G3 Review: X-Men: First Class


We all bring our baggage to movie adaptations of comic books, terrified that filmmakers will eff up the stories we hold dear. They’ve certainly done it before, so my Marvel-leaning friends’ concerns about X-Men: First Class were understandable. Whenever I said that the movie looked like a winner, at least one person would reply, “I doubt it.”

But how can you not be the tiniest bit excited by those trailers showing the early days of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, the future Professor X and Magneto? They’re fascinating, storied characters, and even though origin stories are kinda played, this is one we haven’t seen onscreen before. It’s not a flawless movie, but it is stylish, frequently thrilling, and supported by some excellent performances. It’s also got a great surprise up its sleeve with a cameo no one in the audience saw coming.

One of the most powerful scenes from the first X-Men movie was young Erik’s separation from his mother in a World War II concentration camp. Here, we learn more about the stunning cruelty he endured, and how those events unleashed his mutant gifts. Charles, protected by his great privilege and brilliance, grew up with a decidedly more benevolent view of humankind. It’s a delight to see him as a rakish, fully ambulatory young man, charmingly portrayed by James McAvoy. Charles was a pimp in the Cold War era.

But the shining star of this movie is Michael Fassbender, who is gangsta as the man who will become Magneto. You do not want to be a Nazi in his path, because your death will be spectacularly and painfully executed, pun intended. Fassbender plays Erik as a seething, steely-eyed soul who has one mission: Killing Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), the monster responsible for his suffering. I expected a more elegant, chilling performance from Bacon, but the scenery on that set must be shredded from him chewing it. Fortunately, that does nothing to diminish the intensity of Erik’s hunt — and it is most definitely a hunt. (By the way, Fassbender is as hot as Miami asphalt in August. It’s completely believable that he would age into that fierce lion in winter, Sir Ian McKellen.)

Charles becomes Erik’s savior in more ways than one, and their relationship is the heart of X-Men: First Class. As they recruit younger mutants to nurture, train, and work with, they become brothers separated by philosophy. Interestingly enough, Charles is the person responsible for Erik discovering the depth of his power. It’s touching to watch him help Erik push past his doubts and perform a feat he never thought possible. Sebastian opened the door through cruelty. Charles kicked it down with kindness.

The younger mutants are a colorful supporting crew, and you can sense their exhilaration as they learn to use and control their powers. After years of longing to fit in, they’ve found a home and a family. That is, until circumstances force them to choose sides and grow up fast.

The movie’s artful use of anti-mutant sentiment as a symbol of bigotry is certainly true to the history of the comics, and it remains moving. Part of Charles’ motivation for assisting the U.S. government during the Cuban Missile Crisis is to prove that mutants are allies, not evil freaks. But Mystique, his adoptive sister, questions whether he can fully relate to the struggle. The world has been kind to Charles because, as far as humans are concerned, he’s an attractive, aristocratic white man. The blue and scaly have a rougher go of it.

As one might expect, the early 1960s aren’t exactly paradise for females, traditionally appealing or otherwise. Sebastian doesn’t consider companion Emma Frost, dully presented by January Jones, to be an equal. She can read minds and turn into a living diamond, but as far as he’s concerned, her job is to follow orders and keep his drinks cold. It’s really too bad that Jones doesn’t bring more haughty oomph to her complex character.

Despite those glitches, X-Men: First Class is a hugely likable, accessible blockbuster that’s clearly setting up for a sequel. More mutants? Yes, please.

33 thoughts on “G3 Review: X-Men: First Class

  1. Great review E! I long for more stories in this era, forget about movie continuity and let this breathe on it’s own. BTW, there were actually two cameos, although one was much shorter then the other. :)

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  2. “Dully presented”. That’s being generous. I’m pretty sure that’s her only method of “acting”.

    I was also disappointed with the characterization of Darwin.

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  3. What a disappointment to read your review. I really like your website and the vision that you have has women. I tough i would see more critics about the female characters who are tottally underestimates in the movie.

