One part prequel, one part reboot, X-Men: First Class tells the story of how Xavier and Magneto’s epic bromance began. The new entry in the film franchise drops the original cast of fan-favorite mutants and brings in a few lesser-known characters like Havok and Banshee. For the most part, this works really well, and the shift to a more character-driven story gives the narrative a little more impact.
The previous series was pretty much “Wolverine Meets a Bunch of Other Mutants and Saves the Day: The Movie,” but First Class tries to give every character a moment. Well, except Darwin, who, despite having the power of adapting to survive anything, dies before he accomplishes anything. And Angel was pointless. Seriously, why was she here, other than to include a strip club scene? (I guess I just answered my own question.)
Anyway, like its predecessors, First Class has a great cast—besides one member. The other films had Halle Berry as Storm, and this one has January Jones as Emma Frost. I wouldn’t exactly call Frost a great character to begin with, but seeing her lines delivered this poorly is sure to make you cringe. As Bush 41 would say, “It’s bad.” Luckily, the only scenes Jones manages to ruin are the ones in which she’s featured prominently. So, most of her scenes, really. It is a shame that this version of Frost features none of the dry wit the character is known for in other media. She’s not even deadpan here; it’s like she’s reading a newscast.
The script also ham-fists the allegorical comparisons between mutants and homosexuals. I’m all for messages of equality and acceptance, but, “Mutant pride!” came up a few too many times and the paper-thin reference to DADT was a huge eye-roller. It’s not that including the message of gay acceptance is misplaced—it’s that it’s so unsubtle it’s cringe-worthy. But given how unsubtle the message was in X-Men: The Last Stand, it’s not all that surprising that it’s more evident in First Class.
But really, ham-fisting aside, this is a very good movie. The dynamic between Charles and Erik really works, and seeing their stories unfold in the early chapters of the movie is a real treat—especially when Erik kills a few Nazis. The subplot between Mystique and Beast also goes a long way in humanizing the characters—both are considered outcasts because of their physical appearance their mutations give them, so they’re drawn to one another and come to accept or reject their mutations.
First Class plays a difficult balancing act with its multiple plot lines—I guess that’s bound to happen with a dozen or so main characters, several of whom die anyway. Toward the middle and end of the film, some of the transitions from one place or sequence to another are a little jarring and distracting. But it doesn’t hurt the flow of the movie for the most part.
The acting, like I said, is generally pretty good. Kevin Bacon makes for a decent villain as Sebastian Shaw, though he occasionally seems to be phoning it in. But McAvoy and Fassbender steal the show. They interact really well with each other and the other mutants, serving as mentors for the confused youths. And really, that’s what X-Men has always been about: Coming to terms with who you are and finding your place in the world. First Class explores that theme pretty well, though it does get hung up on some ideals more than others.
It’s a fun action movie, but there’s also a bit of good symbolism and allegory beneath the surface—even if it does occasionally beat you over the head. It wasn’t up against much besides the great casting of the previous movies, but First Class is the best X-Men movie to date. If there’s a sequel in the works (probably two of them, considering how much Hollywood loves trilogies), I’m looking forward to the continuation of this new take on the franchise.