I love the X-Men. I love the animated series from the 90s. I love the current comics run by Matt Fraction. I love mohawk Storm. Cyclops will forever be one of my favorite characters in any form of fiction. When Fox and Marvel teamed with Bryan Singer to make the first X-Men movie, I was ecstatic. The same went for the sequel. The third movie wasn’t so great, but Fox knew that these were characters that could keep bringing people back to the theater. After the announcement that X-Men: First Class was going back to the beginning under the helm of Matthew Vaughn, I was skeptical, but held out hope nonetheless. Thankfully, I was rewarded for my optimism as X-Men: First Class, flawed as it is, might just be the best X-Men film to date.
X-Men: First Class
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn
If you haven’t seen any of the trailers, X-Men: First Class is set during the early 1960s, and tells the story of how Magneto and Professor X came to know one another. It’s also the story of how the first group of collected mutants helped avert the third World War by stopping the Cuban Missile Crisis. The geo-political climate serves as a great backdrop to the story of children of the atom awaking in an era of nuclear uncertainty. First Class is also an origin story of sorts for Magneto and Xavier, as well as a few other familiar mutant faces like Mystique and Beast. There are some really great moments in this movie that revolve around Magneto coming into his own, and the way in which his ideology is shaped is wonderfully woven into the narrative. Xavier’s story is important as well, but his character and belief system don’t really change all that much during the course of the two-hour film.
Unfortunately, where the film falters most is in its lack of continuity within the film franchise. Even as a devout comic book fan, I can always accept when changes are made in adapting a comic book story into a film. I don’t care if the continuity I’ve followed for the past twenty years is more of a guide than it is set in stone when it comes to superhero movies. What does bother me is when a film can’t even bother to follow the continuity of its own franchise. There have been three X-Men films proper, and a Wolverine spin-off. Mystique plays a fairly significant role in the previous three X-films, and the way she is used here almost solely contradicts what came in the previous movies. That said, this version of Mystique is by far the most interesting, fleshed-out, and compelling character she’s ever been. Her character in this film is conflicted and smart, and grows leaps and bounds from the moment we meet her to the end credits.
The use of Emma Frost in this film is also quite maddening. First because January Jones is absolutely bored with the role, and second because it makes no sense that Emma is in her late 20s/early 30s in this film, but is in her teens in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Since Wolverine takes place sometime during the 1970s, and that film is part of this franchise’s continuity, that decision makes no sense. Never mind the fact that at the end of Wolverine, Professor Xavier shows up and still has use of his legs, despite the fact that he becomes paralyzed by the end of First Class. I wish that this was just me being nitpicky, but it was incredibly distracting to witness the events of this movie unfold knowing how the previous movies had already played out. What’s more, if this movie isn’t supposed to be an in-continuity prequel, there are an awful lot of nods and allusions to the other four X-Men movies.
Major gripes out of the way, I still had a great time watching this movie. Michael Fassbender is an absolute revelation in the role of Magneto. He’s a total bad-ass, and absolutely steals every second of the movie he is in. I wasn’t sad we never got the Magneto solo movie before, but I am now. Fassbender’s chemistry with James McAvoy, who plays Xavier, is strong, as is his chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Mystique. The bizarre love square that’s built around Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, and a young Henry McCoy is actually one of the better B-stories of the film. Though I already praised the character of Mystique earlier, a lot of that credit is due to the excellent performance of Lawrence. She really gives the character life, and you truly believe in her motivations. Pretty much every other mutant in this movie, save for Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw and Nicholas Hault’s Beast, is there simply to be a cool-looking effect. Bacon does an admirable job, and Hault, prior to his transformation, is really great. He isn’t really given much to do after he completely transforms, but the awkwardness of his crush on Mystique is completely believable.
Though it isn’t without its issues, X-Men: First Class is still an incredibly solid movie. In large part, that’s due to how much screen time is given to the most interesting characters, which is a smart move. If you’re able to get past the strange choices they made within the continuity of the movie franchise, you’ll have a great time watching this movie. My only real wish was that this had been a reboot, and all of the characters were being given a fresh start. That, and I wish they had included Cyclops for my own selfish satisfaction. X-Men: First Class gives the X-Men movies a bit of a new lease on life though, and I hope that Fox and Marvel are able to keep up this kind of quality moving forward.