The year is 1962 and the United States government is on the brink of war with Russia. Tensions are high within the government and the Americans are out of ideas. They reluctantly ask for the help of Mutants with special abilities in order to stop a hostile dictator who is very motivated to start World War III. There was once a time when Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) were best friends. They were young and testing the limits of their powers. Charles is a powerful telepath. He can read and control minds. Erik has the ability to control metal and create magnetic fields. They were young, brash and discovering the extent of their powers. Before they were archenemies, they were best friends. They worked together with other Mutants to stop the greatest threat the world had ever seen. In the midst of forming the X-Men, a lot of disagreement cropped up between Charles Xavier and Erik. This sparked the everlasting war between Magento’s Brotherhood Of Mutants and Professor X’s X-Men.
X-Men: First Class breathes life back into a franchise which many believe lost its way after the letdown of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the abomination, Brett Ratner’s X-Men: Last Stand. First Class reinvented a franchise that had been at the brunt of a lot of hate for a while, thanks to the direction from Matthew Vaughun (Layer Cake) and story by Bryan Singer (X-MEN, X2). First Class goes back to basics telling the origins stories of Magneto, Professor X and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) as well as introducing Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and other well-known mutants from the comics like Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), Emma Frost/White Queen (January Jones), Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz) and the main antagonist in the form of Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw whose mutant ability is to absorb energy. With that energy, he can do disastrous things.
It’s quite dark, for film based on Marvel characters. It’s grounded in reality and it’s set on the backdrop of the Cold War and The Cuban Missile Crisis, two of my favourite parts of history. There were no mutants back then, that we know of. The film starts very grimly with a young Erik being taken away from his mother and given a mark to show that he’s a mutant. We are also subject to a young Sebastian Shaw in the form of Kevin Bacon (Black Mass). The events with Shaw and Erik’s mother, have a hollowing impact on the older version of Erik and further his mentality into becoming Magneto. Michael Fassbender (Macbeth, 12 Years A Slave) as Magneto is truly awesome. He’s dark yet he’s humanized as well. Shaw is cold, pragmatic and unflinching played by the talented and charismatic Kevin Bacon to a marvellous degree.
This movie explains the ideologies of its main characters in a way that is the understandable without muddying the plot at all. Charles Xavier is a genius at twenty-four years old. His joyous persona is great to see as he truly loves people, and will do anything he can do help anyone need, especially the mutants who have to hide their abilities. Like many young women, Raven is troubled by her appearance. Not because she doesn’t like something as simple as her hair or body size but because she’s blue. She wants to be normal, just like the rest of humanity. We also have Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) as Hank McCoy whose feet are like hands. He wants normal feet and applies his intelligence to find any cure for it. He grasps at an easy life, to fit in just like Raven. But we see that his experiments only make things worse…or better, depending on your perception.
The core of the movie is when Erik and Charles have any of their deep, meaningful or philosophical discussions onscreen. First Class is about their origins stories more than the rest of the cast. It’s about how the best friends drifted apart due to ideological differences about a movement that would ultimately define humanity for generations. Two friends fighting for the same thing but their methods differed. I suppose you could compare the fight for Mutant Rights to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Dr Martin Luther King Jr is Professor Charles Xavier as he used peaceful means in comparison to Erik who is Malcolm X. Malcolm X and Magneto were willing to use violence to get what they want. Both actors are excellent. Fassbender is powerful, fiery and emotional as Magneto who has suffered a lot as Erik. He lost his mother to Shaw and was taken by the Nazis. He’s been on an unhealthy quest for revenge ever since, but I can’t blame him. I feel that the only actor to surpass Fassbender’s performance in a comic book movie is Ben Affleck as Batman in Batman V Superman.
Then we have James McAvoy (Last King Of Scotland) as Charles Xavier, which is another tough role. He has to man-up quickly and stop being this philanderer of women…“Heterochromia…the names Xavier, Charles Xavier”. He can’t be the person he was any more; a womanizer and drinking every day. He sees that the founding of a new species is coming, his species. He has to balance his intelligence and his abilities with being a mentor and a father-figure to these teenage mutants at the age of twenty-four. He’s the epicentre of the mutant community and all eyes are on him. McAvoy has made the role his and it’s something special. I enjoy the scenes between him and his adopted sister, Raven (Lawrence) and I love the conversations between him and Erik even more so. Quite frankly, they are magnetic to watch.
The only female character I think was portrayed integrally was Raven/Mystique played by Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone). From what I’ve seen of Mad Men, January Jones is excellent. In X-Men: First Class, she’s constantly in skimpy outfits. Rose Byrne plays the not-very-Scottish CIA Agent MacTaggert (Insidious). She is better represented than Jones but not much since she’s down to her lingerie within minutes of being introduced, in addition to Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz) being a stripper when we meet her as well. In retaliation to my point, I think that the creative team would argue that they’re trying to recreate the ideologies of the 1960s. This is an era where women still found trouble with being taken seriously and were only seen as commodity items by the male patriarchy. I suppose that is fair assessment despite not liking the depiction of women in the movie that much. That’s down to personal opinion rather than being something wrong with the film.
As well as being a comic book movie, this is also a period drama. It’s set in the 1960s with the renowned Cuban Missile Crisis as a political plot which connects to the basis of the movie’s main plot three-quarters into the movie. The period costume design was really great as well as going back to the iconic yellow costumes from the comics for the X-Men. It was great to see comic inspired costumes on the screen with the welcome Hugh Jackman cameo onscreen as Wolverine. Charles and Erik try to recruit him and he replies back “go fuck yourself” in the brash and brazen style of Wolverine.
The awesomeness of this film not only comes from the actors behind the characters, but also the writing story and direction. Matthew Vaughn in the director’s chair was a great move and he’s gone on to do some great flicks including Kick-Ass and Kingsman: Secret Service. I can only imagine how good Last Stand could have been if he had full helmed that instead of Brett Ratner. It’s quite a dark movie yet its pacing stays fast despite the consistent dialogue between Erik and Charles. Also, there’s some the great action sequences from Shaw’s team of mutants and Charles’ X-Men.
Like with most comic book movies, it critiques humanity as an ideological concept. It does this more than any superhero movie I’ve ever seen; as humans are out to capture mutants and eventually kill them. Mankind has always feared what it does not understand. This is where Erik and Charles differ in opinion. Charles believes human can be good and fair. This is when I think Charles is a bit naive. He hasn’t lived as Erik has. Charles grew up in a mansion with money. Erik’s story is much different and he has to deal with a lot emotional baggage wrought from bad people’s deeds. Magneto sees this and Charles does not see this as clearly as Erik does. It’s not a black and white fight. Many of the ideologies and opinions are grey and relative to your own perception. We are all right in our own mind.
In conclusion, the story is very compelling due to using a real historical event as the basis of its premise. Also, the casting of every character is great, as well as the costume design. I did suffer a nerd-giggle moment when the yellow costumes were revealed. But what got me was the character development, and the emotional talks between: Charles and Erik, Erik and Raven and Charles and Raven. Henry Jackman’s musical score was on point too. Every element of the film is first class and my only negative point is the depiction of female roles.