Main cast: James McAvoy (Charles Xavier/Professor X), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lensherr/Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven Darkholme/Mystique), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), January Jones (Emma Frost), Nicholas Hoult (Dr Hank McCoy/Beast), Caleb Landry Jones (Sean Cassidy/Banshee), Lucas Till (Alex Summers/Havok), Edi Gathegi (Armando Muñoz/Darwin), Zoë Kravitz (Angel Salvadore), Jason Flemyng (Azazel), Álex González (Janos Quested/Riptide), Ray Wise (President of the United States), and Kevin Bacon (Dr Klaus Schmidt/Sebastian Shaw)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
The recent X-men movies have not covered themselves in glory, but still, when I heard that they wanted to do an origins-style movie with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender – two people I’d not place high on the list of appearing in superhero movies anytime soon – I was intrigued. Besides, the cast is pretty, and pretty is good for a big time action movie that doesn’t demand much thinking from me.
Basically, X-Men: First Class chronicles the history of a younger Charles Xavier, Raven (later known as Mystique), and Erik Lensherr (who’d eventually call himself Magneto). Their histories are deeply entwined: Charles and Raven grow up together, as mutants who have to hide their powers from the people around them. Charles has it easier: his powers are telepathic in nature, so he fits in easier than Raven, whose ability to morph into other people while looking like a blue-skinned walking pin cushion when she’s not in disguise forces her to constantly be someone else, or so she feels. Meanwhile, Erik spent his childhood in a concentration camp as the guinea pig of Dr Klaus Schmidt, and eventually he breaks out to do his own thing.
Charles eventually meets CIA agent Moira MacTaggert and becomes involved in Division X, a CIA-sponsored operation to make use of mutants in the country for the greater cause. Charles brings in Raven, naturally, and Erik joins them after failing to murder Dr Schmidt, who is now going as Sebastian Shaw and leading the Hellfire Club, a group of mutants who clearly do not want to make the world a better place. Erik and Charles soon recruit several mutants – Beast, Havoc, Angel, and Darwin (Wolverine tells them to bugger off, although he’s more blunt and less diplomatic in doing so). But Erik and Charles have different ideology, which would soon cause a division among the recruits. These two also begin vying for the loyalty of Raven, who finds herself attracted to Erik’s more ruthless “the most powerful takes all” philosophy while at the same conflicted by her loyalty and friendship to Charles.
The plot of X-Men: First Class isn’t anything to get excited over, and the supporting cast that play the mutant hangers-on to Erik, Raven, and Charles are mostly forgettable. The exception is Beast, who is given his time to shine as a character who is infatuated with Raven and who also has some funny lines. Oh, and the black characters either die first or betray Charles – how “old school” is that, heh. Kevin Bacon and January Jones are pretty good in their roles as the villains, but the heart and soul of this movie is the trinity of Raven, Charles, and Erik, and the fact that this movie is an exceptional watch is due to the three lead actors pulling all stops to make their roles ones to remember.
James McAvoy gives Charles Xavier some much-needed youthful bravado and cockiness that makes the character a pleasant departure from the typical “sensei knows best” personality that the character is often pigeon-holed into. He has good chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence, who imbues Raven with a vulnerability that makes her character’s resilience and determination all the more admirable. As for Erik, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy have splendid chemistry together, making their characters’ relationship a beautiful bromance that is eventually torn apart by their irreconcilable differences. Not to mention, Mr Fassbender gives Erik a silent and thoroughly sexy air of menace that is irresistible: Magneto is so hot in this movie. I know, it is rather embarrassing to even admit this aloud, but I don’t care – I can watch Erik and Charles just go at it all day long.
X-Men: First Class is a pretty decent superhero flick, but what makes this an above average action fantasy movie is the way the three main characters bring on the superb emotional drama, giving the movie unexpected depths and even poignancy underneath all the expensive CGIs. There are conflict of loyalty, brotherhood torn asunder, a love triangle of sorts that isn’t above love as much as it is about friendship and familial bonds, and plenty of delicious bromance moments to launch a thousand fanfiction. Definitely first class, baby!