X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) review

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In commemoration of the upcoming and final installment of the X-Men franchise, DARK PHOENIX (2019), I’m taking a trip down memory lane to review all of the X-Men films made by 20th Century Fox. Should be fun, y’all!

Cast: James McAvoy (GLASS [2019], DEADPOOL 2 [2018], ATOMIC BLONDE [2017], VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN [2015], PENELOPE [2006], and the upcoming IT: CHAPTER 2 [2019]), Michael Fassbender (THE SNOWMAN [2017] and LIGHT/OCEANS [2016]), Kevin Bacon (PATRIOTS DAY [2016] and BLACK MASS [2015]), Jennifer Lawrence (RED SPARROW [2018], MOTHER! [2017], PASSENGERS [2016], and JOY [2015]), and January Jones (LOVE ACTUALLY [2003])

Director/Co-writer: Matthew Vaughn (KINGSMAN [2015], 2 [2017], STARDUST [2007], and the upcoming KINGSMAN: THE GREAT GAME [2020])
Writers: Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz (THOR [2011]), and Jane Goldman (KINGSMAN 2, MISS PEREGRINE [2016], STARDUST [2007], and the upcoming KINGSMAN: THE GREAT GAME)
Producer: Bryan Singer (TRICK ‘R TREAT [2007])
Composer: Henry Jackman (RALPH/INTERNET [2018], KONG [2017], CAPTAIN AMERICA 3 [2016], PIXELS [2015], and upcoming films POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU [2019] and DHAKA [2019])
Cinematographer: John Mathieson (MARY QUEEN [2018], KING ARTHUR [2017], MAN FROM UNCLE [2015], and the upcoming POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU)
Editor: Eddie Hamilton (Mission Impossible ROGUE NATION [2015] and FALLOUT [2018], and the upcoming TOP GUN: MAVERICK [2020]) and Lee Smith (DUNKIRK [2017] and SPECTRE [2015])

This is my honest opinion of: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

 

(SUMMARY)

In 1944, Poland, young Erik Lensherr (Bill Milner) witnessed his mother’s murder at the hands of then-Nazi supporter Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) after failing to use his magnetic powers to save her.

Set in 1962, now an adult, Erik (Michael Fassbender) has vowed revenge against Shaw by tracking down his former Nazi associates and killing any and all who stand in his way. Meanwhile, the recently-made professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), secretly a telepath, is celebrating his successes with his oldest friend, the blue-skinned, shape-shifting Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), until he’s brought in by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to help with investigating the Hellfire Club, a mutant organization led by Shaw, who are hellbent on starting a nuclear war with the world and have mutantkind rise up at the rulers of the world. Charles and Erik’s paths collide as they begin to assemble a group of their own to eventually combat Shaw.

(REVIEW)

By God, I forgot how good this movie is. Maybe that’s partially because the previously film was ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, but take that out of the equation, it’s still a damn fine flick. Eh… however, maybe it’s aged just a little bit.

Yeah, I should probably hit the negatives first, as more than a few people likely will want to pick a fight with me.

Here’s the main problem with the movie, which is ironically also the best part of it, Erik. Am I the only one who thinks that his motivations are completely confused? I made a similar argument in my review of the first movie, that his hatred for humans… doesn’t quite make sense. Let me elaborate. Magneto’s goal is to wage war against mankind to that mutants are the dominant and ruling species on the planet, all due to persecution. Mutant… persecution. However, all we ever knew about Magneto’s hatred was seeing him hauled into a concentration camp. This wasn’t due to mutant persecution, it was likely because he was Jewish, or something of that nature. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with his mutation. But looking back on it now, you can argue that Magneto’s motivations for mutant dominance came later when segregation against mutants was more of a thing and he developed his ant-human mentality off-screen. It’s still not necessarily clear if that truly is the case, but I can see someone making this argument.

However, the issue with this movie is that he has no real motivation to exclusively hate humans. I can see him hating Nazis. That’s a given. I can even see him hating all Germans. Let’s face it, even today, there’s idiots out there who don’t distinguish Nazis from Germans, even though not all Germans were on board with the Nazi party and are sure as hell not happy to have that stain on their history. But for the time, one could be forgiven for such hatred, as not many outside of those who lived through the concentration camps and the atrocities done to them, could possibly understand their pain and hardship. Erik would have sympathy points in that regard. Here’s the thing, his primary objective in the entire movie is to kill Shaw… a mutant. In fact, his worst experiences are with Shaw when he kills his mother right in front of him, and being utterly gleeful about it. Shaw has nothing to do with the human race as a whole. I can understand his hate for Nazis. I can understand his hate for Shaw. But where does “all of mankind” factor into this? Why is he propagating the idea that humans won’t accept him? As this movie points out, mutants aren’t even a thing yet, hence there’s no mutant persecution at this time. They’re rumors and tall tales, at best. Sure, they’re in hiding, but not because the world hates them yet. So why does he feel this way?

