I saw X-Men: First Class (2011) on Sunday and all I can think of is how much I loved it and how deeply touching it was. I can think of no other movie where the threat of nuclear war is insignificant background noise compared to the sheer volume of feelings going on between the two main characters, in this case Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto. And this wasn’t a movie about action, it was a love story and a drama between those two and a story about hopes, ideals, and how they are crushed, and about abandonment.
This review is going to be full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read any further. The plot of the movie differs quite a lot from the canonised storyline so reading further will spoil the movie for you. So just trust me on this one and go see the movie. It’s awesome.
Why’s Mystique walking in your..?
As I said, this movie differs a great deal from the canonised storyline so there is really no point in even pointing them out. I must confess that I hadn’t read any reviews about the movie and had no idea how different this movie was going to be. I thought that maybe it would tell the story of the first team of X-Men (Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast, and Marvel Girl) with a younger Charles hence showing the first X-Men as teenagers they were in the beginning or something similar. But nothing like that. The story begins from a Nazi concentration camp – of course – and then gives a glimpse into Charles’s and Raven/Mystique’s youth, who grow up together.
The first mutants are alone, thinking they are the only ones with special powers and thus Charles and Mystique cling into each other seeking acceptance and support from each other. When the CIA agent Moira McTaggert finds out about the existence of mutants with super powers, accidentally discovering the truth about Emma Frost, she seeks assistance from the expert of genetic mutations, now Professor Xavier. While helping the CIA Xavier meets Erik, the future Magneto, who has dedicated his life to seeking revenge on the Nazis who killed his family. The main perpetrator being the leader of the Hellfire club, Sebastian Shaw – something that took me a while to put together since he looked very different from his time working for the Nazi. Charles and Erik join their forces to stop the evil mutants hoping to start a nuclear war to wipe out us normal humans.
Seeking justice, asking for equality, wanting to live free without persecution and discrimination
The X-Men have always been about equal rights for all humans to be and live as we are without fear of persecution and discrimination. It’s a noble ideal, something I hope we all can agree on, but which seldomly manifests in reality. It doesn’t matter what your “flaw” is, all of us have been put down because of something arbitrary, be it the clothes you wear, how much money your family has, what colour is your skin, your gender, or your sexual orientation. We all know how it feels to be made to feel different and that’s Mystique of this story. Her powers make her look very different from all of us and all she hopes is to feel like she belongs. She keeps on appearances, she tries to accommodate to be accepted and when she finally meets Erik/Magneto, who tells her she is just fine being herself, the blue skinned woman with beautiful yellow eyes and fiery red hair (she is beatiful), she for the first time feels naked, vulnerable, defiant, and ultimately powerful.
Charles, having the ability to read people’s minds, devoting his life to helping others find peace within themselves, healing them and trying to support them, fails the one person most dependant on him – Raven. He can go into Erik’s mind, find the light from within himself, share the most personal aspects of him, and sets him free. And at the same time, having promised to stay out of Raven’s mind, he doesn’t notice how much she needs him and his acceptance and how much his words hurt her. And the great tragedy is that without his abilities he’s blind, unable to see things happening around him, when he’s so used to just reading people and seeing immediately what’s bothering them and fixing that problem. And with Raven, he lets her down flat.
Erik has seen the lengths to which people are willing to go to take out those they see as different, the horrors that ensue from “just following orders”, and not thinking for yourself. He has learned to accept himself as who he is, a man driven by rage and revenge – but also caged by those feelings and finally finding his true potential when Charles frees him. But having lived his life in hatred, he can’t let go of his desire for revenge, and blocks out Charles. And in doing so he turns his back at him, abandons his dreams, his hopes, his ideals – and ultimately him.
The magnificent cast
This movie’s greatness lies solely on the shoulders of its cast. Without the heartbreaking performances of the main cast this movie would have been just another superhero movie and nothing spectacular. But really, with the emotions flying high and ideals crashing, the threat of a nuclear war was like a mosquitoe’s piss in the ocean.
I would have never thought that James McAvoy would find himself from the shoes of Xavier. He’s an excellent actor, but I assiciate him to much more serious roles from movies like Atonement and Last King of Scotland. But he can portray the range of feelings this role required and his presence makes him a believable mentor to the others.
At the very beginning I had trouble accepting Michael Fassbender as Erik and I did think he was just a man with one face, but luckily I was proven wrong. Also I think the earlier three X-Men movies were also haunting me, because Ian McKellen‘s Magneto was so different than in the comics and somehow my idea of Magneto has been transformed to remind him rather than the stern faced, muscular, dominant Magneto of the comics. Fassbender’s Magneto was a return to the original. And I must admit that he was also perfect for the role. Very stern in his beliefs, ruthless and yet easy to accept there was goodnes in his heart and that he really was a friend to Charles and that Charles was able to find that friend and that goodnes from within him.
Another great performance came from Jennifer Lawrence who was cast in the role of Mystique. Despite her young age she’s already a celebrated actress with many nominations and awards and I can see why. She played the role of Raven to perfection with all her insecurities, how she finds her self-confidence and how deep within her she’s just a normal teenager who just wants to be normal. And I bet if you have the blue skin and everyone else looks normal that feels even more important to you.
There were also other great performances, but it would take ages to list them all. All in all this is a wonderful cast. Need I say more? Well, actually I do! I must also point out the movie had a wide range of good old actors playing very minor roles. Like Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, Oliver Platt as the Man in Black, Ray Wise as Secretary of State, and Michael Ironside as the US captain. Also a small role for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine telling Xavier and Magneto to *beeb* off. :”D
Well surely there must have been something bad?
Well, of course. The main plot concerning the threat of a nuclear war was a quite minor part of the movie, but who cares.
Also the main bad guys were quite boring, but who cares. This was a movie about Charles and Erik, not about battle between good and evil. But still, the “bad” mutants Riptide (Álex González), Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) were very one dimensional and needless characters. Well, Azazel was at least good at giving the young mutants a good scare at the CIA headquarters (or maybe the Pentagon?). And Angel was needed because she needed to change teams. Riptide’s existence in the movie was just pointless, but I suppose they needed someone to accompany Azazel who, by the way, seemed to be doing a very good job on his own.
Also that survivor mutant’s (Edi Gathegi) role in the movie was quite needless. I suppose in the earlier script his role and death must have been bigger motivators, but I suppose in post-production they must have shifted the focus more on Charles’s and Erik’s relationship. But then again, there are always those characters in the comics who appear only to die a few panels later.
“It’s better than bad, it’s good!”
Yes, I just couldn’t think of more things to complain about, but came up with one more important bonus for the movie. I loved the fact that all the female characters were treated as whole persons and as strong actors in the movie. And even though there were some sexist remarks in the movie like when Sebastian Shaw asks Emma Frost to go and fetch him some ice to his drink, when Emma has to make the russian official believe she’s going to bed with her, it’s clear from Emma’s face what she thinks of these incidents. She loathes it. Good for you, Emma! Btw, she also wears more clothes than her comics counterpart. Yay for Emma! And if things go well, in the next movie she doesn’t have to put up with that kind of crap anymore since Shaw is replaced by Magneto, who for example in this movie doesn’t take advantage on Raven and handles the whole awkward situation with so much class and empowers Raven in this situation that could have turned very embarrassing for her. I’d marry him for that if I already weren’t.
I don’t know, maybe the movie was really just very good instead of something between excellent and amazing? I really don’t know, but as of now, two days after seeing it, I’m so happy, glad, empowered, and loving that movie, I really couldn’t care less. Good job, everyone. <3