X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn. Story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer.
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence
X-Men: First Class is a prequel to the original X-Men movies, X-Men, X2-X-Men United, and X-Men: The Last Stand. However, while many are labeling X-Men: First Class as a member of the superhero origins genre, I think it is more interesting to look it a "coming out of the closet" tale with mutants, as opposed to queers.
We start out with a brief sequence set during the Holocaust, where Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) who will become Magneto, is being studied by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). After Shaw kills Erik's mother, Erik spends the rest of the movie hunting down Shaw for one purpose, to exact bloody vengeance. In other scenes, we are shown how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) first meet and later, a few glimpses of Xavier at Oxford, my favorite glimpse being of Xavier chugging down beer while celebrating his graduation.
Shaw's ultimate goal though is to start a nuclear war and here he is the instigator behind the Cuban Missile Crisis. While he is doing that, Xavier and Erik are recruiting mutants using a primitive version of Cerebro that was created by Beast (Nicholas Hoult) in order to build a mutant army for the CIA to stop Shaw.
There is some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that Mystique was actually straightened out as I had feared from the trailers. Here she not only kisses Beast, but also tries to sleep with Magneto and gets all jealous when Xavier tries to pick up other woman at Oxford. The good news is that Mystique, along with Beast, are given a much more interesting queer subtext in this movie. As I said at the beginning, this is more a coming out story for the mutants then it is an origins story and Mystique and Beast are the ones whose struggles are the most interesting when viewed through this lens. Magneto's speech to Mystique about how she was both beautiful and perfect in her natural blue scaly body was particularly moving to me. "Mutant and Proud" indeed.
The struggle between Professor Xavier and and Magneto is also intriguing, as much of what Professor Xavier appears to be advocating is that mutants should live in the closet even if this costs them their freedom. His condescending attitude towards Mystique where he encourages her to look "normal" highlights this. Magneto has always been one of the most complex superhero villains to grace the silver screen and the way this movie fleshes out his motivations while having him advocate that mutants should be visibly "out" to the rest of the world, only adds even more interesting layers to his character.
As far as the acting goes, I am tempted to give into bad puns and label Michael Fassbender's work here "magnetic". In any case, Fassbender's performance could stand toe to toe with Ian McKellen's performance in the original. James McAvoy is not quite as successful, but then he is playing a much younger and more naive Professor Xavier who had a sheltered upbringing and I think that's what makes him come across as a pale imitation of Patrick Stewart. In other words, McAvoy's performance, while not great, works within the context of this movie.
Prequels, by their very nature, are difficult to get right. The fact that we know where all of the characters and various plots will end up, means there often is a distinct lack of suspense. We know that at some point Xavier is going to lose the ability to walk, that Magneto will don Shaw's helmet, and which one of those two Mystique will ultimately choose to side with. However, by introducing an interesting thematic parallel to the queer experience of "coming out", X-Men: First Class manages to make for compelling viewing in spite of the obstacles that come from being a prequel.
Highly recommended, particularly for those who enjoyed the early X-Men movies, but I would be so bold to claim that this can be enjoyed by anyone.
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