X-Men: First Class is the best of the X-Men film franchise to date, delivering some emotional punches and excellent ties to the original trilogy. At the very least it matches X2.
I don’t want to give much of the plot away, so I’ll try to stick with what’s shown in the trailer. Essentially, this is the true origin story of the X-Men team. The Cuban Missile crisis becomes the backdrop for this film, which provides a great grounding for the story. Starting with the same opening scene as the first X-Men film, we get more of Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) backstory, a deeper context for his anger and life-long vendetta against normal humans. Likewise, we see how Charles Xavier, a.k.a. Professor X (James McAvoy) begins his crusade to bring mutants together to aid humanity and gain society’s acceptance.
Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), Magneto’s childhood tormentor, has allied with the Hellfire Club (its first appearance in the film series) in order to help orchestrate the outbreak of World War III through the tensions between the USSR and the USA, centered on Cuba. Magneto’s determination to kill him, and Xavier’s commitment to stopping him make them allies, and a strong bond forms between them, making their inevitable parting of the ways all the more painful.
Some excellent nods to the original series occur, along with a good deal of new information. Xavier and Raven, a.k.a. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), have a unique relationship that sheds new light on her eventual alignment with Magneto when he forms the Brotherhood of Mutants. The forming of the X-Men shows Beast’s transformation, as well as some all new additions to the lineup (including the nonchronological addition of Alex Summers, a.k.a. Havok, who is supposed to be Scott Summers‘, a.k.a Cyclops’, younger brother, which wouldn’t really work, assuming that Cyclops is in his thirties in the early 2000s). I’ve always thought that Emma Frost (January Jones) should be in this series, and was happy to see more of Beast (who was all but ignored in the previous films, like Gambit and a few others).
James McAvoy does Patrick Stewart justice here. He plays it just a little more light-hearted at first, before realizing what he’s about to get himself into. I almost forgot that he’s supposed to be in a wheelchair, which is a sobering reminder. He has a great rapport with Michael Fassbender, who depicts a fully wounded man, one broken from the start. Their courses seem to be aligned, though their methods remain vastly different. This becomes all the more heart-wrenching when they must eventually divide. Jennifer Lawrence really plays Mystique earnestly, reinforcing her loyalty to Magneto in the future of the series. I thought that January Jones played it a little flat, given Emma Frost’s propensity for emotion, but she looked the part at least. Overall the
The themes of the series and the comics–prejudice, awkwardness, growing up, relationships between unlike parties–remain fully intact and are accentuated through the juxtaposition between the implied eventual conflict between humans and mutants and the conflict between the Soviets and the Americans at present. We really gain solid grounding for everything that is going to happen, while also opening the door for a new trilogy (an opportunity of which the studio should avail itself).
Many people, including myself, thought it was a little odd that the original series did not attempt to work in the tradition yellow suits from the comics. We all know spandex does not always work. However, they really pull it off here–making the suits functional, like pilot jumpsuits. It’s not gaudy or overdone, and I’m happy that made it in. There are also a few cameos that really set this film in the same world as the originals, if anyone thought that this was a reboot. It felt like the 60s, through and through, much like a Bond film in many ways, with the style and the secrecy and a madman gearing to blow up the world (literally). I thought it added a great feel to the film’s atmosphere.
The effects were outstanding. If nothing else, the recent Marvel films have done an amazing job with the visuals. I’m continually blown away by the seamless interweaving of digital and practical effects. Also, Michael Kamen’s original X-Men theme was not left out, but was incorporated nicely by Henry Jackman throughout the film.
See the film, then watch the original trilogy, as I’m going to, and keep an eye out for the close connections between them. I really enjoyed it, and I hope there’s more to come!
P.S. Another point of discontinuity with the original trilogy. In the first film, Xavier said he was 17 when he first met Lehnsherr. Maybe they ran into each other in a pub?
4.5 out of 5 stars