The film X-men: First Class was exactly what I expected it to be. The elements that I felt would be strengths did not disappoint while my concerns about the film were well founded.
The review below does little to spoil any of the film. But I do hint at some things that I feel most audiences saw coming based on the previews and previous comic knowledge. The closest thing to a spoiler (although I don’t see how you can’t see this coming) is in the second to last paragraph on weaknesses. So skip it if you so desire.
The strengths of X-men: First Class lie in its portrayal of two characters that are often times portrayed as archetypes – Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto). I particularly enjoyed watching the interpretation of these two characters as their origins unfold. We all know that Magneto’s anger and hatred of homo sapiens stems from his experiences in the concentration camps. His tragic past is what makes Magneto such a relatable and intriguing villain. Any audience can understand and even sympathize with Magneto’s outlook on life and his perspective concerning human behavior. Magneto has always been more than just a megalomaniac bent on world domination. Some might even call him an anti-hero.
But this film presents him as a tragic hero. His flaw is his inability to forgive and let go of his anger. First Class does with Magneto what the Star Wars prequels failed to do with Darth Vader – portray a relatable character with whom the audience simultaneously sympathizes and reveres. The ending of this film, when Erik fully becomes Magneto is far more satisfying than the angst-ridden Vader. As the central character of this storyline, Magneto dominates the screen in his very fulfilling action sequences. Michael Fassbender was magnificent in his compelling portrayal of the character.
Charles Xavier, however, was the most surprising character development. What I loved about the portrayal of Xavier was his pompous arrogance and his naïve optimism. We are privy to a Xavier who is just formulating his identity and his ideals. His open exception of his fellow mutants is expected, what is a surprising but fitting development is his belief that mutants should hide aspects of their mutations that are viewed as abnormal or disturbing. Ironically, even hypocritically, he trains young mutants to develop and control their powers while also implying that they should conceal them.
While the obvious conflict is between the first class of X-men and the Hellfire Club, the true conflict is between the differing philosophies of Charles and Erik. What I found interesting is that this film seems to show that Magneto is right. Still, we all hope that Xavier is right. That’s always been the difference between these two characters – Magneto is the realist while Xavier is the optimist. This film captures that beautifully.
The other brilliant part of the film is its epic cameo. ‘Nuff said.
Let us not spend too much time on the weaknesses that are obvious. First, the storyline is choppy. The choice of characters is random. For X-men fanboys this film has far too many continuity issues. For X-men newbies this film has far too many obscure characters (some of which don’t even have any lines). Who cares about Riptide, Angel, and Darwin? I’d even argue that Banshee is a fairly boring character in the film. Too many characters equals a lack of character development. And why was Oliver Platt even in this movie?
Now I can deal with some creative liberties. I even understand how having Mystique as an adopted sister to Xavier adds to the storyline. I still don’t like it, but at least it has purpose. I’ll even ignore that Havok is in the film. I mean without him, the powers of this first class are pretty sad. So I’m not going to nitpick and quote every issue of the comic that contradicts the film.
What I do take issue with, however, is when a film that is obviously claiming continuity with the other three X-men films (and the Wolverine film) can’t even stay true to its own continuity. (Spoiler alert!) While they explain why Mystique doesn’t look 50 in the X-men films, they don’t explain how Emma Frost is old enough to walk around in lingerie in the 60s but apparently is 16 in the modern era setting of X-men Origins: Wolverine. While Xavier claims in X-men that Cerebro was built with Magneto’s help, it’s a product of Beast’s invention in First Class. The grossest discrepancy, however, is that Xavier and Magneto split ways after Xavier is paralyzed, while in both Wolverine and X-men: The Last Stand we see an upright Xavier who in the latter is still recruiting a young Jean Grey alongside Magneto. Just ludicrous.
My final complaint is that I wanted the story to be more of a historical piece. I thought that there would be a clear parallel made between animocity for the mutants and the Civil Rights Movement and Red Scare. Perhaps that will be in the forefront for some kind of sequel. As long as there is more Magneto, I’ll see it.
In all, I give it three skulls.
For more reviews of X-Men First Class, check out what Jaz and Brandon have to say here.
I understand that they are simply rebooting the franchise with this film and discounting all previous material (except perhaps the first X film?) But as far as I can tell with the x films the only constant will be Hugh as our Wolvie. (ps. Still havent seen it. But I know ill get my money’s worth now!)
Perhaps you are right, but it sure doesn’t look like a reboot. Glad you’re going to see it as it is definitely worth seeing. Let me know what you think after viewing it with your own eyes.