X-Men: First Class

Posted on June 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm

The two most interesting aspects of the X-Men are absorbingly explored in this prequel that takes us back to the childhoods of rival mutants Magneto and Professor Xavier, played in the first three films by classically trained Shakespearian actors Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart.  Professior Xavier wants to work with humans and use the evolutionary mutations that result in superpowers to promote peace.  Magneto believes that the mutants are the product of an evolutionary leap forward and the sooner the humans are dispensed with, the better.  While the super-powers and special effects are fun, it is this argument and the fluid loyalties of their followers is at the heart of the X-Men saga. This film takes us back to the days when the two were allies, if not friends, set in the post WWII Cold War era.

First, it gives us a glimpse of the two men as children.  Magneto, then Erik Lehnsherr , is taken to a Polish concentration camp with his mother.  His anger and anguish at being separated from her fuel his power to bend metal and control magnetism.  He is taken to meet with a doctor who murders his mother to get him to access that power again.  He is tortured to develop it further.

Charles Xavier is a British boy from a wealthy family living far from the war in Westchester, New York.  His power is telepathy.  And his only friend is a fellow mutant named Raven, whose natural appearance is blue and scaly but who has the power to take on any shape.  Xavier (played as an adult by James McAvoy) gets a PhD in genetic mutation while Lehnsherr (played as an adult by Michael Fassbender) is exclusively focused on revenge against the doctor who killed his mother, now known as Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).

The great strength of the X-Men series is the way it taps into the feelings of all teenagers of being mutants.  It is a natural part of that time of life to feel alienated and isolated, a bit horrified with the changes they are going through.  Some of the best moments of the X-Men sagas are when the mutants learn for the first time that they are not alone and begin to own their strangeness and take pride in their powers.  This film has a witty “outing” reference and as an origin story, it makes the most of its opportunity to show the young mutants collected by Xavier showing off for each other.  The film also makes good use of its mid-century setting, hyper-accurate in the production design and slightly skewing the history to make the atomic age both a cause of the mutations and playing field for those who want a “final solution” for the human race.  Lehnsherr’s views are more understandable in the context of his experiences; he has seen what happens when those who are seen as “other” are identified; they can be rounded up and killed.  January Jones looks like she just walked out off the set of “In Like Flint” and her expressionless style works well for the icy Emma Frost.  Bacon looks like someone who has just come from a party at the Playboy Mansion, smooth as a member of the Rat Pack in German and English.  And it makes judicious use of archival footage, weaving President Kennedy’s announcements about the Cuban missile crisis into the story so effectively he might qualify for a supporting credit.

Director Matthew Vaughn gives the material a more straight-forward and conventional treatment than he did with “Layer Cake” and “Kick-Ass.”  There are some sly in-jokes for the fanboys (a cameo appearance, two references to Xavier’s future baldness) but it does not have the heightened tone or self-awareness of his other work or the witty romantic fantasy of the underrated “Stardust.”  Fassbender and McAvoy do their best, but he story and characters are more in service to the summer-movie special effects, which makes it fun, if not especially memorable.  It is a serviceable film with moments of brightness and energy and fine performances but it never really comes alive.


Parents should know that this film features non-stop comic-book action-style peril and violence including stabbing, strangulation, guns, fires, explosions, bombs, concentration camp scene, gruesome mutation scene, mother shot in front of her son, some graphic and disturbing images, drinking, smoking, some strong language (one f-word), skimpy and very revealing clothing (and lack of clothing) on female characters.  A CIA agent strips down to her garter belt and bra to go “undercover” as a hooker and a young woman surprises an older man by hiding in his bed but he turns her down.

Family discussion: Why are people afraid of mutants?  What references do you see in this origin story to developments that take place in the other movies?  Why do Xavier and Magneto respond differently to their experiences?

If you like this, try: the other X-Men movies and the comic books



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Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Fantasy Series/Sequel

6 Replies to “X-Men: First Class”

  1. First post! I’ve been a huge X-Men fan for most of my life and I think that First Class is the best of the films because it does the best job of distilling the essence of what makes the story so great. However, I do think that it’s the first in the series which was intended purely for adults. The first four are comic-booky enough that kids might be able to watch. Maybe. But not this one. I was actually surprised and a little shocked by some of the violence in it and I even winced a few times. Which is not to knock the film because it is fantastically good, it’s just not appropriate for kids. At all.

    If Fox wants to do another one set in the 60s, they really need to do the Sentinels storyline. It was one of the original comic stories back in the 60s and they haven’t even been mentioned in the films yet outside of a vague reference in The Last Stand. As a fan of the franchise, I’ve been waiting for eleven years to see them in all their glory, so hopefully Fox’ll get to them sooner now rather than later. Fingers crossed.

    1. Welcome, Vince! Great comment, very illuminating. Please come back and comment often.

  2. X-Men First Class matches up well with the recent Star Trek reboot. Both take much-loved characters and universes and give a new slant on them, allowing for many new paths to be followed. I was first introduced to mutants over 25 years ago, and have always been a big reader of X-comics. I enjoyed this movie very much, although I felt that the depiction of Emma Frost was weak. James McAvoy was a revelation, and Kevin Bacon was perfectly cast. I hope they follow up with more – even though this introduced some changes with the Xavier/Magneto origins, I’d like to see how this storyline plays out.

  3. Hi Nell!

    It’s been quite some time, but I wanted to comment a bit about the issue of profanilty in movies. I think parents are going to have to face the fact that movies these days have some profanity amd some sexual images. It’s commonplace and is acccepted in general by the public. So, I wish parents wouldn’t complain so much.

    Profanity and sexualily are not so harmful in comparision to violent images on screen. No one gets hurt by profanity. And with the right attitude, kids will see either of these things in a different light.

    Like it or not, by the time kids are in fifth grade, they will eventuially hear about sexuality and/or hear the first F-word ourside the home.

    The film, The Hangover, which has a lot of profanily and sexual scenes earned an 11 year old rating. By definition it means that a 7 year old can see thsi film with a parent here in Sweden at the theater. The attitude in Sweden is not to make an issue of profanity or sexuality because it is better to accept it as a part of our culture. They even showed Scarface with all the profanity and violence on public TV (abiet very late at night) here in Sweden.

    If any parent reading this is shocked by this, consider that the James Bond films have generally be given a 15 rating due to violence. Many of the PG films are 15 rating. Even the original, uncut version of Superman got a 15 year old rating. This means no one under 15 may be admited to the film at all. They did edit the film to make the film more suitable for kids. The Swedish cencur board has now stopped that practice.

    Parents should tell their childen that while profanily and partial nudity is not apporopiate in their house, they cannot protect them from everything they see at the movies. With the right attitude, parents may be able to be of better guidance for their children. As long as parents make it clear what’s acccpted at home, I think kids will find good values in living, even if some of what they see and hear isn’t something they want to see or hear.

    1. Thanks, Andreas. Our policy with our own kids was to say, “I know you know these words and I know you know where it is and is not appropriate to use them. If not, we will have a problem. But if I am right, I won’t stop you from seeing a movie just because of the language.” I agree that violence, especially exploitive, consequence-less violence, is a much greater concern.

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