THE UNITED STATES OF GEEKDOM
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X-Men History X – JediCole’s Review and Analysis of “X-Men First Class”

Part 1: JediCole’s Spoiler-Free Review

Is X-Men First Class the ultimate X-Men film? That is ultimate, not Ultimates by the way. I would hesitate to call it as much, however it is certainly one of the best to bear that name. Nods to the prior films in the series and some surprising cameos elevate the production to the heights of super-hero movies achieved by Iron Man and The Dark Knight. No film in this genre will ever be faithful to the source material so it comes down to how well the filmmakers achieve their unique vision of the characters and concepts. In X-Men First Class they receive very high marks.

With a group that has been around as long as the X-Men you have a tremendous history from which to derive your characters. As a result, audiences are presented with a diverse mix of heroes and villains past and present in this movie. Some were quite familiar to me while other were not (as they are from more recent incarnations of the comic). This juxtaposition of characters from differing eras is actually advantageous as the screenwriters can create a mix that best suits the story they seek to tell rather than (like most comic writers) having to defer to the current team in the comic to inform the direction of their story. Adding a more recent character like Azazel to the mix in the Hellfire Club is a shrewd move that can be utilized in later films of the series.

Set in the 50’s as the Cold War really began to exert itself, First Class explores Charles Xavier as an unlikely hero and leader in another kind of war that is brewing in the background. Magneto is given the kind of tragic background that lends sympathy to villains and the mysterious Sebastian Shaw of the Hellfire Club is given some history that he lacked in the comics. These three characters create the backbone of a plot that is both a jumping off point for the X-Men saga and a coming of age picture. A great many characters face circumstances that challenge their abilities and beliefs and push them to become the familiar characters of comic book lore.

Mutant characters like Banshee and Havoc who are often overlooked in favor of Wolverine and even Cyclops (in the comics at least) are pushed to the forefront and given the opportunity to shine like never before. An association between Xavier and Mystique opens doors for the future of the franchise and the groundwork for both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants is laid.

Overall X-Men First Class delivers on several levels. It tells its story well with good pacing, exposition that does not wear on the plot, and some great dialogue. The young mutants recruited by Charles and Erik are presented as viable characters, not simply background elements as in some previous X-Men films. Scenes of developing camaraderie between the kids help flesh them out and make the audience care about their fate. And the effects that bring their powers to visual life are well realized and do not supersede the scenes in which they appear. If you were left with a distaste for X-Men movies after Last Stand or Origins you will be pleasantly surprised by this new direction in the series.
If you found this review to be a bit light on details, there is a reason.  I want to avoid spoilers of any kind, no matter how minor, in the review portion.  What follows is much more in-depth and potentially spoiler rich.  So if you have already seen this movie or don't care about spoilers then read on!


Part 2: JediCole takes you to school with in-depth analysis of the movie. Be warned though, this section does contain SPOILERS, so you may want to wait and read this later if you have not seen the film.

Everyone please take your seats. Class is now in session with Professor H. The squeak of chalk on the blackboard resonates as the letters are written in bold strokes. A-N-T-I-C-I-P-A-T-I-O-N.

Anticipation. That is the focus of today’s lesson. And what often accompanies anticipation? That’s right, expectation! These two certainly went hand in hand when it came to X-Men First Class. What other film release has prompted three USG writers to post articles on the subject? None that I can recall. Fan anticipation was quite high for this one. Nothing on the order of the Star Wars prequel levels to be sure, but it was certainly palatable. Would First Class revive the franchise after the disappointments of X-Men 3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

Another question that weighed heavily the anticipation front was whether or not this was going to be a reboot or simply a prequel. Before I saw the film I was leaning more toward the latter. There were some curious inconstancies like the transformation of Beat and insinuating a new “Angel” into the mix, but both could be justified into movie continuity easily enough. However, other departures from the letter of what had come before were a little more glaring. Not the least of which was Emma Frost’s presence as an adult member of the Hellfire Club when she had previously been seen as a young woman in Wolverine years in the future of the First Class time period.