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  4. I enjoyed the movie as well and your review is spot on, I also thought the Charles and Mystique angle started to get a little stale and you’re right January Jones was awfully stale as Emma Frost (though you could have said her luke warm performance – har har – I promise no more idiotic puns)I was a little disappointed there was no secret scene at the end of the credits.

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  5. Yo E., I bring my baggage all the time baby, respectfully though. I’m so guilty of bringing baggage to comic book movies. I need that comfortably that for once Holly-would finally do it right. Anyways, your right about how it was filmed. It was written very smart and visually bad-ass even though some of the characters were wrong for “First Class”. By-the-way, I hope you girls don’t mind, I like your website a lot that I wanna wear t-shirts with your names & faces on it saying, “I BREAK FOR GIRLS-GONE-GEEK”. Finally a view on comics that doesn’t end with: who looks hot in a wet t-shirt? Mary Jane or Gwen Stacey……..mary jane.

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  6. Totally dig the ‘scribbing’. I tried to let go of Emma as being unenthusiastic from too much ‘mental foreplay’ with disgusting people… but it looks more like she took the role the for the same reason Sean took the role of Alan in League: because it was a hot ticket despite not knowing what the hell the character really called for. (only advantage Sean had was knowing who the Alan Quartermain character was by book, but not by comic). The inner linking of the older characters of the X-verse was to my liking. Good job to them on updating continuity to meet a modern translation. Not so hot about the switcheroo of Cyke and Alex in the chain of ages… but what can you do? At some point you realize that you can’t please everyone so everyone (should) except that limitation from the creator and let the movie weigh in on whether it scored a 90 or better with you. Movie translations are hard. Die-hard ‘do it perfect or go away’ opinions are lost causes. Like you said, this movie has tons of content and it is an awesome movie.
    @DJ Rogue- agreed. I realize I had more to say, but I’m sure E. likes to trim off on the spoilers.
    P.S. Chuck IS a pimp! Why wasn’t he in his purple suit? And I drink hard and heavy at times and that man was making me respect his constitution.

    Finally (and only because E brought it up): why the hell are they calling it the “Hal Jordan” story when they CLEARLY have scripting and actor suited better for Kyle Rayner? I’m cool with Ryan playing Kyle, but they are running the Hal story and ignoring the fact that they WROTE Kyle.

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    • Ha! No one on the corner has swagger like Charles, JD. And yeah, that GL movie is raising a lot of eyebrows among fans who KNOW that ain’t Hal Jordan. That’s a Kyle Rayner joint all the way, but I guess they’re counting on the general public not even knowing who Kyle is!

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      • Eh… I expect GL to be a fantastic movie none-the-less… just a little sore that someone let such rookie mistakes fly by on Hal/Kyle. You think maybe Ryan made play on it? He is an enormous comic geek and hot property on the underdog circuit.
        AH HA! YOU! Comicbook journalist! Uncover these truths! Share it with the world! Let anyone who stands in your way be shot with a bowel disruptor!

        XD

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      • With the way DC is going and their impending reboot of the ages I highly doubt that they know who Hal Jordan is either. : )

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        • Blasphemer! Non-believer! Everyone knows who Hal is! He went all Parallax on the GL Corps and… -sigh- and the time he was dating that girl that was… hmm…

          …well. Maybe your just having wishful thinking. Maybe you, like many of us, wishes everyone forgot who Hal was.

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        • With the penchant for the reboot lately, DC and Marvel don’t NEED to remember their own characters anymore. Just re-create them every few years. Here’s a thought. If you don’t produce crap just to make a few $$ at the box office and get a bit more selective with things like screenwriters (preferably ones who have a grasp of plot, character development, language in general), actors, etc… you won’t have to reboot your properties every 3 years.

