After the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which followed the very mixed reception towards X-Men: The Last Stand, 20th Century Fox decided to give the series a soft reboot. The initial idea of an X-Men origin story was conceived by X2 producer Lauren Shuler Donner (Also Richard Donner’s wife). Brian Singer, director of the first two X-Men movies, also produced X-Men: First Class. They later chose to write a loose adaptation of the X-Men: First Class comic series. It also overtook the Magneto Origins movie that Fox planned before Wolverine’s first solo movie was received so poorly.
The basic idea behind the movie is a shared origin story for Magneto, Charles Xavier and the X-Men as a whole. When you focus on those aspects of the movie, it worked brilliantly. James McAvoy is a lot of fun as a younger, more rambunctious Charles Xavier. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of a grief stricken, vengeful young Magneto is captivating. Nicholas Hoult convincingly portrays an enthusiastic scientist Beast who feels insecure about his unusually large feet. And as much as a lot of people don’t like Mystiques portrayal as more of a hero than her comic book counterpart, Jennifer Lawrence acts the part well.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn, First Class has a very strong 60’s groove to it, all the way to the background soundtrack to even the cinematography. It expertly ties in real historic events into the movie’s narrative, while simultaneously giving the mutants a bit of an in-universe coming out party. Probably not the best coming out party, but it could have been worse. The action in the series is the best of the series as of its release.
There’s a great balance between character development, drama and humour. The montage of the X-Men training is quite possibly the best single scene in the entire history of the X-Men team movies, with a great mix of humour, character drama and being kind of inspirational. And of course, it’s a starting point for playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, seeing as how he plays Sebastian Shaw (the main villain of the movie). He strikes a great balance between friendly, intimidating and charismatic in the role.
(First Class perfectly establishes the long-time friendship
between these two long-time rivals)
With all the praise I just threw First Class, you’d think it’s my favourite movie that I’ve seen so far in this blogathon. And when I first saw the movie, I’d say it is the best of the X-Men movies. It helps that First Class released in 2011, the year I first got into comics. I already recognized most of the characters in the movie, and it felt refreshing to see them all on screen.
And yet I have some big problems with this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I still like it as a whole. There’s a lot to like about X-Men: First Class. But I’ve been hinting at this next point a couple times in this blogathon. The X-Men as a franchise is meant to celebrate the differences between everyone. It’s meant to be an anti-discrimination allegory that works on pretty much every level. And yet the movies have a consistent problem where characters who are from other parts of the world in the comics are given American accents with no explanation. X-Men: First Class is quite possibly the worst offender. It also feels kind of racist.
Let’s quickly explain the racist point first. There are two black characters in the entire movie. Both of them join the X-Men during a montage. There’s Darwin, who’s power of extreme adaptability is supposed to make him completely impossible to kill. In the comics, he’s suddenly developed being intangible to avoid getting shot, or sometimes becoming bulletproof. There was one time where his body involuntarily decided that it was changing too quickly to keep up with all the attacks coming is way, so it just teleported him away.
Darwin even turned into pure energy at one point and got absorbed into an omega powered energy manipulator, and the two of them survived being spaced together for years. That last particular point happened in the very series that introduced Darwin as a character, making it an important point. Darwin’s entire roll in the movie is partying around for a bit, and then getting killed off when Sebastian Shaw shoves energy down his throat.
The other black character joins the villains shortly after with a very weak explanation as to why, with very little character development before or after. That’s why the movie feels racist to me.
As for the Americanization of the series, this movie is full of these characters. Banshee is a rich Irish man in the comics. He’s an average American teenager in the movie. In the X-Men animated shows and video games, Emma Frost usually has a bit of a snobby British accent. Here, she sounds American … and she’s boring. Moira MacTaggert in the comics is a Scottish geneticist who tends to focus on Mutants. In the movie, she’s an American CIA agent. And for a bonus point, they included the red-skinned Azazel, who in the comics is at least part demon and not a mutant. Azazel was introduced in what may actually be the worst X-Men comic story arc ever released. I won’t even name it here.
I still enjoy this movie, but I can’t ignore its faults when I watch it. If my complaints don’t bother you, then you’ll probably love this movie. It might even end up being your favourite X-Men team movie. As for me, I’d rank it somewhere between X-Men Apocalypse and X2. I would also recommend this as a starting point for the X-Men movies if you haven’t seen any of them before, despite its flaws.
Next up is The Wolverine, Logan’s second (and far superior to the first) attempt at a solo movie. I’ll be watching the Unleashed cut, and my entire post may be explaining why it’s the superior version. Then it’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, followed by Deadpool. Those are two of my three favourite X-Men movies so far and I’m very much looking forward to writing about them.