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[movie review] X-Men: First Class
There are few fictional universes as massive as the one Marvel created about mutated humans with superpowers. So, it's no surprise that after ruining the main X-Men storyline on the big screen with the disaster known as X-Men: The Last Stand, Hollywood would want to explore other parts of said universe. So we got a prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was a natural progression since Wolverine's lost memory was a somewhat important plot point in the main trilogy of films. It could've been awesome, if it wasn't for the fact that the movie was handled worse than The Last Stand. An appropriate title for the movie would have been "Hugh Jackman's Mutant Adventure Where Everything Dies Except Him (featuring the worst Deadpool ever)".

After that disgrace I didn't have much hope left for one of my favorite comic book franchises to make a triumphant return on the big screen. However, I believed if the franchise was ever to redeem itself, it would be with another prequel. How about X-Men Origins: Professor X? That would be cool, right? We'd get to see the foundation of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, maybe how his legs became permanently paralyzed. It seems Matthew Vaughn heard my prayers, because in 2011 he gave us not only that, but also X-Men Origins: Magneto, both in one film, X-Men: First Class. After the last two horrible films, I was extremely skeptical about this one; but I couldn't help but see it, since this is the back story that I truly wanted to see since the beginning, much more than Wolverine's (even if that movie were awesome).

The movie tells the story of two powerful mutants called Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, and how their paths intertwine and a "friendship" is formed. We first see Erik as a young Jewish kid in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, in 1944. So he wasn't having the best of times, naturally. In a beautifully recreated scene from the first X-Men movie, some guards take Erik's mom away from him and go through a steel gate, and in his anger and agony, the young boy somehow bends said gate with his mind. This makes a man called Klaus Schmidt very interested in young Erik, who kills his mother in an attempt to make him use his magnetic powers. And it works - enraged, the boy pretty much destroys the entire room. Schmidt tells Erik that only through pain and anger can he access the full potential of his powers.

On the other side of the powerful mutant coin we have Charles, a young boy living in a big house in New York. One night he meets a shape-shifting blue girl called Raven, who was stealing food from his home. Overcome with joy after meeting another mutant like himself, he invites her to stay in his place.

Fast-forward to 1962, where we find these two characters in their mid-20s, and still on extremely different paths. Erik is hell-bent on avenging his mother by killing Schmidt, now that he's powerful enough to do so, apparently. He goes from France to Argentina (by the way, the real Villa Gesell looks nothing like it does on this film, trust me. lol) killing every Nazi he finds on his path leading up to Klaus. Meanwhile, Charles is on the University of Oxford, flirting with women with lame chit-chat about Genetics, on his way to become a Professor on said subject. It was a real treat to see the young versions of these characters handled so well. They're different from the old rivals we know so well, but at the same time they feel familiar; they are less mature versions of the characters we know, as they should be. Erik is not a full-fledged villain, but rather an enraged and miserable man; while Charles is a womanizer who uses his powers for his own good, but also an incredibly smart and well-intentioned man. How nice.

What's even nicer is that we see how Charles becomes Professor X and how Erik becomes Magneto in the movie. The events of the movie make these characters evolve and mature, and we see everything. That's one of the strongest aspects of this film; every important character evolves. Raven was not always the evil and badass Mystique. When we meet her she is embarrassed of her natural blue form and living with Charles. Hank McCoy was a shy scientist with big feet, and, yes, we see him become the big blue Beast. All these characters and their stories are intertwined very well with each other, and with the main plot. Raven and Hank connect through their desire to be "normal", and Raven connects with Erik because he's the only one that accepts her for who she is. It's all very interesting, but of course I won't spoil the details.

Going back to Schmidt for a bit, it turns out his real name is Sebastian Shaw, and he's another powerful mutan who manipulates both the United States and the Soviet Union to get them to start World War III in order to kill every "Homo Sapiens" and create a mutant-only world. Yes, the movie brings real-life historic events into the picture, and it works. Shaw also has a metallic helmet which prevents Charles from reading his mind (I know you've seen this helmet before). Charles learns of Shaw (though not of all his intentions for quite some time) and joins with the CIA in order to find out more about him. Remember Erik wanted to kill him? This is how they meet.

Charles and Erik go back to the CIA and using the newly created "Cerebro", find more mutants to help their cause. These mutants, along with Shaw's assistants, are a great opportunity the movie has to introduce more well-known characters from the comics into the big screen universe. Banshee, Havok, Azazel and Emma Frost are all here, along with a few more, and they're handled well, though they're pretty minor characters (they are the "soldiers" of each side). Still, it's nice to see them and no injustice is done to any of them.

Sebastian Shaw's evil affairs and Charles' crew's attempt to stop him are handled nicely and are very entertaining to see, but the highlight of the movie is easily the relationship between Charles and Erik (as was to be expected). Charles tries to befriend Erik, showing him that there's not only pain, anger and agony in him, but also goodness, and shows him that he must acknowledge that side of him in order to achieve his full potential. Erik respects Charles as a powerful mutant and as a smart man, but even if he accepts he has good aspects of his life, can Charles really change his personality, and more importantly, his motives?

Throughout the movie we see Erik grow closer to Charles, and happily work with him, but in the back of our minds, we know he becomes the evil Magneto. Is Erik truly becoming friends with Charles, or is he using him because he needs him to kill Shaw? Like any well-developed character, Erik is complex, so there might be a bit of both. But once Erik gains control of Shaw's anti-telepathic helmet, there's no turning back. Magneto is born. But he couldn't have been so without Charles' help and insight. He also couldn't have been as powerful as he is without Charles. And Charles also stays true to his character, knowing that Erik is evil (because, you know, he can read his mind) but never giving up on him - truly believing he can change. How the movie gets to the birth of Magneto and Professor X is very interesting and at times unexpected (this is a story so well-known that "unexpected" was the last word I thought I'd use, but it's an appropriate one for this film). And yes, we see how Charles loses mobility in his legs.