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          • You got a point… but heres the thing, for Marvel, that formula works. They are “The House of Ideas”. In DC however, the stories are built on legacy. The story passes to the next generation, not get rebooted with a new idea. I know both companies have done major story line clean-ups on their books- but that is suppose to be for subsidizing poor selling books, not cleaning up the viral amount of continuity errors that the editors were too lazy to call people on and the writers were too self-absorbed to care about.
            Too many writers get the job and think “oh, well this is my vision- so I will ignore what I don’t feel like accounting for or don’t like”. Problem is, you get messes like the Ellis or Whedon run on the X-books. Whedon destroyed and defiled one of the most noble sacrifices in the X-books: Colossus sacrifices himself to stop the Legacy Virus. Why? Because he gets Colossus or he doesn’t write. That was utter garbage. Instead of the editors geeking out on him, they should have said “No. If you can’t write without him, clearly you aren’t as skilled of a writer as we thought. Goodbye.” They are running a business here.
            Seems DC and Marvel have both switched to the quantity over quality method these days. Write whatever outrageous stories you want and in a year or two, we will hit it with the ret-con cannon (you may know this device by its common name, the “company-wide story arc”). These last a year, then a few titles are selected to build up the next one for the following year. Rinse, lather, cash the check, repeat. If you notice… the arcs have really stopped showing signed of separation. Marvel hasn’t let up since “Avengers Disassembled” and DC since “Infinite Crisis” (although, I generally peg the official arc kick-off at “Identity Crisis”) Give or take a few arcs, you get a constant flow of ‘now, everything will change forever!’ followed with ‘well… time to clean this mess up’.

            Note: I have repeatedly recalled another arc that butts up against the next for both companies. I’m judging this connection by the nature of the previous arc triggering the next arc (in direct sequence). It’s unending. I like a lot of the storied getting told mind you, but I literally have to be aware of the details for AT LEAST 5-6 years. Then… each arc ends up ret-conning someone’s profile. Some writers have very little respect for the company, forgetting that they are hired for a job, not hired to make the rules. At the same time, the editors forget that they have rules to enforce. I suppose everyone is afraid to loose a writer.

            Ok… I’m done with my rant.

            I have no clue where that came from. I must have been sitting on that for a while. XD

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  7. Okay and now I think I will have to check this one out. Thanks for the great review E! New reader here — definitely enjoying the GGG blog!

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  8. I always love James McAvoy, and when I saw him again in XMen FC, my heart melted again. I agree with everything you said here abt why Charles could be benevolent and Erik could not. I wonder if the situation is reversed, would Charles still be the kind Prof X we know? Or would he too become Magneto?

    Michael Fassbender is very cool and spot on on Magneto too. I do have to disagree here; to me McAvoy and Fassbender complimented each other very well, and they’re both shining stars. I’m more inclined to JMA because I’m familiar with him and I see how he was always able to explore various depths of emotions, but Fassbender got me as well.

    Yeah, should regroup after GL movie is in theater. I still want to see XMen FC once again beforehand tho!

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  9. Thanks for your review E! I have read other reviews of this film and they have been mostly positive but some have made reference to a) how the female characters were treated or not treated, b) how the mutants of colour were treated. Considering that this film takes place in the 60’s and was a time for the start of change of things, I find that several reviewers mentioning the lack respect given in this film to these two real oppressed groups to be quiet poignant and a tad frustrating and makes me a tad wary.
    But I think that I will eventually see the film so I can garner what has been said and discover my feelings on the matter.

    As an aside I am so hoping that the Green Lantern film is fun and fabu, for that would be perfect summer fodder! : )

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      • Yes I have seen some of the early reviews,and they all say the same, but I do think that one should go and see for themselves and make up their mind!
        I do hope that you and V will go see it and give a fair assessment of the film.
        I plan on seeing it with my nephews as they love Green Lantern but were confused why he was white and not John Stewart! : )

        The premise has so much promise! Sometimes I think that some reviewer just ape what the other one says so they are all sympatico. But this is just a sneaking suspicion of mine. : )

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  10. Pingback: 2011 Memorable Moment: Charles and Erik’s Mind-Meld |

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