X-Men: First Class has a title akin to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This is already a sign of bad things to come, right?
Luckily there are only two things these movies have in common:
- The title has “X-Men” in it as well as a colon
- It takes place before Bryan Singer’s X-Men
Luckily for me and the rest of the world, those are the only similarities between the poorly written X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the surprisingly delightful X-Men: First Class.
It’s hard to say if X-Men: First Class is truly a prequel or simply a new movie using similar characters. If you want to go back and compare word for word, there are a few big discrepancies between things that happen in the X-Men trilogy and X-Men: First Class. The biggest difference is Mystique.
In the original movies Mystique was mysterious and badass. She knew all sorts of martial-arts moves and could beat up any guy or girl she met. She also didn’t seem to know Professor X at all in any scenes, nor did she ever show any emotional ties to him in any way. That was fine in the old movies, except that X-Men: First Class seems to have retconned this a bit.
Since Mystique was such a constant (if never major) character in the X-Men trilogy, the writers for First Class decided that she should play a more important role in this new movie. They created a broth-sister-style relationship her and Charles (Professor X) that started when they were both ten or twelve years old.
The relationship totally works for the new movie because of how genuine it feels. Charles (Professor X, played by James McAvoy) and Raven (Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence) seem like brother and sister throughout the movie. Charles often brushes her off and treats her like many older brothers do to their younger sisters, like they are a fine piece of glass that could break at any second. Charles never wants Raven to be in harms way. Their relationship works on screen because James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence feel like they actually care for each other. Their chemistry is perfect and believable.
Now if you want to compare their extremely close relationship in X-Men: First Class to the original X-Men there is none. Mystique felt like a hollow villain with only contempt for homo-sapiens who didn’t mind trying to poison and kill Professor X without thinking twice about it. Clearly their relationship was thought up JUST for X-Men: First Class, and theres nothing wrong with that. It worked for the new movie, it just has no connection to the original movie.
This is the point where I decided that X-Men: First Class is simply a spiritual successor to the original trilogy and nothing more. They may have a few nods here and there to the original trilogy (like the interesting scene with James Howlett), but on the whole, this movie is new and not meant to be taken for a prequel. It is it’s own movie and that is all.
I could also delve into the flashback in X-Men: The Last Stand where Magneto and Professor X meet a young Jean Grey when they are both MUCH older than they were in X-Men: First Class but it’s not worth even mentioning.
X-Men: First Class works quite well as a movie. It feels much less like the usual comic book movie and much more like a period piece about the Cold War. Instead of using the usual origin story conventions seen in many comic movies, they make the assumption that everyone already knows what X-Men are and what they can do. With this bit of exposition aside it allowed the writers to really delve into character relationships more than anything.
The one relationship everyone has been looking forward to learning more about since the original trilogy is that of Charles (Professor X) and Eric (Magneto). The original movies portray them as old friends who broke ties over some pretty serious differences of opinion. Charles wants mutants and humans to live together in peace, Eric wants to destroy or rule all regular humans because he thinks mutants are the next step in evolution.
X-Men: First Class does a great job at figuring out exactly why Eric eventually thought the way he did. He starts the movie thinking he is the only one of his kind, but once he finds Charles and the other mutants he starts to change his goals and begins dedicating his life to protecting freeing his fellow mutants. The movie portrays his idea as a fairly noble cause, which makes it that much harder to hate his character at all.
In the original movies it’s quite easy to hate Magneto. He seemed to be made of evil evilness, atleast toward humans. He is a perfect reflection of Hitler, who thought the Aryan race was the best and wanted to destroy “lesser people” like the Jews (according to his crazy craziness), which makes for a confusing and sometimes ridiculous character in Magneto (since he IS a Jew who spent time in a concentration camp). You would think that he would want to do anything BUT what he grew up with, but apparently he had some serious Stockholm Syndrome going on because instead of learning from his past, he seemed to try and emulate it.
In contrast, Eric in X-Men: First Class seems more a tortured soul than anything else. He is filled with so much misery and hatred from his past which makes him want to protect his people (mutants) and fight for their own rights. All of Eric’s actions make sense in the new movie and you are left wanting to join him in the end.
If anything, the movie makes you almost pity Charles by the end because his fight seems to be a losing one no matter how hard he tries. Every time he tries to gain equality he is faced with extreme prejudice from regular humans. His fight is surely just and true, but it’s clear that he wont be getting anywhere anytime soon with it.
Up until about 10 minutes before the movie ended I was completely with Eric and his cause. Unfortunately the movie takes a sort of awkward turn and tries to turn Eric into the Stockholm Syndrome’d Magneto we saw in the original trilogy. The resulting scenes are awkward and goofy and seem to only exist to try and make us remember that these characters will eventually become Captain Jean Luc Pickard and Gandalf the Grey (eventually the White). The shift was not needed and leaves you wanting something more or atleast something different. In the end it felt more like Charles and Eric’s relationship was no more than a quick Summer romp together than a lifetime-spanning friendship. All of the buildup ended up just being a poor attempt at a payoff/homage to the original X-Men trilogy.
All together, if I can overlook the ridiculous ending, X-Men: First Class is a pretty good movie. The characters have a layer of depth rarely seen in comic movies today, which makes me think that maybe one day comic movies wont be known as comic movies but simply movies.
A man can dream, cant he?
If I had to give X-Men: First Class a rating, I’d give it a high five and a low five. Pretty great except for a few choice words at the end.