Skipping way ahead to X-Men: First Class in anticipation of the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Enjoy!
This is an interesting film to review. I remember when it first came out, my expectations were pretty low. The X-Men movie series has been less than stellar, in my opinion. The first X-Men film was average, but was followed up by the fantastic X2. Ever since the brilliant second instalment, the following films have been ordinary. X-Men 3 was a bloated mess that gave major characters some unsatisfying ends, and the less said about the awful solo Wolverine film the better. In short, X-Men: First Class had very low expectations from me, but I was pleasantly surprised by this great film. It it the best X-Men flick since X2, and brings some respectability back to a franchise that desperately needed it.
This is almost a reboot of sorts for the franchise. It shows the first meeting of Professor X (James MacAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The film follows their early friendship and chronicles how they came to be on opposite ends of the fight for mutant rights.
There are several sections of this plot that contradict both the comics, and the original films, but you can put them aside and enjoy this film. There is terrific chemistry between the cast here, MacAvoy and Fassbender are terrific together as the good friends that eventually end up as enemies. They are ably supported by the terrific Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Xavier’s childhood shape shifting friend, and Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy, who will grow up to be the Beast.
My only complaint about this film is that it does contradict much of what has occurred in the first three X films. I am hoping the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past can help fix some of these continuity errors. The film will deal with time travel and alternate dimensions so there is hopefully ample opportunity to fix these films and set them on the right path.
I really enjoyed First Class. It is a terrific comic book film and shows the origins of two of the most dynamic characters in the comic book world really well. Xavier and Magneto are brought to life really well by MacAvoy and Fassbender. They follow up the terrific performances of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan from the first three X-Men films really well. It would’ve been really easy to just imitate those two great actors, but both MacAvoy and Fassbender are able to put their own spin on these two characters and make them their own.
I never watched the X-Men cartoon growing up, so when these Marvel superheroes were brought to the big screen in the early 2000s I didn’t really care. Wolverine, Magneto, Mystique, Cyclops… these names barely meant anything to me. So while my then boyfriend and roommates were complaining about how the series was being ruined, I was just enjoying the action and allusions to various civil rights movements.
However, after watching Marvel put together an awesome cohesive film universe with The Avengers, I can appreciate what a mess the X-Men franchise has become. Although First Class is a really well made film, I have reservations of how this prequel series is supposed to fit in with the original three movies.
First Class establishes the origins of the X-Men, following Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr (a.k.a. Magneto) as they assemble a team of young mutants to avert nuclear war. I particularly enjoyed watching Magneto’s origin story. I’ve always been in the “he’s not evil, he’s just misguided” camp, and finally getting to see just how true this is was satisfying. In fact, as great as this story is, I think I would have preferred to see an entire movie based on Magneto hunting down former Nazis. Michael Fassbender is excellent here, bringing the right amount of intensity and wit to the role. He’s probably the only actor here who perfectly plays the character to the same ability as his predecessor, in this case Ian McKellen. I believe that these two men are the same person in a way I don’t with the other stars.
We also get to see a bit of Xavier’s and Mystique’s pasts, though this story focuses on their pre-X-Men friendship rather than their individual discovery of their powers. James McAvoy does a fair job as Professor X, but he’s always going to suffer from comparison to Patrick Stewart in my mind. I also can’t picture him bald, and it appears they’re putting that physical change off for as long as possible. Jennifer Lawrence shines as Mystique. I actually feel she does a much better job with the role than Rebecca Romijn.
The villains are really where it’s at, though. Kevin Bacon plays Sebastian Shaw, a character comics fans will recognize as leader of the Hellfire Club. Bacon is just incredible as a sociopath bent on world domination. I really can’t applaud his performance loud enough. He’s joined by January Jones as Emma Frost, who is a bit dull as a villain and mostly there as eye candy. Though, it seems this is where Shaw wants her to be, because he prefers to be the star. It will be interesting to see if Frost features in upcoming movies, because it’s apparent that she is more intelligent than Shaw gives her credit for.
But as good as First Class is, I’m still bothered by how disconnected it feels from the X-Men movies that precede it. When this was released I assumed it would be a reboot of the series. Unfortunately it became clear that this was meant to be a prequel, despite plot points that contradict the first three films. I suppose it was just too hard to discard the actors who brought the X-Men to the screen in the first place in favor of new interpretations. The newest installment, Days of Future Past, is meant to rectify these disparate timelines. I’ll be interested to see how this is possible, because it all feels like a jumble right now.