While it would be easy enough to dismiss this glaring error as simply a means to put an official stamp on what many fans already believe, X-Men Origins: Wolverine never happened”, the case for this movie being a prequel falls further apart. The origin of Cerebro is the most glaring inconsistency and impossible to otherwise justify. Unless one were to invoke Star Wars-style “certain point of view” logic which I think is best avoided in this case. The reality is that X-Men First Class must be considered as a reboot of the franchise from the ground up. But not a reboot in the sense of the upcoming Spider-Man film. They are not throwing out the baby with the bathwater!

It is for this reason that what seemed at first to be simply a prequel renders itself upon final appraisal a reboot that pays tremendous homage to all that has come before. To fully appreciate this fact it is important to look at aspects of the plot as well as individual characters in the film. Certainly the lynchpin of this movie as a complete reboot is Cerebro. Since Hank McCoy is now credited with the creation of the very device that Charles Xavier and Erik Lennsherr had reportedly built together the reset button must be pressed on the X-Men series. That fact alone, more so than any other, demands that X-Men First Class be considered a reboot. But this does not necessarily portend sweeping change. A look at the principle characters establishes that perfectly.

Charles Xavier/Professor X – Really there is little to no background on the Professor given in the X-films previously, except that in X-Men Origins: Wolverine his status at the end of this movie is reversed – he is bald and walking! That of course becomes another glaring inconsistency that can only be explained away in the context of a franchise reboot. However we are treated at last to some back story on Xavier as well as how he came by the sprawling mansion that would house his school.

Erik Lennsherr/Magneto – In reutilizing the first manifestation of Magneto’s powers in World War II era Poland, X-Men First Class creates from the outset a firm foundation based on all that has come before that will be crucial to the reboot of the series. They borrow that which is still workable within the framework of this film’s plot while jettisoning everything that does not. And like Xavier, Magneto is given further study into his past. A most haunted past that allows him to exist as a kind of anti-hero in the context of the plot, yet turn to something that can be perceived as evil by the end of the film. And all without the ambiguity of Anakin Skywalker’s inexplicable turn to the Dark Side of the Force on almost imperceptible gentle prodding. A huge fanboy wish was granted in the final incarnation of Shaw’s helmet, repainted and decorated for the use of the Master of Magnetism. Not only does Magneto now have an accurately designed helmet, the color scheme and added ornamentation make it one of the most accurate costume elements in comic movie history! It was also nice to see that both Professor X and Magneto have their code names foisted on them by the younger generation of mutants, something that might never have occurred to either of them.

Mystique – It was interesting, knowing that Beast would be prominently featured in this film, that the screenwriters chose to disappear Raven’s surname (which is also McCoy) so as not to confuse movie goers not familiar with X-Men lore. Her association with Xavier from childhood to adulthood helps tie this film to those that went before by justifying her familiarity with the mansion and ability to mimic Xavier’s retinal patterns so perfectly as to pass for him in a scan. Of course that is all pointless now as the continuity of old has been undone by this movie. Still, a nice nod, in a sense, to what has gone before. This is further exemplified in that the makeup and the effect mechanism of her transformations was not visually redesigned. The filmmakers did not try to distinguish their Mystique from the previous incarnation. That they went a step further and invited Rebecca Romijn to portray Raven as an older version of herself in normal human form was an added bonus. The motivations for her own turn to the “dark side” play a little more vague than Magnetos, but certainly not as out of left field as Angel’s defection.

Angel – The insect-winged Angel fills the role of Warren Worthington III in such a way that allows for this “original” Angel to depart the company of the X-Men in favor of the Hellfire Club as well as providing a dynamic second mutation. The “atomic spitball” is an odd power but did provide something to punch up the aerial dogfight with Banshee. In the credits the film’s Angel is called Angel Salvadore, suggesting that while she fills the role of a winged flyer in the group, the addition of a bird-winged replacement is not out of the question down the line.

