X-Men: First Class Revisited

In the latest installment of Marvel Revisited, we look back on the divisive first chapter of a new mutant era with X-Men: First Class.

Folks, I love the X-Men. When I was a kid, Professor Charles Xavier and his band of mutant outcasts were at their peak with Chris Claremont’s X-Men bringing the super-team into the households of young comic book readers everywhere. Needless to say, I’m absolutely stoked by the recently released Disney Plus continuation of the 1990s animated TV series and have had X-Men on the brain 24/7 these days… seriously guys, I’ve worn this sweatshirt like every day since mid-March… And seeing as I’ve been let down by the last couple of movies I’ve covered on this show- Today I’m going to be selfish and talk about an entry in the Fox X-Men universe that I love. A film that breathed new life into the decaying franchise with exciting new timelines and a fresh filmmaker with bright eyes and a passion for comics. A movie that promised a very exciting future for the coming X-Men adventures… And we were almost immediately let down. But we did get a few great entries in the First Class saga and that’s where we’re going to begin for today. I just can’t handle any more bad superhero movies right now without getting depressed. So, in today’s video I’m going to revisit Matthew Vaughn’s X-cellent 2011 prequel film, X-Men: First Class.

Now, this movie (and really this entire collection of movies) is sort of a soft reboot of the X-Men series that was originally led by Brian Singer. This film introduced Charles Xavier as a young man in the 1960s whose life purpose is found through his discovery of a way to help other mutants hone their abilities and use them for good. The film feels like a new telling of the X-Men altogether with some continuity changes and switcharoos being present throughout the film, but it also is the same film that came before Fox brought back the original cast for a time-travel crossover film adaptation of “Days of Future Past”- so honestly- don’t get too caught up on the timeline and continuity of these movies because, boy is it fucked.

But in any scenario- First Class truly represents what makes the X-Men such a juggernaut (pun very intended) in the comic book community. It’s a story about family, purpose, sacrifice, and rebirth, and it really is one of those movies that I swoon over every time I watch it so, let’s see if today’s video goes better than the last few on Marvel Revisited.

X-Men: First Class, revisited

2011’s X-Men First Class follows the early years of Charles Xavier and his ambitions to find others like him and show them that they are not alone. The movie serves as a prequel to the original Fox trilogy but does rewrite some history here and there to make the movie a little less tethered to its predecessor. We see an 11-year-old Raven Darkholm sneaking around Xavier’s childhood home looking for food in the middle of the night. When Charles senses her with his blossoming abilities, he confronts her and immediately befriends her as he notes that she is the first mutant he’s encountered outside of himself. This sets up Charles and Raven for a lifelong friendship lasting well into their adult years. More on that later.

In contrast, we also get an extended version of Magneto’s origin scene from the 2000 X-Men film, with Erik Lencher being taken from his family at a Nazi camp when his magnetic abilities show themselves for the first time. This scene is very similar to that of the original X-Men movie and it nicely paints a contrast between Erik and Charles that will ultimately lead to their rivalry down the line. See, this movie is interested in showing us the roots of the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants and how they started as one singular cause that split into two opposing factions. This shit is X-Men through and through, true believers.

Now, what’s the conflict here? Well, similar to many other entries in this franchise- The X-Men will find themselves at odds with the United States Government, as well as the Russian military and an underground group of extremist mutants known as The Hellfire Club, led by Sebastian Shaw, AKA Black King- A nazi mutant who was responsible for killing Erik’s parents in the camps, and whose abilities allow him to absorb energy and store it inside his body to be dispensed at his will. Meaning, if you shoot this guy, he can absorb the force of the bullet and send it back to you with the ease of a hand wave. The energy he absorbs keeps him almost ageless, so while he was an adult when Erik was a child in the camp, he’s now the same age as Erik and Charles as the years have not affected him. Also rolling with the Hellfire Club is Emma Frost (played by January Jones), Azazal (played by Jason Flemyng), and Riptide (played by Alex Gonzalez).

The grand plan is that The Hellfire Club plans to hijack some nukes from Russia and the US and fire them at each other which would prompt a massive War between countries and lead to the overall destruction of humans, so that mutants can rise as the next step in human evolution. Pretty standard X-Men stuff again, and I love it. When Shaw and his goons start their plans, the CIA recruits Charles and Raven to help them locate other mutants and defend the US from an all-out war with Russia. Now, in the 1960s, mutants were barely understood and made known by the masses. So, Charles is excited to find more mutants and continue his discoveries of his species.

The first half of this movie is mostly putting the chess pieces in place and getting us adjusted to this team dynamic. There’s a sense of kinship between Charles and the other mutants that really illustrates the honorable nature of Xavier’s school. See, Charles in these movies starts off as a total empath. If nothing else, this movie shows his abilities as being able to feel what others feel and truly understand the pain of everyone. His motivation is to learn more about people of his kind, but also to allow mutants to serve alongside humans as equals in harmony. This effort will seem futile most of the time as humans think they’re freaks, mutants don’t feel safe, and the bad guys are both parties. It’s about 45min into the film when Charles meets Magneto for the first time and the two become fast friends. Charles saves Erik’s life when Erik attacks Shaw’s yacht and nearly drowns. Charles demonstrates his bond with Erik from the very beginning, as when Charles senses him in the water below the ship- he refuses to abandon him and instead dives into the dark water to save him- and recruits him to the CIA’s new Mutant division.

