X-Men: First Class is a love story. If someone were to tell you otherwise then obviously they have not yet seen the film or even looked at the deep undertones. To say that when I first saw trailers for the Matthew Vaughn directed piece I was thrilled doesn’t even touch the surface. At first I was enraged that they were redoing the X-Men with the cast of characters that they were planning on using, but then it got past the surface, while only one of the comics’ original crew (Beast) was in the film we don’t get that relationship of Xavier and his students but the more in depth and creepy relationship between Xavier and Magneto. But when someone goes into a film like X-Men you either have high expectations or low or even none. What you are treated to in any sense is a film trying to find it’s identity of what it wants to be all the while to allow the viewer to relate to the human condition.
The comics were created in the 1960’s to help young Americans relate to the Civil Rights movement. You had people who are different (mutants much like the Negros) and are treated differently cause of a slight difference. Professor Charles Xavier represented Doctor Martin Luther King Jr in wanting to reach a peaceful coexistence and Magneto was Malcolm X. Needless to say the concept evolved into a comic series that has spawned multiple titles (Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Legacy, X-Men etc…) but the point still remains the same.
While the first X-Men film took ideas from the comics, threw Magneto as the villain and just gave the fans what they would want, a movie that focused mainly on Wolverine, First Class does almost the exact opposite. There is no Wolverine and his adamantium claws and healing factor. Magneto is not the villain but more of a James Bond esque character. And of course Xavier can walk. Now that last point is only important if you are familiar with the comic series.
So what is First Class about? It’s about the beginning of the X-Men team and the relationship of Magneto and Xavier. Much like X-Men we start off in Poland during WWII. This scene is paramount because it essentially gives us Magneto in a nut shell. He’s Jewish and of course in a concentration camp. We find his powers as his parents are taken away. Cut to New York. It’s late at night and Charles Xavier wakes up to find his “mother” in the kitchen. He points out that his mother never goes in the kitchen and enter the odd looking Raven Darkholme aka Mystique. Cut back to Nazi Germany and we get Kevin Bacon talking in German trying to get young Magneto to use his powers. Boom. Kills the mother thus leading to an ape shit attack on the Nazis.
This opening sequence could essentially tell you all you need to know about the movie. Magneto is a tortured soul, desperate for revenge or will be after witnessing what he witnessed and Xavier is placid, content, spoiled little rich kid. We get cut to the ’60s. Magneto is hunting down the remnants of the Nazi party, brutally killing them, while Xavier is at Oxford with his “sister.”
We are reintroduced to Kevin Bacon aka Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club which includes the sultry January Jones as the half naked Emma Frost. And who could forget the father of Nightcrawler, Azazel. Eventually Moira McTaggert, who works for the government gets Xavier and Raven’s help on the situation.
They launch an attack on Shaw that just ends horribly, we see for the first time Magneto and Xavier work together but of course the operation fails. Jump forward a bit and we soon get the start of a beautiful friendship with the two as they go to a strip club to recruit Angel (a stripper), Darwin (a taxi driver), Havok (a juvie) and a failed attempt at some fan service. I forgot to mention Sean Cassidy aka Banshee but I guess maybe he does get forgotten a bit due to the fact that he’s not alive in the comics.
Following Emma Frost’s escapade to the Soviet soil, both Magneto and Xavier go off to get Shaw. Little do they know that Shaw isn’t there as him and his two other brood go after the complex and wipe out the entire “human” group there taking Angel with them and killing off Darwin. Meanwhile during Magneto’s fit he attacks the Soviet soldiers and ends up nearly killing Frost, during a pretty intense scene. We then find out the plan that Shaw has been working on. At the beginning of the film he has an American general convince the rest of them to place missiles in Turkey. While he tells the Soviets to put them in Cuba.
Start WWIII, an all out nuclear war, that leaves the “Children of the Atom” as he calls it to reign victorious. Following an intense fight scene as well as some questioning in regards as to who they are (mainly Mystique and Beast) the film takes you to the ultimate conclusion as Magneto turns bad, and thusly cripples Xavier (I think this is more fan service). The film ends in a way that you could presume there would be a sequel and this made me giddy.
I won’t lie though I am a fanboy of the X-Men series having read all 537 issues of Uncanny. The inaccuracies to the comics are there. The original X-Men did not consist of Darwin (recent addition), Angel (this is not the Warren Worthington version), Mystique or Havok (but his brother was). Beast was the only original X-Man in the film. And of course as I reread that sentence I forgot about Banshee, who also wasn’t an original. The film also attempts to be a period-drama while still maintaining the super hero aspect and trying to be a thriller. At times it drops one for the other. The super hero aspect isn’t shown until later in the film, more like the later scenes when the action takes place.
Magneto, while he’s hunting down Nazis, reminded me heavily of Daniel Craig’s James Bond and I really did enjoy that but trying to manipulate historical events really got me. I thought that while it was genius it also seemed highly inplausible that someone would have that much power in order to do that. But then again this is a movie and that at times you have to be able to suspend your belief in what is and isn’t real in order to thoroughly enjoy a film.
The effects in the film were at times wonderful and awful. Beast looked horrible after undergoing his transformation and during the whole film Mystique didn’t look that good. I actually think the original trilogy had a better looking Mystique than this one, and that’s a shame. It also looked like Beast was wearing a rug the whole time as well. Meanwhile the effects during Magneto’s early freak out scene looked shoddy as well, thanks to the concept of crushing and destroying metal. Meanwhile other effects didn’t look half as bad but I get the feeling that Fox didn’t want to sink a large amount of money into the actual film itself seeing as they would just lose the license if they didn’t make a movie with the property within a period of time.
I thought the story was sound, it wasn’t the greatest ever but for a super hero/comic book film it flowed right. The fact that the montage was edited like it was going from panel to panel really entertained me greatly. I felt like at times I was reading a comic itself, although the dialogue never got too comicy or deep it felt like it knew what it was going for and it hit it dead on.
The acting bothered me from time to time. Why was Xavier saddled with a UK accent? James McAvoy was fine the role, and they got him to be a very jerky person just like he is in the comic and I’ll forgive that. Jennifer Lawrence felt a bit flat throughout the film as Mystique and that was a bit odd. I would expect someone who was nominated for best actress in the past five years would have been doing a better job. The surrounding cast though did a good if not above average job portraying their characters. I did feel like Michael Fassbender and Kevin Bacon stole the show and that was a damn good thing. Fassbender did remind me of Craig’s Bond throughout the entire film and that made me chuckle a bit. Kevin Bacon playing a villain still felt odd at the end ultimately even after watching him be a drug dealer in Super.
This review is definitely getting a bit out of hand due to length so let me sum it up. First Class is not without it’s flaws but it’s flaws don’t detract for the film’s overall enjoyment. The fact that it’s not going to be the biggest and best super hero film this summer doesn’t shock me. In a year where Thor and Captain America get huge nods from Marvel and DC churns out Green Lantern would make me place X-Men: First Class in the top two almost guaranteed this summer thinking that either Lantern or America will disappoint. The mistakes in the makeup (Beast!!!) as well as iffy effects at times take away from a phenomenal comic book film and it successfully breathes life into a slowly dying franchise after Wolverine and Last Stand. I give First Class a nice 9/10.