Beast – The amazing on again-off again rendition of beast as a blue-furred mutant has baffled X-Men movie fans since the last film in the prior series. McCoy is presented as seemingly normal in appearance in a brief cameo in one film then decked out in his Avengers-era pelt when he at last gets into action. Then First Class comes along and denies him an adulthood without the fur. Again, this suggests an absolute reboot. So why go blue and fuzzy out of the gate? For the same reason Wolverine is advanced to the head of the class in the prior X-Men films, because (in that form) he is cool! Beast as he first appeared in comics is not nearly as exciting as he was after he caused his further mutation through chemical means. That is why they did that in the comics in the first place, to make him a much more visually interesting character.

Emma Frost - This is the character most people point to and invoke X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  That she is portrayed in this movie as considerably older than she would be years in the future (above) is further testemetn to the concept of a reboot of the franchise.  You can't have the Hellfire Club without its infamous White Queen.  And in keeping with an earlier statement in this article, having the ability to pick and choose characters from the history of the X-Men is the real strength of this particular movie.  Abandon all that has come before and you can accept that Emma Frost was an adult back in the 50's and 60's.  Simple enough, eh?

Moira McTaggert – One of the more obvious indicators that First Class is a reboot is the change in Ms. McTaggert’s occupational status. Sure a CIA Agent is pretty remarkable in its own right, but in the comics and in prior films she was a doctor and a contemporary of Xavier in the study of genetics, specifically mutants. It is unlikely that she will suddenly seek a medical school education at this stage and as a government agent she can play a much bigger role in the future of the new franchise.

Stryker – Dustin, the USG’s own One Man Geek Army put it best when he said that the further back in time you go in the X-films, the older the actor who plays Stryker! The wizened actor who portrays him in First Class simply helps underscore that this has to be considered an outright new beginning for the franchise. And in a way it makes more sense that he be fairly old back in the 50’s so that the contemporary incarnation will be a very bitter mutant-hating old fart.

Wolverine – What a wonderful surprise! Hugh Jackman’s uncredited cameo was worth the price of admission! A tight shot on the cigar suggests Wolvie but I really expected the scene to just be fudged with a voice over culled from an earlier film. That we actually see Wolverine, and in perfect keeping with his film incarnation character, was a bonus that made up for the lack of a cookie after the credits rolled. But I guess that is Sony’s shtick. Someone had pointed out that in the first X-Men film Wolverine had never encountered Xavier or Magneto and vice versa. Again I need say only one word – “reboot”!

I also felt that the reason Logan was so pissy when approached by the pair is that he had just had a terribly bad dream and was at a bar to try to drink the memory away.  That bad dream?  X-Men Origins: Wolverine!



2 comments:

I don't remember saying anything about Stryker. Granted, I was somewhat sleep-deprived at the time though.

However, I do believe that THIS Stryker was intended not to be the man behind the creation of Wolverine, but in fact his father. At one point, Xavier mentions Stryker's "son, William". Granted, its possible that William Stryker is a multi-generational name, but since in X2 William Stryker's son was named Jason, I'm going to stick with my original idea. Additionally, since X2 Stryker mentioned he was a fighter pilot in Vietnam, the timing works out near perfectly. Young Will Stryker gets a chance to 'know' how dangerous mutants can be, join the military, and wind up in charge of the special mutant task force. Borrowing the good background while still creating a viable reboot.


I think the brilliant thing with this particular movie is the fact that you can watch this one and then move right into the first X-Men and it will still make sense. I am not seeing this as a reeboot in the conventional way but rather, a definite reboot of events that happened prior to the first film. Essentially treating Wolverine Origins as if it never happened. X-Men and X2 are entirely too good to be completely removed from the cinematic timeline.


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