besides the principals, there’s plenty else to like here. First Class features some really inventive use of mutant powers — I was particularly impressed by the way the teleporting Azazel dispatches with his foes. It’s got a pretty solid supporting cast bolstered by Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) as Raven/Mystique and featuring some surprisingly straight action turns from Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids) as Moira MacTaggert and Kevin Bacon (everything) as Sebastian Shaw. I also very much enjoyed the way this film situated itself in the context of world history; that helps to cement the realistic feel of the X-Men franchise I mentioned above. In a way, this film is kind of X-Men via Thirteen Days, but I find that an asset, not a detraction.

Though the initial X-Men trilogy had its high points, I think most viewers would agree it was eventually brought down by some lackluster sequels, especially 2009′s throwaway Wolverine. First Class reminded me that X-Men movies can prove very potent. I really hope a prequel sequel (pre-sequel?) comes from this film… I can’t be the only one who’d like to know where all these new characters get to before Bryan Singer’s X-Men rolls around.

tags: james mcavoy, matthew vaughn, michael fassbender, x-men, x-men: first class

  • http://twitter.com/androiddreamer Matt Heckler

    According to Vaughn and Brian Singer, this is the first in a prequel trilogy. I was quite surprised that they did so much in this film, really. I expected Professor X and Magneto to still be buddies through this entire new prequel trilogy, and I thought Professor X’s becoming a crippled would be a later revelation, too, but I really enjoyed this movie. I think every role was well cast (except the terrible January Jones as Emma Frost), and although I would have preferred Banshee to actually have an Irish accent and Moira to actually be Scottish, I pretty much loved everything else about it.

  • Anonymous

    We agree on the one awful part of this movie – January Jones. I’ve seen
    cosplayers that do a better Emma Frost at conventions. I hear you about
    the Irish/Scottish thing too, but it’s not a deal-breaker IMO.

  • http://nerdynothings.com Noah Nickels

    Your review is spot on. I really liked this movie a lot and mostly due to the acting of Fassbender and McAvoy, dynamite performances. And i agree with both of you, January Jones was damn near one of the worst performances i have seen. so flat and emotionless, but not in a way that seems intentional.

  • http://www.twitter.com/androiddreamer Matt Heckler

    It is a bit strange considering that in X-Men 3, there is a cameo by Moira McTaggart played by Olivia Williams, and in that she has a Scottish accent. Weird.

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    Yeah, there are some continuity errors like this through the whole series, but there are also three different actresses that play Kitty Pride throughout the first three movies, too, so I don’t mind so much.

  • http://www.twitter.com/androiddreamer Matt Heckler

    Yeah, another one that springs to mind is Hank McCoy in X-Men 2 on a TV screen being interviewed still in human form. There is an explanation that would be easy, though. Maybe he was able to temporarily cure himself just long enough for the interview?

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, Emma’s supposed to be cold, but I think January was just acting poorly as opposed to making a choice to seem flat and distant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rdhoffmaninc Bobby Hoffman

    … Why couldn’t they have just made this one first? I think the main victory in this movie was the script’s ability to give us those juicy fanboy bits without them feeling inserted just for the sake of fanboyism (like a completely useless Gambit character). The Vegas club was named The Hellfire Club! we got Alex Summers with NO mention of Scott(something Havok would have loved)! Also, just them using lesser known mutants and making them USEFUL! 

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