Ashley’s Uncanny X-Watch: First Class

As we all undoubtedly know, X-Men: Apocalypse comes out on May 27th, which is just two short weeks away. In the time leading up to this premier, I will be re-watching and writing about each X-Men movie made so far. Today, X-Men: First Class.

In the year 2009, the men responsible for the X-Men cinematic universe looked upon the destruction they had wrought and despaired. What was there to do? Nothing, except to burn everything to the ground start anew. Thus, the entire X-Men film canon was brutally retconned out of existence and X-Men: First Class was born.

Here’s the thing. I like First Class more than most people. I’m sorry. But the refreshing absence of Wolverine and the change in perspective from younger versions of some of the most iconic X-Men film characters both really appeal to my personal interests.

Re-watching this movie with a more analytical mindset has made me realize that this movie isn’t super great just in general. It’s not bad. But it’s very on-the-nose and lacks the emotional subtlety and depth of, say, X2. That said, it’s a huge improvement from the last two films in the series. It was truly a relief to watch First Class at this point in my journey, let me tell you. And when I’m not being analytical, I do find this movie to be a lot of fun.

The one thing that even this movie’s biggest critics praise effusively is the casting of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr/Magneto, respectively. There’s nothing for me to say here that has not already been said on Tumblr a thousand times in a thousand ways. But, guys. They are so good. Especially Fassbender. He is… So. Good. He makes the sometimes-ridiculous dialogue in this movie so affecting and believable. Between Fassbender and Sir Ian McKellen, Magneto is hands down the most aptly cast comic book character to ever make the leap into film.

The deep, borderline-romantic bond between Charles and Erik is such an important part of this movie and of the film canon in general. It’s so powerful, it makes earlier movies retroactively even more emotionally fraught. It’s no surprise that their relationship has spawned thousands of fanfics. 

So let’s talk a little bit about the continuity reset in this movie. Clearly, this was written without any worry about previously established facts. For example, it is mentioned in I think X1 that Charles and Erik met each other when they were in their late teens. Alex Summers/Havok, comics-canonically Scott Summers/Cyclops’ brother is in this movie with no relation to Scott established or implied. Emma Frost, who was a minor character in Origins: Wolverine, is here as an entirely different character. 

When this movie first came out, I was very much okay with a reset. I think most of the fans were after what he had endured. Spiderman gets an entire universe reboot every two weeks, after all. In fact, I was upset and concerned when the news broke that Days of Future Past was going to attempt to bridge the two separate continuities. They were fine on their own. Why bother to make yet another continuity mess to bridge them? But, I am getting ahead of myself.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times before that Mystique has the best character arc in this film series. She changes so much, but it tracks emotionally, and it always makes sense. Listen, I’m not a Jennifer Lawrence fan. Or maybe I’m just not a Jennifer Lawrence’s Ubiquitous Over-Hype fan. But she does very well as a pre-Mystique Raven Darkholme, playing an insecurity and sense of alienation that is easy to identify with. Watching the way Xavier and pre-Beast Hank McCoy talk to her about her unconventional appearance, and the acceptance, freedom and confidence that Erik encourages in her, it makes perfect sense that she would leave everything and follow him.

That’s one of the many things about the X-universe that makes it so much more important to me than any other comics world. No one is just flatly evil. We always understand, and even can identify with the villains.

First Class opens up with an extended look at Erik’s childhood in Jewish concentration camps, building off the opening from X1. Magneto has always been one of the more understandable villains in superhero movies, and this movie really deepens that by showing us the persecution he has experienced because of his genetic makeup. It’s infinitely satisfying to watch him kill Sebastian Shaw at the end. Even as Charles urges him not to, I find myself cheering Erik on every time.

Honestly, the movie is worth watching for this scene, alone.

Random Character Thoughts Lightning Round!

With better writing and a little more effort, January Jones could have been the perfect Emma Frost, I truly believe this. I just think she didn’t take the character very seriously, and with most of her dialogue, why would she? Emma is one of my favorite characters from the comics because of her immense complexity, and none of that comes through in this movie. It’s best if you think of Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw as an entirely new character. If you try to draw parallels between the film character and the comics character, you will come up relatively empty-handed. Honestly, why would you take the Hellfire Club out of their best story and shoehorn them into this situation instead?

A lot of the minor characters here were essentially entirely new characters just with the same or similar names as characters from the comics. Like Moira MacTaggert, once a Scottish scientist (English in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo she has in X3 [I think  it was X3??]), now an American CIA agent. It’s whatever. As established, this movie doesn’t really play by any canon’s rules. Oh and I love Hank McCoy. I love Beast. I love Nicholas Hoult. Almost all of the characters in First Class are well-acted even when they are not well-written. Beast, comparatively, is well-written and has a really heart-wrenching story. 

Honestly, 80% of the notes I took on this movie are about how corny I didn’t realize the dialogue in this movie was and what an excellent acting job Michael Fassbender does. I cannot emphasize the latter enough. 

We’ve only got two more movies left, guys! I’m starting to get a little sad. Join me again soon, won’t you, as we (read: I) discuss The Wolverine, and, please, for the love of mutantkind leave a comment if you have anything to add.

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