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Face Off: X-Men: First Class vs. X2: X-Men United

05.22.2014by: Dave Davis
Last week's Face-Off column put a pair of acclaimed powerhouse actors against each other, and more of you agreed that "Breaking Bad" gave Bryan Cranston a slight advantage over "Game of Thrones" star Peter Dinklage.

This weekend's big release rounds up almost every imaginable Marvel mutant for the sequel-prequel-reboot event X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. With that movie poised to quite possibly become the new favorite in the franchise, let's take a look at the previous best entries in the mutant series so far, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS versus X2: X-MEN UNITED.

(Please note: Face Off is an opinion column. We're not using any actual science to prove or disprove anything. It's just for fun.)
STORY
In 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, mutant Erik Lensherr is hunting Sebastian Shaw, the Nazi scientist who held him prisoner and killed his mother. Erik crosses paths with fellow mutants Charles Xavier and Raven Darkholme, and they join forces with the CIA and a team of young mutant recruits to prevent Shaw from triggering a nuclear war.
Prompted by a mutant attack on the President, military leader William Stryker is on a mission to eliminate mutants, and his first step is an assault on Professor Xavier's school. Wolverine, Storm, Rogue and several other mutants scatter before reuniting and forming a tenuous alliance with escaped prisoner Magneto and his cohort Mystique to put an end to Stryker's crusade.
PROFESSOR X
Even aside from his ability to walk upright, the young version of Charles Xavier is almost the complete opposite of his older self, and actor James McAvoy playfully portrays him as more of a charming rogue with a bit of an ego. He'll use his mental powers when convenient, but he's initially more interested in chasing girls than applying his mutation expertise or saving the world.
Actor Patrick Stewart is always admirable and dignified, but after an impressive display of his mutant power (freezing an entire museum full of people) and paying a visit to his friend/adversary Magneto, Professor Xavier spends most of the movie sitting (ahem) on the sidelines until he's manipulated into using a Cerebro device to eradicate humans.
MAGNETO
Though he starts on a personal vendetta, Erik Lensherr befriends Charles Xavier and unites with him to locate and protect other mutants -- but unlike Charles, he approaches this mission with a "by any means necessary" attitude (delivered with zeal by Michael Fassbender). Ultimately his experiences sour him on "normal" mankind and he determines that non-mutants all pretty much suck and must be opposed.
The elder version of Magneto, played with subdued cunning by the always-regal Sir Ian McKellan, shares the same philosophical differences with frenemy Charles Xavier when it comes to the divide between homo sapiens and homo superior. But reconfiguring a Cerebro device to wipe out every human on the planet? That's thinking big.
MYSTIQUE
In FIRST CLASS, blue-skinned shapeshifter Raven Darkholme is retconned into Charles Xavier's adoptive sister and (in a world where mutants aren't known to the general population) is convinced to mask her true form in public -- something which new colleague Erik frowns upon.

Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence looks nice in the indigo body scales and provides some emotional depth to this more naive and conflicted version of the character, but she isn't allowed many demonstrations of powers or fighting prowess.
The X2 version of Mystique is closer to the devious, taunting antagonist of the comics, using her incognito abilities to gather intelligence, seduce a prison guard as a means to liberate imprisoned ally Magneto, infiltrate Stryker's secret base, and showcase her hand-to-hand combat proficiency.

Actress Rebecca Romijn may not have had an abundance of acting experience at the time, but she certainly was spectacular in blue.
OTHER CHARACTERS
In addition to Mystique, Charles and Erik recruit several other young mutants: powerful screamer Banshee, energy-hurling Havok, adaptive cabbie Darwin, brilliant bigfooted athlete Beast, and acid-spitting flier Angel.

They also end up enlisting the assistance of CIA agent Moira McTaggert and Oliver Platt’s nameless head of secret government agency “Division X”
Returning X-Men members include everyone’s favorite clawed loner Wolverine, weather manipulator Storm, telekinetic telepath Jean Grey, laser-eyed leader Cyclops, power-leecher Rogue, beverage-chiller Iceman, and the new additions of flamethrower Pyro and blue teleporting acrobat Nightcrawler
COSTUMES
The characters spend a good part of the movie in groovy 60s garb before finally zipping into blue-and-yellow jumpsuits similar to the classic outfits from the comics

(The bad guys stick with sharp suits, with the exception of villainess Emma Frost, who favors cleavage and bare midriff)
Team members go on the run in casual clothes before everyone slips on their black leather fetish gear for the climactic battle
VILLAINS
The narcissistic Hellfire Club leader and energy sponge Sebastian Shaw, telepathic diamond girl Emma Frost, demonic-looking teleporter Azazel, silent whirlwind-thrower Riptide, and turncoat Angel
The mutant-obsessed Colonel William Stryker, his lobotomized mutant illusionist son Jason, brainwashed adamantium-fingered mutant Deathstrike, and a small army of black ops soldiers
DIRECTOR
Matthew Vaughn got his start with the criminal underground tale LAYER CAKE, before unwittingly training for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS through some experience with fantastical elements and special effects (STARDUST) and costumed superheroes (KICK-ASS).

Vaughn was initially going to direct X-MEN: THE LAST STAND before abruptly departing the production, leaving fans with a (likely superior) “What if?” movie that exists only in their imaginations. (Marvel-related but not mutant-specific: He was also once attached to direct a THOR movie.)
Like Vaughn, Bryan Singer started out with a twisting crime story filled with shady characters and spiky dialogue, finding significant acclaim (and awards) with THE USUAL SUSPECTS. He's the only director to helm more than one entry in the X-franchise and is probably the Hollywood creative talent most closely associated with the property besides Hugh Jackman, but his non-mutant efforts (SUPERMAN RETURNS, VALKYRIE, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, APT PUPIL) haven't been as satisfying or successful.
BOX OFFICE
$353.6 M worldwide
$407.7 M worldwide
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
X2 tends to be heralded as a shining example of adapting comic book material, but unfortunately I don't think it holds up as well as others -- aside from the dizzying opening White House sequence and the attack on the school, the movie is a little stiff and visually anonymous. And the brainwashing angle (which itself is a bit silly) seems like a missed opportunity to have the team battling other interesting foes rather than each other.

I honestly could've watched an entire movie of just Fassbender's Magneto hunting Nazi war criminals, but X-MEN: FIRST CLASS also plays like a cool retro spy movie (right down to the grandiose villain's nonsensical scheme) only with costumes and superpowers. And Vaughn's approach has a more stylish presentation (thanks in part to the retro aesthetic of the era), an appealing cast and an energetic tone without losing or hammering the more serious underlying themes.

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?
POST YOUR CHOICE BELOW!

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