PG-13. Despite only being on screen for less than a minute, Mr. Knife Hands says the f-word. The movie also goes into the Hellfire Club, where clothing is often discouraged in a swinging '60s fashion. There's language. There's some outright cruelty that you have to watch. The X-Men movies tend to be only slightly more adult than other superhero films, so keep that in mind. Lots of people die in this movie, often in horrific ways. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
Do you know how hard my life is? I needed to take a 20 minute nap before writing this. I actually set an alarm and told myself that I had to get up and write. I lead THE HARDEST life, guys. I'm just chugging along this X-Men train. I don't know if I have it in me to somehow spend money to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But I think I can knock out the other ones.
I swore that X2 was the best X-Men movie for a really long time. Then, I swore that X-Men: Days of Future Past was the best X-Men movie. But then I heard someone out there in Internetland swear that First Class was the best. I couldn't really discourage that argument, but it's also a point that I couldn't really stand by in a lot of cases. But I watched the movie this time with that thought in my head. X-Men: First Class might be the best X-Men movie. It's got one major thing going against it, but it's really minor and it's mostly just a hangup of mine. Keeping that in mind, X-Men: First Class might be the most effective of the X-Men films. My big annoying thing is the second that the pre-X-Men join the CIA. I don't know why I find this silly. I mean, it makes way more sense than a guy building a secret base under his school / house. It also really fits the '60s vibe being thrown around this movie. (I'm starting to wake up. This nap thing might have something to it.) At first, I thought that the color palate was a bit much for an X-Men movie, but that's because I've been so used to Bryan Singer's washed out blue to his films. I actually like the bright aethetics when it comes to this movie.
Random thought: I completely forgot that Kevin Bacon was in the X-Men movies. He's a great bad guy in this. Okay, Sebastian Shaw is a little underdeveloped. I actually kind of feel bad for Kevin Bacon here because he's giving it his all. There's nothing wrong with his performance in this film. I actually adore every choice that he is making on screen and can't fault him for anything. It's just that his master plan is a bit silly. (Oh, I found the real flaw of First Class.) See, First Class hits the exact right button with me on one thing. Grounding the mutant story in the cultural conflicts of the era is such a brilliant idea. It actually takes a little bit of the heavy lifting off of the film as a whole. Again, my personal biases show up, but I find the Cuban Missile Crisis to be the most interesting moment in human history. I adore the Cold War from an educational standpoint. Watching characters that I already like play around in that setting puts me in a phenomenal state of mind. Both First Class and Days of Future Past really allow history to fill in the gaps of the worldbuilding. Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix never really pick up the slack when it comes to using their eras effectively. Rather than simply use tropey items from the '60s or '70s, First Class and Future Past understand that there was a political climate to the aesthetic choices happening on screen. I'll talk about the use of Vietnam in the next one, but the Cuban Missle Crisis was a scary time. It's odd to think that the actual X-Men comic book was being created around this time in history. Sure, the mighty mutants were presented in Marvel fashion and weren't really addressing the stuff that Claremont would rest the characters on. But I do kind of adore that the movie kind of gives us a "What if..." story of how the characters would handle the '60s if given its mission statement from issue one.