The relationship between Magneto and Professor X is also something to be appreciated in this movie. The scene in the middle of the film where Erik and Charles go on the road to find and recruit other mutants is so much fun and full of character moments that make these two surrogate brothers a believable duo. The recruits include Zoey Kravitz as Angel, of course J-Law as Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee, Edi Gathegi as Darwin, and Lucas Till as Havok. Oh, and how about when they TRY to recruit Wolverine and we get this:

Okay, so up until this point there’s been mostly enjoyable and somewhat soapy character and plot development. It’s difficult to establish believable dynamics between each character when there’s this many on screen and they’re all so vastly unique. But Vaughn does well at keeping it light and interesting the whole time- But then we get to a scene in the film that I don’t love…

The scene where the new recruits are sitting around the military base and demonstrating their powers started off kind of cute. It’s just a bunch of young kids who are discovering that they’re not alone for the first time. They’re bonding over their differences and united purpose- but it goes on for a while and starts to feel a little bit too overstuffed with cheese. For example, when they’re coming up with their code names- I just don’t buy it. I think it was cool that this movie goes out of its way to explain the origin of like everything in the X-Men universe, but some stuff was just too on the nose. I didn’t dig it. I also didn’t like that for most of this movie Beast isn’t blue- as it’s explained that his physical mutation wasn’t genetic but self-inflicted when trying to cure his ugly feet syndrome. I get that sitting in the makeup chair for 6-10 hours a day can be troubling- but I don’t want to see Jennifer Lawrence as Jennifer Lawrence if she’s meant to be Mystique. ALTHOUGH- This line from X2 has so much more bite behind it now because of this prequel so… Actually, maybe I don’t hate it THAT much.

I mentioned some retcons that happen in this movie, and I guess now is the time to explain that. While some of these changes aren’t as blatant, they do have some impact on the original story. For example, it’s never explicitly said in X-Men 2000 that Mystique and Charles weren’t family- but if this movie is canon to that movie (which it is) it is very weird that that never gets referenced or hinted at in the original trilogy. Or how Shaw is the first owner of the Magneto helmet that blocks Charles from getting into his head- not quite a retcon but also Charles seems surprised by the helmet in X-Men 2000 which wouldn’t make sense if this movie is their history. I mean, it’s no secret that the Fox X-Men franchise has a seriously fucked up timeline and so many continuity errors that even a movie like Days of Future Past couldn’t fix them all. But here’s the thing- it’s not enough to distract me from how much I like this movie. Remember folks, The X-Men is meant to be sort of a soap opera that focuses on misfit mutants that choose to anonymously protect the very humans that fear and hate them. It’s meant to be bold with its interpersonal relationships and make us care about the person behind the superpowers. Continuity aside, this film does that.

Let’s look at some scenes that REALLY make this movie worth the rewatch:

  • The scene where Magneto kills the pig farmer and the tailor is iconic. Seeing Michael Fassbender’s rage and lust for revenge fuel his power is classic Magneto. See, Magneto relates his power to anger. He thinks the key to maxing out your potential is getting angry enough to master it. This of course contrasts Charles’ belief that calmness is the key to unlocking your ability.
  • The scene where Banshee learns to fly is perfect. The team dynamics during this entire training
  • montage is brilliant and it really shines in both capturing the tone of the Giant Sized X-Men, but also creating that foundation of hope and empathy that the X-Mansion is built on. Love it.
  • The first scene of Charles using the prototype of Cerebro is also very well done. The way they depict Charles’s connection to the mutants looks very similar to the original trilogy so i like that- and James Macavoy as Professor X is literally spot on casting. Look at his eyebrows! Also- this pickup line that Charlie boy uses to get girls at bars is so much fun.
  • The costume reveal scene took a little too long for my liking but man was it glorious. Now, this movie IS an origin so I can forgive the X-Men symbol not being on the suit as the team wasn’t yet known as the X-Men. And the blue and yellow color scheme is everything for X-Men fans. Although, I do not love the look of Beast in this movie… yikes.
  • Shaw’s mutant breakout attempt is another favorite of mine. It shows how Shaw’s motivations, while misguided, aren’t exactly unrelatable for the young mutants.
  • The Rebecca Romjin cameo is a nice moment for fans of her portrayal as Mystique and the timing of it in the movie was definitely appreciated.

And finally, the entire final battle of the movie is FANTASTIC. This movie has a lot of ground to cover as a prequel, but Vaughn and his editors did a great job of keeping the pacing mostly on point- But anywhere that the film drags in the first half is immediately made up for when the 25-minute-final battle sequence sets off. Shaw is in a submarine with a nuke and his plan is to absorb the bomb’s energy to basically be a walking warhead. Professor X, Magneto, Mystique, Havok, Banshee, Beast, and the CIA are on their way to stop him while the US and Russian military are aiming cannons at each other waiting for the World War to begin. 

This final act will give us iconic X-Men action, cruel revelations, heartbreak, betrayal, death, and rebirth all in one shot with Magneto attacking Shaw and finally killing him as he completes his revenge. This leads to a conflict between the X-Men and their co-leader as Magneto realizes that there is no sense in fighting to be equal with humans as they will blame mutants for the war in the end. Magneto recruits Mystique, Azazel, Angel, and Riptide to form the brotherhood of mutants after he mistakenly paralyzes Charles in a scuffle. And just like that, the divide between The X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants begins, and we pick up with the official opening of Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters.

Whoo, this movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes long and I kind of want it again just for that final act. This movie shines in it’s casting and strong leads in James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, it delivers on action, humor, political thrills, and even a cute group dynamic- all things that I want from my X-Men. 8/10 this movie kicks ass.

What did YOU think of X-Men First Class? When was the last time you saw it and do you plan on going back to revisit it? Also, who else is watching X-Men ’97 and what do you think of it so far?

Source: JoBlo

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