Home > Silver Screen > New X-Men a Class Act

New X-Men a Class Act

Back in the day, nothing was expected of comic book movies except having people dress up in cool costumes and occasionally blow stuff up. Michael Bay probably loved them. It didn’t matter if the movie was trash, because Hollywood didn’t respect the audience. In recent years, however, the bar was raised by the first two Spider-Man movies and Christopher Nolan’s excellent Batman reboots. Now movies with superheroes have the same expectations as other movies: We expect them to be good.

Unfortunately, films portraying those mutants at Xavier’s School for the Gifted have rarely accomplished that. While X-Men 2 had strong character development and achieved great dramatic tension through its portrayal of Professor X as a Martin Luther King-like figure versus Magneto as a Malcolm X-like figure, the third movie failed in any way to achieve drama, character development or excitement. And then there’s that Wolverine movie, which somehow managed to make one badass character (Wolverine) boring and another badass character (Deadpool) ridiculously cheesy. For that reason, not much was expected of X-Men: First Class. To my surprise, it turned out to be a good film, and not just for a comic book movie.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender shine as Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto, who finally has a decent-looking helmet). Erik comes off as a sympathetic character. Even as we watch him brutally murder people, we root for him because a) they’re Nazis and b) his vengeance is justified. Actually, was b even necessary? Though Charles befriends Erik and tries to teach him to co-exist with regular humans, Erik is never able to get over his rage and mistrust of others. As a Jew who witnessed the horrors of concentration camps, he worried that mankind would do the same to mutants.

A number of cool villains appear in the movie, including Azazel (isn’t that the name of Gargamel’s cat?), a bloodthirsty teleporting demon, some guy who throws tornadoes from his hands, and Kevin Bacon. Mr. Bacon somehow portrays the typical “I want to destroy all of mankind” villain without seeming over the top. Oh, and there’s January Jones as Emma Frost. If I don’t remember the name of Tornado Guy or Kevin Bacon, it’s just because I was distracted when Jones was on screen. I knew she was hot from watching her in Mad Men, but if I were to sum up her performance in this movie with one word, it would be: daaaaaamn!

There were plenty of cool action scenes where characters fly, teleport, shoot fire, acid or other things at each other and blow stuff up, but where the film really succeeds is in the character drama. Charles starts off as a cocky college grad who uses mutation as a bar pickup line, but grows into a reluctant leader who wants to believe in the best of humanity, even to a fault. Erik over time becomes more like the man he hates until he eventually replaces him. Raven (Mystique) is ashamed of her Smurfette look but eventually comes to accept it, thanks in part to Erik’s influence. Emma Frost is also well developed, but mostly it’s spilling out of her jumpsuit.

Perhaps the most interesting theme of the movie is bigotry. The film begins with the ultimate representation of hatred towards unlike people: the Holocaust. Even among the mutants, though, there is bigotry and a sense of hierarchy. Havoc makes fun of Hank’s (the Beast) monkey feet. Raven and Hank envy those mutants who can more easily fit in as normal and feel a sense of shame for being different. Erik, in a glimpse of the human-hating villain he will later become, is disgusted by their desire to be more normal. Each of the X-Men movies have dealt with themes bigotry, acceptance and various ways of coping. However, whereas X-Men 3 simply used that as an excuse to have cars thrown and bridges moved, here it is the main tension driving the film. First Class is the first in the series to take on the story from a character-driven perspective. In doing so, it finally gives these mutants the respect they deserve.

  1. June 13, 2011 at 12:27 am

    It uses the themes of the previous movies to build an intelligent, fast-paced, and highly entertaining prequel. The performances from the whole cast, especially McAvoy and Fassbender add a lot to these great characters as well. Good review Andy, check out mine when you can!

  2. June 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Gargamel’s cat was Azrael, lol.

  3. June 13, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    You have to root for Magneto. The depth that he has as a character demands it. In his own way he’s very human, and you empathize with him for all he has been through. I know you said would his vengeance even be necessary–it is. It is necessary because it furthers the development of the character. How could his vengeance not be needed?

    • June 13, 2011 at 2:59 pm

      Oh, his vengeance is definitely necessary for the character development. What I meant is that his vengeance didn’t really need to be justified for us to root for him, because he was killing Nazis. Because Nazis are so hated, we would probably go along with him killing them even if he didn’t have a reason (like in “Inglourious Basterds”).

  4. June 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but I felt that the timeline, and use of many of the supporting characters were deeply flawed.

    I wish someone would make “Magneto: Nazi Hunter” a TV show because I could watch that forever.

    (Thanks for subscribing to my blog. I’ve got you on RSS now).

    • June 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm

      Perhaps some of the supporting characters weren’t as well developed as they could have been. Or do you mean they were flawed in that they did not accurately portray the character from the comics? I’m largely ignorant of the comics, so I wouldn’t have noticed that.

      • June 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

        I mean that they don’t do anything with a lot of the characters. I would have liked it if they had fewer characters, and told deeper stories with them.

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