June 8, 2011 ~ Movies 14 ~ McKinney, Texas
Since my very first introduction to the X-Men universe — way back in 2000 when my pal Nate began to school me on the back stories of mutants featured (and not featured) in the first movie of the current franchise — I have been completely hooked on the series. I’m not a comic book girl, but I absolutely adore the films and continue to find them enjoyable on every subsequent viewing. I even love Wolverine (Origins), because I enjoy seeing so many beloved faces show up in it, though in the final summation it’s a pretty awful film. What kept me engaged through all of the X-Men films thus far was the character of Logan/Wolverine as played by Hugh Jackman. But when word came down that this latest installment would go all the way back to the very beginning, to the friendship origins of Professor X and Magneto, I was more intrigued than ever. My love of Wolverine was as much a love of Jackman as it was the character, but my love of the X-Men story is completely wrapped up in Xavier and Erik. Their enduring relationship has always intrigued me. Making that relationship the basis of an entire film and setting it during a period when they were actually allies sparked a brand new interest in me unlike any I’d had before. And then the casting was revealed… and I knew I’d love First Class even if it stunk to high heaven.
The story of X-Men: First Class mostly takes place in the early 1960s, which alone makes for very cool imagery. Charles Xavier, played wonderfully by James McAvoy, is not yet the professor but is fully aware of the power his telepathic abilities have given him. When he is approached by a government agency to use those abilities in military efforts, he begins to grow toward the Professor X that we will eventually come to know. By contrast, Erik Lehnsherr, who is not yet known as Magneto, is using his abilities to manipulate metals for the sole purpose of revenge upon a doctor who traumatized him in childhood. It is Xavier who rescues Erik from certain destruction and convinces him to join forces with the U.S. government to aid military efforts in Cuba. The great climactic moments involve a band of young mutants working together to prevent the Soviet Union from placing nuclear missiles in Cuba (a historic moment known to us as the Cuban Missile Crisis). It is during this event that the characters begin the transition into their future selves, choosing sides among the two leading men. What X-Men: First Class does is present the beginnings of the characters we came to know in their later years while also setting itself in position for many more stories of the younger mutants. And it is this set-up that excites me the most.
As Xavier, McAvoy is fantastic and truly nods toward the Patrick Stewart personification we have come to love, but the movie really belongs to Michael Fassbender as Erik/Magneto. Fassbender is engaging on all levels, from steely resolve to sarcastic humor to outright sex appeal, and the character of Magneto was never so vivid. (Bless Ian McKellen and his strong portrayal of Magneto in later years, but he just doesn’t offer as many levels of nuance as Fassbender managed to bring to the younger version.) Magneto simply has the better story overall. His journey is one of emotion and learning to control it. And it is that journey which brings such life to this new film, to the point where the entire franchise could focus solely on Magneto’s early adulthood and be better than any other film thus far. Fassbender is just that good in the role. Which is exactly why I never wanted First Class to end.
The moment the credits began to roll at the end of the film I found myself unable to rise from my seat. I was so captivated by Fassbender, so completely thrilled by the giant moments that had come during the climax of the film, and so charmed at the thought of seeing these same actors reprise their roles in more Origins films, that I simply did not want the experience to end. I stayed through the closing credits, caught up in the soundtrack that had not even registered in my ears during the film, and I kept smiling a ridiculously goofy smile over what I’d just experienced. For me, First Class redefined the term “feel-good movie.” It really isn’t a feel-good movie, but it made me feel good. I felt good about the prospect of more. I absolutely hope there is more of this particular setup. Or rather, I just hope there is more McAvoy and Fassbender in these roles. They are perfect together.
That’s not to say that X-Men: First Class is a perfect film, of course. There are actors who just don’t belong in the movie, if you ask me. January Jones, for instance, showed absolutely no talent for doing anything beyond the sulky facial expressions she uses on Mad Men, and her entire role as Emma Frost seemed to exist for no other reason than lying around in as little clothing as possible. Once again I wondered just why this woman gets cast in anything, for she simply is not a good actress! Her character really had little purpose other than being someone for fanboys to ogle. Any other actress could have played her and created an actual character with depth. Instead, we were subjected to Jones, who brought nothing at all to the movie. On the other hand, I truly enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. I had never been a fan of the shape-shifter in any previous film, and I never, ever understood her attachment to Magneto, so it was a real treat to see the origin of the character in this film. And Lawrence’s emotive abilities brought depth to her in a way that Jones failed to do for Frost. In fact, it was Lawrence’s portrayal that made me rethink Mystique and come to love her fully by the end. Of all the relationships that surface in First Class, it’s the one with Magneto and Mystique that thrilled me the most. It is that relationship I want to explore further.
I can safely say that X-Men: First Class is my favorite of the franchise now. It’s the one I want to watch again and again, and it’s the one that brings the most emotional depth. My immediate reaction upon leaving the cinema was, “It will be hard for other summer films to top this one.” I still feel that way weeks later. This one crawled beneath my skin. It charmed me and thrilled me and made me ask for more-more-more. That’s all I ever want in a summer film, and I’m so happy that it was delivered to me by the mutants!
image from 20th Century Fox, linked to source