Quick question. When the young mutants are showing off their powers and causing damage and making the CIA folks angry, why does Charles say, “I expect better from you” to them? Um… no, I’m with the CIA dudes on this ones. A scene or two ago, one of them was all like, “We’re trusting lives with these untrained freaks,” or something asshole-ish like that, but… no, he’s absolutely right. Raven, Angel (Zoë Kravitz), the lot of them, they’re not warriors, or fighters, or trained in any form of combat whatsoever, and Charles is no one’s leader yet. To have this reaction is… uncharacteristic of him. Okay, sure, maybe that comment was more directed at Raven than the group, but… the question still stands. Raven is still a young woman and not with the same mindset as Charles. He knows that she’s been struggling with how she feels about her powers, and aside from Charles, she’s never met another mutant. I would understand her excitement to be around others like her with similar mindsets. I know, smaller issue, but still an out of character moment for someone who has otherwise been pretty likable up to that point.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Beast’s make-up sucks. Seriously, the way his mouth moves is closer to something from the 90’s. In 2011, comparing to 2006’s Beast make-up on Kelsey Grammer, which was spot-freakin’-on, this is unacceptable.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

 

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There are some other issues worth noting. For one thing, I really hated Angel’s (Zoë Kravitz) betrayal of her friends. Before teaming up with Shaw, she was partying, having fun, and being completely open and accepted among these people. For all intents and purposes, she was a nice girl with no ambitions to be some queen on a throne overlooking ash and death. Yet, off she goes with Shaw. I would understand that she was just doing the whole “self-preservation” thing, seeing Shaw as having the upper hand and only joining under belief that if she didn’t, she’d be killed. But all we get out of her logic is, “We don’t belong here, and that’s okay.” Ugh… technically, she’s not wrong, but coming to that conclusion was weak sauce to the umpteenth degree. To make matters worse, she just happily fights against her friends outside of Cuba. Like… not even a look of conflict in her eyes. Even Anakin Skywalker had to debate and process his actions. In the span of ten seconds, sure, but that’s more time dedicated to Angel’s decent into the dark side.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

But it’s time to stop crapping on this movie. Let’s acknowledge it for what it does extraordinarily well.

To start, let’s remind ourselves that even though Erik’s motivations are confused, he’s still an extremely complex and interesting character, played powerfully by Fassbender. In fact, let’s just admit it, Fassbender makes this movie. He delivers probably one of the most nuanced performances of his career… or, that I’ve seen from him. Every line delivery is pitch perfect. His hatred, his sarcasm, his frustrations, his pain, everything oozes with power that makes him one of the greatest comic book movie characters ever made.

But while Fassbender may steal the show, that’s not to say that everyone else is a slouch. McAvoy as Xavier and Lawrence as Mystique are really good too. McAvoy is hilarious as a young, party-boy, drinker, hitting on Annabelle Wallis. No, really, that boring chick from THE MUMMY (2017) and the forgettable ANNABELLE (2014), that’s her that McAvoy was flirting with in his first scene. In any case, he’s a lot of fun, but you do see a man who is passionate about mutant equality, who understands Erik’s plight more than anyone, feeling his anger and his pain. He’s protective and loving, so you definitely see hints of the eventual cue-ball, wise mentor that would evolve into Patrick Stewart. Yet, he’s still his own character. He has a goofy side, a dorky side, but he’s constantly a great character to watch. Even Raven has a solid character and I consider this to be one of Lawrence’s better performances in her career. I love little human moments between Raven and Charles where they snuggle up, chat, the little things always add an extra layer of relatability. Especially when all of the young mutants are together in that room for the CIA, having fun showing off and just generally being comfortable around each other. You feel that energy of acceptance and cutting loose. I really enjoy moments like that.

Oh, and that brief-ass cameo by James Remar. I love that man. As well as the cameo by Rebecca Romijn. And don’t think I didn’t notice that she didn’t go fully Mystique in this. Not gonna blame her though. Apparently, getting all that make up on was hell for her. Or, how about the most amazing cameo ever put in a movie, Hugh Jackman, as Wolverine and his hilariously immortal, “Go fuck yourself.” I still need to pause the movie so I can finish laughing.

The action is damn awesome too. Erik destroying a yacht with its own freakin’ anchor. Oh! Or how about Azazel (Jason Flemyng) grabbing CIA dudes and teleporting them high up in the sky and dropping them to their deaths, raining screaming bodies. That was deliciously dark. <<<SPOILERS>>> [ The entire climax of the movie is amazing. From Banshee’s (Caleb Landry Jones) high-flying alongside Angel. Or Erik stopping all of those missiles and bullets aimed at them and hurling them back. “I’ve been at the mercy of men just following orders. Never again.” Love that line and how it thematically comes full circle for Erik. Granted, I don’t think any American armed force would willingly open fire on mutants, first encounter or not, without making contact first. The mutant hate-mongering should have come later and more organically to this new continuity. Still, for what was done with it, I thought it was awesome.  ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>

Overall, I love this movie. While I think X2 had some cooler, more memorable scenes, this has far better characters, which pushes it just a smidge further in terms of quality story-telling. Also, it’s refreshing for one of these movies to not focus on Wolverine. Fassbender makes this movie, but make no mistake, McAvoy does a great job, as do Lawrence and Bacon, the action is amazing, among so many other positives. I will definitely say that it has flaws, some of them pretty big in my opinion, but it’s still one of the best X-Men movies and I absolutely love it.

My honest rating for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS: a strong 4/5

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