After watching X-Men: First Class, I was really in the mood to rewatch the original trilogy (and maybe even Wolverine…) to see some of the connections between the new and the old (any way you want to look at it!). It’s been awhile since I’ve seen these films, so it will be good to think through them again. I remember really loving the fist of the trilogy, but it does not compare to X2.
I always remember how it begins, with the “X” in the 20th Century fox staying brighter for just a half-second before fading into Sir Patrick Stewart‘s narration about evolution leaping forward. Immediately, I recall the opening of First Class, as they are re-enacted from this emotional scene of Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto, at a concentration camp (with Michael Kamen‘s same music cue). How much better could you get than Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen as your leads, playing off of each other with their unmatched brilliance? This is what grounds a movie which could easily fall into absurdity in the wrong hands. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender absolutely do their predecessors justice, but these original are unmatched. The quiet confrontation between Xavier and Magneto after the Senate hearing is telling, both of a deep history and an impending conflict.
With that attention paid to the emotional bond between Xavier and Lehnsherr, it would have been nice for Brian Singer and company to have established that Logan, a.k.a Wolverine, and Sabretooth have a long and quite turbulent history. I think it would have also behooved them to expand a bit upon the background of Magneto’s vendetta. Here, he seems to simply be spiteful, rather than a crusader. He is a terrorist, but he is a deeply complex character, not simply a Bond villain with dreams of taking over or destroying the world. They hint at this, but it would be nice to have a bit more.
There are some notable absences, like Beast and Gambit, who have been a key part of the X-Men lineup for a long while, Gambit since 1990 and Beast since the beginning. Yes, Gambit appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Beast in X-Men III: The Last Stand, but both should have had more significant roles. Despite some gaps, Brian Singer assembled a solid cast; I’ve already mentioned Stewart and McKellan, who are just excellent. Hugh Jackman does not overplay Wolverine, which have easily descended into hairy, grunting absurdity. Famke Janssen, James Marsters, and Halle Berry all play their roles earnestly, but none had as much to do as Jackman. Anna Paquin (looking very different from her over-sexed True Blood role) plays vulnerable, almost a stand-in for the audience, experiencing the disorienting and frightening change into a mutant, mirroring that teenage sense of being unsettled, of transitioning into something new and not being able to stop it. It’s a frightening experience that we see through her eyes, and it’s one of the main themes from the comics that really came through. The theme of prejudice is certainly present, and they hint at the Mutant Registration Act and all its ramifications, but that is played out much more in the following films.
This was the first of the major Marvel superhero films, with Spider-Man coming two years later. It set the bar for superhero films to come, setting it apart from others like Batman & Robin and Superman III, demonstrating that visual effects had evolved far enough to hold up to the demands of the source material. It’s good, still holding up and enjoyable, though they barely scratched the surface of all the potential offered in the X-Men’s rich history. I think that’s what I enjoyed about First Class; it had such a broad scope, both worldwide and historical. This was just a single situation, though it hinted at more. With each successive installment, however, the scope has grown.
I enjoyed the rewatch, but it has only expounded my eagerness for X2: X-Men United.
To be continued…
4 out of 5 stars
Click here to read my review of X-Men: First Class.