The latest edition of X-Men films, X-Men: First Class, is inspired by the 2006-2007 comic that showcased the beginnings of its most famous members beginning with Professor X, Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Jean Grey. However, in this film, the team roster includes Professor X, Magneto, Beast, Mystique, Banshee, Havok, Darwin, Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost, Azazel, Riptide, and Angel (no, not that Angel – Angel Salvadore a.k.a. Tempest in the comics). Do not let the huge cast fool you, though; this film belongs to Charles Xavier/ Professor X (James McAvoy), and Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender)! Although not accurate to all of the origins in the comic, First Class still successfully captures what makes the X-Men so great (and this coming from a guy who prefers DC Comics)! It does not take a philosophy major to tell you that the X-Men are an allegory for race relations, and this film – taking place first during the Nazis’ cruel rule and genocide over the Jews in 1944, and then during the turbulent times of 1962 when race relations were at their most volatile – perfectly executes this allegory with its James Bond-type style, solid story and near-faultless character development.
This is merely the beginning for Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Magneto (Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Prof. X (McAvoy), and Havok (Lucas Till).
My first question when asking wondering about this film was, “Is it canon with the first three X-Men films?” The answer is a definite “yes” – especially with two particular surprise cameos in the film. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when the movie started because of the recycling of young Lensherr’s first display of his magnetic powers (as seen in Bryan Singer’s 2000 film X-Men), but, fortunately, that is just the beginning of his – and the other mutants’ – journey. I haven’t been a big X-Men comic fan so I wasn’t disappointed by the discrepancies of character origins. For those of you who are fans of the comic, trust me, the origins are greatly altered. One of the great additions to this film was Kevin Bacon as main villain Sebastian Shaw. Bacon has been in his share of hits as well as stinkers, and in most of those films, he’s played a good guy. This time, his role proves two things. First, he can act, which is something most critics could tell you. Second, he should play a bad guy more often! Bacon’s Shaw is a true villain whose mutant power makes him seem almost indestructible, and therefore, makes him a truly formidable foe. His inevitable defeat is carefully crafted and I think very well-executed. On the other hand, while January Jones’ Emma Frost fits the physical traits of the character, her mercenary-like attitude and complex personality are not displayed so well. Many critics have panned Jones’ performance, but I also blame the writers who merely didn’t give her many good lines – or a history, for that matter – to work with. Still, who knows? Hopefully Frost’s history will be explored in the inevitable sequel.
Just the first of many chess matches between troubled surrogate brothers Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr.
One of the best aspects to this film is the relationship between Lensherr/Magneto and Xavier/Prof. X. One of the most powerful, well-acted scenes in the film is when Xavier is trying to teach Lensherr how to hone his magnetic power. Whereas Lensherr had merely used his anger to unleash his power, Xavier teaches him that finding the balance of anger and serenity can help intensify his power, making it possible to lift heavier objects. When Lensherr’s memory is revealed to Xavier and the audience, the bond between McAvoy and Fassbender is both poignant and an inspired piece of acting; it captures the “bromance” relationship between the two in a touching way. And that’s what this film is based in: the deep relationships between the characters. Their love, their fear, their anger; all of these emotions are what drive the characters in their actions as well as their relationships (i.e., Magneto and Prof. X; Mystique and Beast; Shaw and Magneto), and the writers (and director Matthew Vaughn) stylishly pulled it off. Bryan Singer tried to achieve this same tone in his 2000 debut of the franchise. However, while the original X-Men was good, it was not as good as this. I think it is because of the focus of characters. In the original, the main focus was on Rogue and Wolverine, and in this, the focus is on Professor X and Magneto. Rogue and Wolverine have interesting backgrounds – particularly Wolverine who is practically immortal because of his regenerative healing – the two characters were not written well. There were so many aspects of their histories that could have been explored but were not (fortunately, Wolverine later got his own origin movie). In First Class, X and Magneto were focused on just right while also introducing the other assorted characters. There's something I love when the audience is given a glimpse into how a once-good person turns evil. These kinds of stories remind the viewer that anyone could go down this route because most people have a past that is not always pretty; and Lensherr's past is particularly horrifying. First Class simply gets it right!
I have heard that this is the beginning of a new film trilogy and I surely hope so because this is by far the best of the franchise to date. I’m going to say that this is the best comic adaptation of the year! It balances the drama, action, humor and romance in all the right ways. Plus, let’s face it; the explanation of Xavier’s paralysis is so much better in this film than in the comic. This is one of those films that will be a hard act to follow, but it’s finally a proper film for a great franchise. Now, if they could only get my two favorites – Daredevil and The Punisher – right! That would be uncanny.