Date Posted: June 10, 2011
Print Edition: June 10, 2011
In case you wanted to know exactly how Magneto came to be the evil mastermind he is in X-Men, X2, and X-Men 3, then X-men First Class, which kicked off summer blockbuster season on June 3, is the film for you! It’s also the film for you if you love gazing into James McAvoy-as-young-Professor-X’s stunning blue eyes, or watching bad guy sidekick January Jones’ assets strain against a white bikini top, or if you really really want to see Kevin Bacon as supervillain Sebastian Shaw.
But Magneto steals the show. Michael Fassbender, who portrays the powerful metal-manipulating mutant with a ginormous chip on his shoulder, turned out the acting job of the century in what was a very meaty and well developed character arc. It really seems like the film should be called X-men: Magneto and Some Other Chumps. But it’s not; it’s called First Class after what turns out to be the first class of Professor X’s school for gifted youngsters. The gifted youngsters, including a nubile teen Mystique who is self-conscious about her mutation, mostly come across as afterthoughts when compared to the emotional journey we are taken on by Erik Lensherr, aka the amazing Magneto.
Both Mystique and Beast turn up in the later (earlier?) films, and, as is the nature with prequels, we know how they end up. The prequel is about how they get there. We know that in the future Professor X is in a wheelchair, and so most people will spend the whole movie waiting for that to happen. And even though we know that eventually X and Magneto part ways due to extreme ideological differences, it’s still rewarding to see their genuine camaraderie in the beginning. We know Charles Xavier as pretty much the nicest guy ever – but it’s fun to see him start out as a pompous UK doctorate grad with a fratboy mentality, and to see how he evolves into the revered Professor X. Especially gratifying is Wolverine’s super short cameo, which really made me wish that all moves ever had Wolverine in them. Yeah, even Driving Miss Daisy.
So that’s how First Class succeeds as a prequel. But does it succeed as a standalone film? Mostly. The action is great, the swingin’ 60s time period is aesthetically pleasing (especially in the costume department), the mutant powers are awesome, and the revisionist history (Cuban Missile Crisis anyone?) works as a tried-and-true franchise plot device. Character arcs start to get a little hackneyed with a bit too much “mutant pride” and “self acceptance” schlock, but I guess that’s an important lesson for the kids these days.
Ultimately, First Class stands up as a great origin story for three key players in the later films. It also tackles the same central questions as the other films in the franchise: can humans co-exist with mutants? Will humans ever accept mutants? What makes a good mutant different from a bad mutant? It all boils down to optimism vs. pessimism, a point that is hammered forcefully into clunky dialogue near the end. Verdict? I laughed, I cried, I clapped, I ate popcorn for lunch and felt ill. Overall, a great summer action flick with very believable younger versions of characters we know and love. Go see it and bring the whole family.