First Class is one of the best superhero movies of all-time, and makes the first two X-Men films (you know, the good ones) look extremely amateurish. If nothing else, the relationship between Charles and Erik makes this movie worth seeing. However, you also get to see a group of villains trying to do something evil with the world, and a group of heroes trying to stop them, and it's all compelling, believable and entertaining. There are a few continuity problems and a few parts of the story that could've been expanded on a bit more, but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the film. Of course it's no masterpiece, but it's a well-made superhero movie and X-Men at its best. Bring on X-Men: Second Class, please.

(think of this as a "sorry I don't post so often these days, here's a contribution" message)

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Posted: 10/03/11, 00:10:12  - Edited by 
 on: 10/03/11, 00:16:43
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That was a pretty great movie. It got me interested in seeing another X-Men game but it doesn't look like X-Men Destiny panned out unfortunately.
Posted: 10/03/11, 00:40:11
I have yet to see this movie, but I enjoyed your review for the most part. The advertising for the movie was terrible, therefore it didn't seem compelling enough at the time. And with severely limited funds and available time, it got relegated to the "at some point" pile. You've made me want to give this one a second chance--and I'm sure I'll like it since Wolverine wasn't a travesty to me (though parts were cheesy), and Last Stand wasn't great by any means, but just alright. Yes, they got the first two movies right, but I'll never understand why so many people that post movie reviews and such crap on and hate so many movies. Regardless, your review of this movie was pretty good and enough to at least remind me to look into it.
Posted: 10/03/11, 01:16:50
I can see how Last Stand could be alright (though I didn't like it, mostly because of the lame plot and the things it did to some of my favorite characters), but I truly disliked Wolverine. It had no engaging story structure whatsoever.
Posted: 10/03/11, 01:27:42
Charles and Erik are by far the best parts of the movie. The supporting casts of mutants was fairly weak I'd say. A lot of them are really underdeveloped and the ones they focus on are pretty lame (if not just slight tweaks of more well known mutants power-wise).

Good movie, though. Very entertaining to watch and the two characters play to each other very well.
Posted: 10/03/11, 06:06:56
Nice review! I agree with you on pretty much everything. This film's only "faults" were that it kind of disrupted the continuity of the first two films (while kind of disregarding the third one, and the Wolverine one) but it doesn't ruin the overall production IMO. I quite enjoyed it.

I also like the cameos and nods to the fans that were thrown in there. Very cool.
Posted: 10/03/11, 14:49:23
@GameDadGrant "Hi I'm Charles Xavier. Erik Lensherr.

Go fuck yourself."
Posted: 10/03/11, 15:29:52

Ha ha, you knew exactly what I was going for! My buddy and I busted up laughing at that point. Not so much as *what* was said, but *how* he said it. Just... perfect delivery.
Posted: 10/03/11, 16:01:03
I'm not the biggest movie kind of guy, but I did watch this in theaters and enjoyed it, especially after seeing all the previous movies.

Good review, Gelatinous, it made me think about some of the strengths of the movie and gave me a better appreciation of the character development overall.
Posted: 10/03/11, 17:47:47
I agree that Magneto and Xavier were the high points. The movie was decent, overall. I guess it was an adaptation of some comic story that I hadn't read?

The plot was a bit too convoluted for me. I think comic movies should paint with broader strokes. And I don't really like the way Mystique's importance in the X-Men Universe has been continually increasing, even to the point of rewriting history. I actually thought this was going to be the first Stan Lee run, with Beast, Angel, Marvel Girl, and Cyclops. But it was decent.

I thought Captain America stomped it, though. That was a surprisingly great comic flick.

Still haven't seen Last Stand. I'm afeared. X-Men 2 was fricking awesome, though.
Posted: 10/03/11, 17:52:26  - Edited by 
 on: 10/03/11, 17:53:03
@Anand You're right about plot being a bit convoluted, the movie definitely benefits from multiple views. But in an X-Men movie, where you don't have one hero but many, it's to be expected. I thought they handled it well - they focused on what they needed to. Maybe Mystique could've had a bit less screen time, same with Beast, but it was good.

I've yet to see Captain America, Green Lantern and Thor. I was never a fan of those in other mediums so I didn't feel like paying to see them. I'll have to give them a watch soon.
Posted: 10/03/11, 18:21:09
Well, you could pull an X-Men 2 and focus the whole thing around Wolverine (even though he isn't that powerful).

I haven't seen Green Lantern or Thor yet, either. I really wasn't even expecting much from Captain America, but it was great. Check it out, if you get the chance.
Posted: 10/03/11, 18:47:32  - Edited by 
 on: 10/03/11, 18:47:50
Nice review. LMAO "Hugh Jackman's Mutant Adventure Where Everything Dies Except Him (featuring the worst Deadpool ever)" Fucking killed me!

I actually thought the relationship between Mystique and Xavier was interesting, as well as her and Beast's character developments too and I'm glad they were given more screen time. I'd love to have seen more of that Darwin guy; his power should lend him towards being godlike in my opinion, but I actually don't even recall him from the comics. The scene where Xavier and Magneto meet the Angel girl was cool, but she was complete waste of film after that. She was so absurdly bad I cringed.
Posted: 10/03/11, 22:13:34
I actually just watched it last night, and it was a great film. Bring on the sequel in the planned trilogy.
Posted: 10/04/11, 00:07:06
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