Going back and taking a look at the reboot of the X-Men franchise eleven years after the first movie hit theaters. Spoilers for X-Men: First Class.
Released: June 3, 2011
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Zoë Kravitz, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Caleb Landry Jones, Edi Gathegi, Álex González
In this much needed reboot of a series that had lost its mojo, we meet a young Charles Xavier (McAvoy) (before he is paralyzed and becomes bald) and a well on his way to crazy Erik Lensherr (Fassbender) as the two pillars of the X-Men lore meet, unite to fight a common enemy, and become friends in the process. As the trailer says, this is not Professor X and Magneto, just two young men finding themselves defacto leaders of a race of people. The enemy is a fellow mutant named Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) who wants to see the world burn by moving the chess pieces around to start a nuclear war between the Americans and the Soviets at the height of the 60’s era cold war. Charles and Erik, along with Raven (Lawrence) and Hank (Hoult), gather a team of other mutants to stop Shaw from starting World War III.
The film goes back to more of the Civil Rights tone originally used in the comics, without mentioning the actual Civil Rights movement going on during that era. Charles is very much the Martin Luther King Jr. of this friendship, wanting to find a peaceful way to coexist with the humans. Erik has already had a bad time of it being a concentration camp survivor and all and takes the more Malcolm X approach to mutant rights. The other mutants are caught in the middle and eventually takes side when the two friends eventually split after defeating Shaw and narrowly miss being massacred by both the US and Russian government for existing.
Really the whole story doesn’t matter because it is weak and only serves as a way of reintroducing us to this different version of a world we already know about and reestablishing what made the franchise great in the first place. The frenemieship of Charles and Erik. The guidance of their disciples are what drove the first two X-Men movies in the first place. Killing Charles and leaving Erik to go full crazy was one of the MANY reasons why The Last Stand was such a big letdown, and then the two men are not even a part of Wolverine’s two solo movies (a brief cameos at the end of both films doesn’t count). Watching First Class makes me wonder how The Last Stand would have turned out if Vaughn would have stayed on.
McAvoy and Fassbender shine as the future leaders of mutants. You can see how these men could be friends, but you can also see how the friendship has to eventually fail. Another bit that works in the film’s favor is anything established in the original trilogy that doesn’t fit with the story Vaughn is wanting to tell is strictly ignored. The ages when Charles and Erik meet are altered, a relationship between Raven and Charles is in place long before she meets Erik, the timeline in which the government deals with mutants is bumped up.
It is kind of odd to go back and realize that this was Fassbender’s first major starring role and it is only a five year old film. He wowed audiences with his minor part in the fantastic Inglorious Basterds, but his screen time amounted to about 15 minutes at best in a film full of other colorful characters. This was also Lawrence’s first major blockbuster role. Not too long before the film was release, she had already garnered her first Oscar nomination and landed the part of Katniss Everdeen for the much anticipated Hunger Games. This was a woman well on her way to stardom. Not to mention, First Class was Hoult’s first starring role as an adult showing he is not that adorable, chubby kid from the heartwarming About a Boy anymore.
Taking the characters back to the swinging 60’s also offers some fun back into a series that allowed itself to become way too serious. (The time period is the only reason why I can think the low talent Jones was cast. The character’s name may be Frost, but that doesn’t mean her face should be frozen into one expression.) The only obnoxious thing was it had to tie everything in with real world events. The climax of the film takes place on the last day of the Cuban Missile Crisis and gives an alternate reason as to why the US and Russia decided to walk away from probably one of the most terrifying moments in history. I understand why they felt the need to add actual events to the film, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying when movie producers feel the need to cram reality into fantasy.
X-Men: First Class makes for a great start to an already old hat franchise and taking things back to what worked for the first two films. A couple of years later, Days of Future Past would tie the timelines for the original trilogy and newer versions together which I will review next week.
What did you think of X-Men: First Class? Did you like the reintroduction of each character? Was the 60’s setting more fun? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.