By Caitlyn Collins | June 3, 2011
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zach Stenz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (screenplay), Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer (story)
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon,
Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Jason Flemyng, Álex González
Before Professor X and Magneto became archenemies, they were simply Charles Xavier and Erik; two extremely gifted boys with polar opposite backgrounds. X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is the prequel to all of the X-Men films. The majority of the film centers on the 1964 Bay of Pigs events which almost saw Soviet Russia and the United States commence with World War III.
The film begins almost identically to the first film of the series, X-Men (2000), which introduces a young Erick Lehnsherr (Bill Milner) forcibly separated from his family at a Polish concentration camp in 1944. Learning of his extraordinary ability to manipulate metal at will, Dr. Schmidt (later revealed to be Sebastian Shaw [Kevin Bacon]) forces the young Erik to move a coin by shooting his mother. This unleashes utter rage from him and he twists and destroys everything metal in the office, including what seems to be a torture room. This event and the presumed experimentation afterward, set Erik’s life on a path of anger and revenge. Bacon’s performance as the unethical German doctor and later as the vile Sebastian Shaw is well done.
Meanwhile in a lovely mansion in New York, also in 1944, a young Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher) reveals his gift of telepathy when he hears an intruder in his kitchen who turns out to be another young mutant, Raven (Morgan Lily). Showing his characteristic kindness, Charles tells Raven she never has to steal food again.
Two decades pass and Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) meet when Charles, while working for CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), saves Erik’s life. Both Charles and Erik are after the villainous Shaw though for completely different reasons. Erik is filled with hatred and has the singular mission of revenge, while Charles feels compelled to better all of humanity, especially mutants. The two begin working for the CIA to bring together a team of people with superhuman powers. Hank McCoy better known as Beast (Nicholas Hoult), a super-genius with beastly feet, has built Cerebro which amplifies Charles’ telepathic abilities allowing him to find other mutants. Shaw, meanwhile, is trying to plot World War III by convincing the U.S. to place missiles in Turkey and Russia to place them in Cuba.
Shaw is also recruiting mutants for his army. Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Riptide (Álex González) already do Shaw’s evil bidding. The group is quickly joined by Angel (Zoë Kravitz). Charles moves his team away from their decimated CIA headquarters to his childhood home. There he assumes his role of professor, teaching each of them how to control their powers. Raven a.k.a. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) tussles with the acceptance of her natural appearance; Havok (Lucas Till) learns to control is ability to destroy anything in his path; Beast assumes his true after an adverse reaction from injecting himself. Charles is desperate to fully gain Magneto’s confidence, but Magneto himself is still teetering between good and evil. Fassbender struggles with his Irish accent the entire film until he finally just seems to give up and go with it.
The ultimate showdown with Shaw comes during the critical moment of Russian ships crossing the embargo line. The team must work together in order to stop the impending nuclear war. These scenes are almost purely CGI and seemed utterly unconvincing. World War III is averted, but the division of the loose team is inevitable. Magneto strikes out on his own after viciously killing Shaw and paralyzing Charles (for which he does show distress). Mystique joins him, and thus the X-Men are now few, and Charles and Magneto are archenemies.
X-Men: First Class provides a ton of action, but also sets up the story for the films before it. It is much closer to the first two films of the series in this way. The plot is intriguing, but jumps around quite a bit in a loose way. The film is also about twenty minutes too long as a result. The cameo appearances of Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romjin provide the film with a bit of comic relief. Now that I’ve seen the beginning, so to speak, I’m anxious to watch the first films again. The X-Men are my favorite Marvel characters for nostalgic reasons. Regardless of your reasons for seeing it, X-Men: First Class is an entertaining summer film.