Much like the previous X-Men movies, X-Men: First Class seizes an overlarge portion of the X-Men mythos and struggles valiantly to weave it into a coherent story. This is no easy task; much of the X-Men’s history is poorly conceived, discordant and just plain contradictory. First Class, though, manages better than the previous entries did to create a coherent film. Still, it tries to do much more than it has the time or the material to.
First, just to get it out of the way, the first class from the title is all but irrelevant to the film. They exist to give an excuse for a training montage and to pad out the climactic fight scene. The movie is about the future Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and to a lesser extent Professor X (McAvoy). This is not really a problem, per se, but it is unfortunate that in a movie titled X-Men First Class, the class itself is an afterthought.
Instead of a superhero school like the previous movies, First Class is a superhero Bond movie, with the famous spy split between the dangerous and driven Eric (Magneto) and charming Charles (Xavier). Concentration Camp survivor Eric is on a quest to get revenge on the cartoonishly villainous, in the mold of classic Bond villains, Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon. Charles Xavier is an intelligent but aimless newly minted PhD put on Shaw’s trail by CIA agent Moiré McTaggert due to his expertise on mutation. This, of course, soon leads to the two’s meeting.
We know from the previous movies that these men were once friends made enemies by their divergent methods in dealing with human/mutant relations. This movie shows how they could have been friends; they are two charismatic, powerful, intelligent men leading the nascent mutant community. It does not, however, show much of their ideological conflict. Xavier has no ideology, just some vague notions about hiding and a scientific interest in his mutant brethren. All Eric has is hate. The movie shows why Eric thinks the way he does, but he never shows faith in anything other than the fact that working with Xavier will help him extract his revenge on Shaw. First Class is at its worst when dealing with the X-Men’s already feeble discrimination analogy. Mutants can stand in for blacks or gays or Jews because being a part of any of those groups does not give one the power to accidentally kill more people than an atom bomb.
When X-Men First Class is being a sexy superhero Bond movie, it is terrific. Fassbender as Magneto and McAvoy as Xavier make a great spy team. Bacon’s Shaw is likewise good. January Jones’ Emma Frost is a disappointment, but to be fair she is given less to work with than she is to wear. Beast as the team’s Q is very good and Jennifer Lawrence is good as Mystique, even if the character is a waste of time.
The biggest problem with the film is that it has to end a certain way, but that ending is not what the rest of the movie builds toward. So the movie makes the originally conceived ending happen anyway, regardless of little sense it actually makes.
Despite its flaws, X-Men First Class is a highly entertaining movie. Most of the flaws I mentioned are niggling small things that do little to hamper the overall product. It is slightly more damned for a fumbling attempt at relevance instead of something like Thor’s complete lack of any such pretense.
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