Synopsis: Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together, with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-MEN.
Release Date: June 3, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Fantasy
The beginning of X-Men: First Class takes the viewer to the year 1944. Amidst the Nazi occupation of Poland a young Jewish boy is separated from his family, and in his panic, his special gift of moving metal is revealed to the commander (Sebastian Shaw as played by Kevin Bacon). For those familiar with the X-Men comics or prior films, you immediately know the name of this boy and who he will become in his later life. Erik, the soon to be Magneto, is put to a test of his abilities by the commander, the price of failure being the death of his mother. The price of succeeding regardless of his mother’s fate is far worse as he will be bred as a weapon.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean lives a boy in a large mansion who awakens from his sleep believing there is an intruder in the home. In the kitchen, he finds his mother at the refrigerator, who tells him she was simply getting a snack and everything is fine. Charles is not a regular buy though, and he is well aware it is not his mother standing before him. The impersonator swiftly takes her real form, that of a child with blue scales for skin and dark red hair. Her name is Raven and like Charles, and Erik, she is a mutant.
Flash forward to the present day of the story, the year 1962, and Charles (James McAvoy) is nearly completing his PhD in genetic mutations, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) has grown up with Charles as his sister, and Erik (Michael Fassbender) is a grown man hell-bent on revenge against those who hurt his family; one man, in particular, is at the top of his list, Sebastian Shaw. As Erik puts it in regards to his special abilities, “I am Frankenstein’s monster, looking for his creator.”; while Charles is a more gentle soul who believes humans and mutants can live together in harmony, and Raven, a woman torn between accepting her mutant self and the desire to be a normal girl. These three mutants will soon find one another as they must work together to thwart Shaw’s plans to ignite a third world war, with the end result being the death of humans and the rise of mutants.
X-Men: First Class is the story of how the X-Men came to be, and what drove mutants to fear humans and each other. While there are the good and the bad mutants in the film, the two main opposing sides of the future X-Men stories do not exist, yet. This is the movie where you discover how Erik and Charles became friends and later enemies. Here you find out how the mutants came to live at Charles’ home, making it a safe haven and training ground for future generations.
Additionally, and unfortunately where the film lacks a great deal of substance, is the conflict between human and mutant. The fight against Shaw is not a mutant fight alone, as the “good” mutants are teamed up with the CIA through Agent Moira Mac Taggert (Rose Byrne). The Cuban Missile Crisis is on the horizon, and the Cold War looms (not quite so heavily) over the entire film.
What X-Men: First Class does well is the introduction to the various mutants of the film and their specific abilities. The mutants are explained to be the children of the atom bomb, an abomination or evolution brought on by man’s own scientific creation. The “good” mutants are mostly young adults who have no formal training with their powers or any experience in combat situations. The “bad” mutants are more powerful, older, and very much experienced with wreaking havoc–these mutants, of course, include Sebastian Shaw, the evilest among them.
Using a form on long scene-montage each “good” mutant is introduced as a character within a flirty, gay filled expedition by Charles and Erik. They seek them out together and revel in the discovery of all the hidden talent/abnormalities in the world. The “bad” mutants need no formal introduction to their background because their actions make the viewer aware immediately of their motivations and mindsets, they like power, death, and control. The key relationship behind the entire film is that of Erik and Charles (Professor X and Magneto) and it is clearly developed and defined by film’s end.
With the good comes a bit of the bad. While the film is entertaining to watch from start to finish, even if it is in need of some tighter editing, a solid foundation of a story is not fully realized. The conflict between Shaw and his mutants versus Erik, Charles and their’s is always in the background as it motivates the entire effort of forming a mutant defense yet it never feels important. Screenwriter’s Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn were obviously more interested in profiling the mutant’s themselves, and the internal relationship’s among them than giving them a solid unified goal. There are two plotlines going on in X-Men: First Class and while they bridge together briefly, in the end, the stronger of the two, that of the discovery of mutant’s, is far more interesting than stopping a nuclear war.
When it came to casting the roles of Charles/Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) it was imperative that these two men/actors have chemistry. The choices made by the filmmakers have proven to be successful. McAvoy and Fassbender complement each other very well, one with his dark brooding intensity and the other more lighthearted, full of hope, and eager to excel through learning and good conscience.
When the two are together they reflect upon one another and also share an immediate bond that can be felt by the viewer. Their relationship may come across to some as a tad too intimate at times, like they just may be lovers as well as friends. Put those thoughts aside and just accept that they are two men who find the other parts of what they need in each other through friendship. When the moment comes that their friendship is made irreparable it is a melancholy moment, and worthy of a title such as the “male weepie”.
Again, with the good comes the bad. The young mutants are horrendous to watch together. There is a particular scene where they are all in a room, just “hanging out”. To call the time they spend together awkward is a compliment. The spotty timing on the editing with delayed reactions in response to show and tell of mutant ability only makes it worse, by the minute. We could blame inexperienced actors, or poor casting, maybe even distracted direction on Matthew Vaughn’s part. For whatever reason, it may exist it is a sad reality when the majority of an ensemble cast makes spending a morning at the dentist more agreeable than watching them talk to one another.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Matthew Vaughn
- Screenwriter(s): Zack StentzJane GoldmanMatthew Vaughn
- Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique), Michael Fassbender (Erik/Magneto), James McAvoy (Professor Xavier/Charles), January Jones (Emma Frost), Rose Byrne (Dr. Moira Mac Taggert), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy/Beast), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw), Zoe Kravitz (Angel Salvadore), Jason Flemyng (Azazel), Lucas Till (Alex Summers/Havok), Morgan Lily (Young Raven/Young Mystique)
- Editor(s): Eddie Hamilton
- Cinematographer: Lee Smith
- Production Designer(s): John Mathieson
- Country Of Origin: USA