Film Review: 'X-Men: First Class'

Updated on March 4, 2019
RachaelLefler profile image

My superpower is making witty comments about movies. I still haven't been recruited by the X-Men...

This movie started out as a planned sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine that was going to be called X-Men Origins: Magneto. You can kind of see how it starts off that way, and then branches off, involving a large host of mutants in a fairly complex plot.

Plot

Professor Charles Xavier: I can't stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.

Erik Lehnsherr: Can we? Identification, that's how it starts. And ends with being rounded up, experimented on and eliminated.

The main focus is on Charles Xavier, who later becomes known as Professor X, and Magneto, whose real name is Erik Lehnsherr. As a child, Erik was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, for being Jewish. When separated from his mother, he uses his mutant power (magnet powers here means he has telekinesis mostly affecting metal, but this article explains that he could theoretically affect anything), to bend the gate of the concentration camp. He's just lashing out because of pain, which seems to bring out his power.

A Nazi officer tries to bring the power out of him, but he is unable to move a coin on the officer's desk. It seems that while calm, he is not able to summon his power. So they bring in his mother, and threaten to shoot her if she doesn't bring out his power.

Only after they shoot his mother does Erik unleash his power, in a rage.

Meanwhile, Charles Xavier, a telepath, discovers a shape-shifting mutant, Raven, trying to impersonate his mother to steal food. He takes her in, and she becomes an adopted sister to him.

In the 60s, as the two are growing up, the gist of it is some bad mutants, including Azazel, who has a demon's name and form, are trying to escalate tension between the U.S. and Russia. The purpose of their plan is to eliminate humans and make a world for mutants. Apparently mutants are caused by radiation, so huge amounts of bombs would bring out more mutations. A plan so obviously silly that it's hard to take all that seriously, but anyway...

Xavier becomes friends with Erik and they set up a team of mutant children they recruit. Thus forming that mutant Hogwarts which has since become a setting iconic within the X-Men franchise. The kids get a training montage about learning how to control their powers. And good thing they do it just in time for the final showdown. But actually they're all saved from missiles by Magneto stopping them. So their own arcs about learning to accept themselves for who they are, ends up actually meaning very little. There's a lot more, this movie is densely packed with characters and events, but that's mostly all that happens that's particularly impactful.

The central conflict in the story is between Professor X, with his utopian ideals about helping mutants be proud of who they are, and Magneto, who kind of has a grudge against the Nazis. Extending somewhat to a grudge against non-mutant humans in general.

Info

Add "chess playing = intelligence" to the list of Hollywood tropes I'm tired of that show up in this film.
Add "chess playing = intelligence" to the list of Hollywood tropes I'm tired of that show up in this film.
Title
X-Men: First Class
Studios
Marvel Entertainmen, The Donners' Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Dune Entertainment, & Ingenious Film Partners, Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Producers
Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, & Gregory Goodman
Director
Matthew Vaughn
Writers
Screenplay by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, & Matthew Vaughn; Story by Sheldon Turner & Bryan Singer; Based on X-Men by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee
Main Actors/Actresses
James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt , & Kevin Bacon
Cinematographer
John Mathieson
Music by
Henry Jackman
Box Office
$353.6 million
MPAA Rating
PG-13
Awards
Saturn Award for Best Makeup; ASCAP Award for Top Box Office Films; Creativity Awards Gold Award for Marketing Promotion - Poster; IGN Summer Movie Awards for Best Movie Actor Michael Fassbender for A Dangerous Method , Jane Eyre and Shame, Best Comic Book Adaptation Movie; IGN People's Choice Award for Best Movie, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for Best Actor Michael Fassbender; Scream Awards for Best Fantasy Movie, Best Cameo - Hugh Jackman; SFX Award for Best Director - Matthew Vaughn; SFXW Film Festival Award for Excellence in Title Design

Review

X-Men: First Class is not a terrible movie, but it feels a bit mixed. They have a lot of origin stories for a lot of familiar comic book characters crammed into one movie. On top of that is that the bad guys' plot involves the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, so the movie is not only made complicated by pushing in the back stories of so many characters at once, but by also trying to comment on recent history. I say 'trying', because all it says are the obvious things that have already been said about the Cold War; ie, don't do nukes, kids, nukes are bad.

The best part of this movie is the way it follows the development of Mystique, Professor X, and Magneto through their early childhood to adolescence. Where the movie falls apart is that it becomes a cheesy spy movie with too many characters to keep track of. Tender moments between child Mystique and child Charles Xavier, and some pretty fight scenes here and there, weren't enough to make me especially care about the movie.

Another great moment in this movie is when Wolverine tells people trying to recruit him to go fuck themselves. It's his only line in the movie, and it's a terrific one. I preferred X-Men Origins: Wolverine to this movie, because it focused on the emotional journey of a single character. You felt everything Wolverine felt, and it was clear that other mutants were part of his story. In contrast, X-Men: First Class doesn't know whose story it wants to focus on, giving us lots of people's stories at once, which gets confusing. You spend half the movie not even sure which X-Men identity will later be associated with which kid, so it's a little hard to get invested in their stories. That, and the "mutants did the Cuban missile crisis" plot that brings everyone together for a finale feels awkward, outdated, and reminiscent of cheesy old pulp spy novels. They're not saying anything interesting about contemporary warfare.

So, maybe that's not why people go to a movie about super-powered teenagers learning to control their powers and save the world. But they also fail to improve or expand on the "it's okay to be different" message of the X-Men comics. This message does come in the form of a forcibly dramatized part where one student tries to cure his mutation. He offers the cure to Raven, who refuses. The serum he develops makes his mutation even worse, turning him into the mutant we now know as Beast, the big blue guy. Should have tested it on a rat first?

The main problem is the ending of the movie feels like it just checked off a checklist of mutant character appearances, and, having checked all the boxes on the list, is satisfied with itself. Despite not really offering any deeper meaning or better reason to care about most of the characters.

There is some interest in the excessively tragic nature of Magneto's past. The plot uses Nazis as a device to amp up the dramatic tension in his story. It feels lame because they're such an obvious and oft-repeated Hollywood bad guy. Using the Cold War for the climax also seems too obvious, and in both cases it feels like they're turning real people and events into cartoonish clichés. Maybe the comics did this plot too, but they could have updated it. This movie came out in 2011, but has a story that feels clearly pulled from the 80s.


Rating for X-Men: First Class: 7/10

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    © 2019 Rachael Lefler

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