X-Men: First Class Review

poster from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

I have always loved the X-Men. When I was little, I used to race home from playing with my friends to catch the cartoon at 4pm. When I saw the movie in 2000, I fell for it instantly. It was the first DVD I ever owned. When X2 came along, I realized it was possible for me to love the X-Men even more than I already did. And in 2006 I was at the head of the lynch mob heading for Brett Ratner’s house to punish him for X:Men: The Last Stand. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was underwhelming, so when X-Men First Class came along, I thought: “please, please be good. I need you to be good.” The story was promising:

In 1962, a motley team of mutants recently discovered by the CIA pits themselves against an evil team of mutants looking to manipulate America and Russia into a nuclear war.

Major points for the historical connection. The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the more fascinating periods I studied in school. The trailers didn’t give much of the plot away, so it could either have been awesome or awful. Now that I’ve finally seen it (no Thursday midnight show? Really? But you gave one to The Hangover Part 2?!) I can unequivocally say (with a large amount of relief, since lynch mobs are exhausting) that X-Men First Class came down firmly on the side of awesome.

I mentioned in my trailer review that my favorite part of X-Men was the opening scene of fourteen year old Magneto in Auschwitz ripping the gates open with his metal-bending powers. Interestingly enough, X-Men First Class begins with the very same scene, but with the close-ups of the original young Erik (whose name I can’t find anywhere) replaced by Bill Milner, the boy who was in Son of Rambow. This is because the sequence continues on so that young Erik meets Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who is essentially the mutant version of Josef Mengele.

Sebastian Shaw from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

Hello, I’m Doctor Batsh**, and I will be developing your powers through torture.

Poor Erik. Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto, but not yet) has always been a large part of why I love the X-Men. He’s a bad guy, but he’s not an evil bad guy. He’s hurt and angry, which makes a big difference. He’s also near the top of the “people who need a hug” list, so he’s got my sympathy. Michael Fassbender does a great job of playing his complexity and I can easily see him growing into Ian McKellan (or rather, shrinking, as Sir Ian is a few inches shorter).

Magento with helmet from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

Especially once he puts the goofy helmet on.

In fact, everyone does a really good job. This isn’t really surprising, because Matthew Vaughan et all managed to attract an excellent crop of real actors (ie people with depth, not people who like to have their pictures taken in front of exploding houses). Jennifer Lawrence, James MacAvoy, Kevin Bacon… it’s always a good sign when dramatic actors agree to be in a superhero movie. It means it’s (probably) not brain dead. And X-Men: First Class is anything but.

Charles uses his powers from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

No I don’t have a headache. I’m THINKING AT YOU.

The mutants are scattered and alone, except for shape-shifter Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Charles Xavier (James MacAcaoy), a telepath, until a CIA agent named Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne) sees a bit more than she bargained for when spying on Sebastian Shaw and tracks down Charles for his expertise on genetic mutations. She convinces him to use the brain enhancement device (Cerebro) their teen genius Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) made to find and train some more people to help her stop the uber powerful mutants she saw.

Hank shows off from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

Hank also just happens to be a mutant too. He’s not hairy and blue yet, but he will be.

During their run-ins with Shaw, they meet and befriend Erik, who has been running on anger for a long time. Charles’ Professor X-ness really shines in this movie, as he uses his telepathy and natural insight to give each mutant the encouragement they need to develop their powers. Sean Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones) is able to use his sonic screams to fly, Erik calms down enough to move a whole radar dish, and even Alex Summers (Lucas Till) tames his hula hoops of destruction into a Care Bear stare type energy beam with the help of Hank’s gadgetry.

Havok hula hoops of destruction from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

Go Go mutant hula hoops!

Raven gives them all cool CIA code names: Magneto, Professor X, Mystique, Banshee, Havok, and Beast (after he has his little blue accident). The black mutant, Darwin, (Edi Gathegi) was, of course, killed before the movie was half over.

Banshee, Havok, Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

Go team whiteness! (well, I suppose one third of it is blue)

Pretty soon they’re ready to take on Shaw (who can absorb and re-release energy) and his team of mutant goons, which consists of Angel (Zoe Kravitz) a weird dragonfly like stripper (don’t ask); Emma Frost, a diamond-coated telepath; Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) a human tornado, and Azazel (Jason Flemyng), a jumper who looks like Satan.

Azazel and Emma Frost from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

Like really a lot like Satan, and they all live in a submarine (no it is not yellow).

While all this was happening, Shaw managed to manipulate the American and Russian governments into a position where they’re one itchy trigger finger away from nuking each other into oblivion over a cargo ship bound for Cuba. The whole main plot makes great use of real history, even of historical footage, and it ends with a showdown of epic proportions, just as epic as X2, and maybe even more because of all the personal dimensions that come into play.

Magneto lifts a sub from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

You can do it Erik! We believe in you!

That’s what really makes X-Men First Class great. Initially, they’re all on the same team. But eventually the cracks emerge and the mutants fall out over whether they love or hate the way they look, whether they want to fit in or stand out, and whether they think mutants are superior or not. It’s actually quite wrenching to see friendships pulled apart, especially in Charles and Erik’s case. It’s like Anakin and Obi-Wan. It makes me so sad!

Erik and Charles teamwork from the Marvel Studios film X-Men: First Class

Don’t give in to your anger! Erik, nooooo!

I chalk most of X-Men First Class’s awesomeness up to the involvement of Bryan Singer (the guy who directed X-Men and X2) at the story stage. Thank you, Bryan. This almost makes up for your leaving the third film in the trilogy to Brett Ratner, who ruined it. But you know what would really make up for it? If you remade X3. I’m just saying.

poster for x-men the last stand

Three words: Crime. Against. Humanity.

Anyway, so see X-Men First Class. Anyone who likes action movies, 20th century history, or even character drama should find something they like here. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen an X-Men movie or read a comic or seen a TV show. although if you have, keep your fan boy/girl eyes peeled for cameos by Wolverine, young Storm, and older Mystique and a mention of Stryker, who would eventually become the villain of X2.

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