First Class might be one of the better prequels ever made, despite the fact that it breaks a lot of rules of a prequel. My biggest frustration with the X-Men movies is just a completely disregard for canon and continuity. A great platitude to throw around is to say that every movie should be its own thing. If you are a director and you throw that in my face, I won't have anything to fight you with. You'll e the good guy in that situation and I'll seem like the real jerk. Yes, First Class is a great film because it wasn't really being held back by continuity. But it wanted its cake and eat it too. Whenever it felt like addressing something that happened in the other movies, it felt completely compelled to do so. Stryker and Jason? They get a name drop. Cerebro looks very much like the Cerebro of the future. They even have the Blackbird / X-Jet. (What's the final name decision on the X-Men's plane? I heard them use the term X-Jet at least once in the franchise, so I'm going to lean that way.) But there is so much that is kind of ignored about the previous X-Men canon that you kind of need a Days of Future Past to even try to make sense of all of the mistakes that the franchise has made. I mean, good for Matthew Vaughn. Apparently, people hated X-Men: The Last Stand so much that there was really no need to adhere to things presented in the movie. But The Last Stand was the movie right before First Class. I know that there's X-Men Origins: Wolverine in there as well, but in terms of straight up main series X-Men movies, there's nothing in-between. That movie starts off with a poorly de-aged Professor X and a poorly de-aged Magneto recruiting a young Jean Grey. It looks like modern day, but for argument's sake, let's say the '80s. (Dark Phoenix will place it in 1974.) Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr are recruiting for the X-Men, together. First Class shows them as moderate to okay friends in this movie ending with Magneto betraying Professor X, paralyzing him. Okay. That's a big one. But let's pretend that First Class was mentally undoing The Last Stand. It's a bad excuse, but it also ignores tons of other things from the X-Men film series. Remember how Magneto helped build Cerebro? That never really happened. It's actually really weird that the CIA just has a Cerebro that's kind of attuned to a mutant exactly like Charles Xavier. Remember, Oliver Platt is overwhelmed by the things that Xavier can do. How would he have a machine ready that could just amplify that specific mutant's powers? Then in the first film, Xavier comments that Magneto must have some kind of helmet to block out his mental attacks. It seems like that helmet was really important to that story. I mean, Sebastian Shaw wears it for a large portion of the film. Magneto wears it towards the end. He even makes it look like the classic '60s style Magneto helmet. He treats it very nicely.
The biggest thing that used to bother me about First Class was the Mystique element of the movie. I have somehow learned to suspend my disbelief the further I go into the new X-Men series starting with First Class. But Mystique becomes a much larger and more important character than the Singer films ever implied. All throughout the first films, the movies stressed how close Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr were. But Raven was Charles's foster sister? How was that not addressed? Xavier keeps on making these impassioned pleas to Magneto and his sister is standing next to him the entire time, chopping people with her transformer legs? Don't get me wrong, I kind of love that Mystique became a real character and, because of J-Law's fame, the center of the new X-Men movies. But, also, what? It is that attitude that they could do whatever they wanted as long as the movie was good. And it is good.
I adore that Charles Xavier had to grow up quickly. I love that he kind of sucks at some things. I adore that he finds his arrested development pulled away because he adores teaching. All of the elements for great character development are in this movie. When Bryan Singer decided that his opening shots for the first X-Men movie were going to surround young Magneto in a concentration camp, I thought we got enough from our character. On paper, seeing Erik go through more of that seems a bit exploitative. But it actually makes the character more sympathetic. What makes Magneto compelling is that there's something slightly heroic to his terrorism. Seeing how dark the concentration camp got from an individual perspective is something I talk about when I address The Diary of Anne Frank. I shouldn't be evoking that text in a film about people who fight other people with superpowers, but the movie goes there so I should as well. Magneto is fascinating. We got that Magneto was a sympathetic villain before. But he becomes a full on Nazi hunter in this movie. His quest, while mirroring the Punisher, almost seems like he is the good guy at times. When he confronts Sebastian Shaw, I want him to win. I'm a pacifist. I don't like the idea of killing at all. But it made sense. Xavier actually is shown really through a lens of privilege in this movie. The movie accomplishes that like gangbusters.
Because the movie leaves the confines of what a prequel should do, it is both a successful film and lacking at the same time. Yeah, I wish that First Class made sense out of all the movies that came before it. That being said, it offers some really good stuff that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Do I wish that the actual X-Men in this movie were fleshed out a bit more? Sure. But the movie functions. After all, this is a story about Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique. Yeah, I got really bummed with what happened to Darwin / I'm confused about what his actual power was based on what happened to him. But the movie works more than it fails and I adore that. I had a really good time.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.