One curse of being a writer is that every moment of every day my writer brain is working, constantly storing away experiences, information, and ideas for potential later use. So naturally, when my husband and I finished watching X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn, last Friday on one of our rare dates nights, I immediately went, “Ah-ha, this movie is what I’ll do my blog on next Friday.” Thankfully, my husband is well-acquainted with and very understanding of my writer eccentricities.
Some have said that this latest addition to the X-Men movies surpasses the greatness of even the first. Were it not for the fact that the first focuses so much on Wolverine, my favorite X-Man, I would agree without hesitation. Instead, I hold the first and this most recent in a neck and neck contest and am trying to ignore the fact that X-Men: First Class is gaining a tiny lead. After all, I didn’t concoct an excuse to go watch the first X-Men again the very next day like I did this one.
So what made X-Men: First Class worth seeing two days in a row?
Matthew Vaughn cleverly combined powerful elements to make an impactful film that left the audience enjoying characters the previous movies only toted around as cardboard cutouts, smirking at the in jokes, and quivering with excitement to see the heroes and villains we’ve long known become the giants of the mutant playground.
Characterization among the heroes in this movie was excellent. Though odd to see Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) walking and with hair, by the end of the movie as he lies in Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and Moira MacTaggert’s (Rose Byrne) arms repeating, “I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel my legs,” our hearts tear for him.
From the first moment child Raven (Mystique) breaks into a smile when Xavier informs her she never has to steal food again, she steals our hearts. She keeps them as we watch her struggle with the appearance her mutation has forced upon her and in so doing, struggle to accept who and what she is. This Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is far deeper and far more interesting than in any other movie.
We sympathize with Hank’s desperate quest to just be normal, and we feel bad when his efforts turn him into the awesome form we all know best even as our adrenaline starts to race with excitement to see him become Beast.
But Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) earns the greatest amount of interesting story. The setup does a fabulous job of making him instantly sympathetic as we watch him get separated from his mother as they are herded into a Nazi camp in Poland. We shift toward the edge of our seats, watching in just the first few minutes of the movie, him rip open the metal gates with the first use of his abilities, desperate to reach his mother. And we are fully set on his side two scenes later as we see him fail to use his power to move a simple coin by the time Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) counts to three and shoots his mother. And we understand and watch in awe as his rage and grief fuels him to murder the guards and destroy nearly everything in sight as Shaw beams in triumphant glee and exclaims, “Wundebar!” When Shaw then pats a grieving Erik (Michael Fassbender) on the shoulder and says they will do great things together, the stakes and tone of the movie are clear. At the climax of the movie, when Magneto then murders Shaw with that same coin, as much as we hope he won’t and turn fully into what we know is coming, we understand.
I could go on and on, especially about the interesting and subtle things they did with Xavier, but I’ll save that for a later day.
The villains, on the other hand, were disappointingly flat. Shaw was menacing and powerful but lacked any depth or development. Emma Frost (January Jones), his sidekick in this film, was more eye candy and a convenient telepath, more prop than character. Granted, stuffing good development for everyone into this movie might have dulled its luster or pushed its length beyond reasonable bounds, but I can’t help but wonder if a line or two could have been written in to suggest greater depth for these characters.
The usual conflicts came into play: humans versus mutants. Vaughn gave a glimpse of what the Nazis did to the Jews though young Magneto’s eyes to give a greater understanding and sympathy for Magneto’s views and eventual goals. It made the conflict more real than in the previous movies. Even though we know Magneto is becoming the great antagonist we all know, it’s hard to disagree with him. Even Xavier adopts some of his views after he is forced to see that humans as a whole fall short of his high opinion of them.
Of course, X-Men: First Class contains its fair share of action scenes, ruthlessness, heroism, and awesome moments from raising submarines to aerial combat. There are also lots of uses and references for comic geeks to enjoy from the introduction of Cerebro to the Hell Fire Club.
And, in my opinion, the cameo was the cherry on top, but I’ll not ruin that for those of you who haven’t seen the movie.
What did you think about the latest X-Men: First Class? How did you like it compared to the others? If you haven’t seen it yet, what do you like to see in superhero movies?