Some people are born to sit by a river. Some get struck by lightning. Some have an ear for music. Some are artist. Some swim. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people dance.
Was it a movie I saw since August 22nd, 2009: Yes. #104
1) Poland, 1944
This film hemmed so close to the opening scene of the original X-Men film that producer Bryan Singer thought he was actually looking at the old footage. It is a smart and effective opening to the prequel, as it not only re-establishes a character who has been absent from the series for five years but also sets up his key conflict with the film. Erik is still dealing with the pain from this event in a much more key way than he is during Ian McKellen’s tenure; what he went through in the concentration camp is the driving motivation behind his actions in the film. Making this first scene all the better.
2) Young Charles & Raven.
Raven [upon first meeting Charles]: “You’re not scared of me?”
The adoptive brother/sister relationship between Charles and Raven might be totally invented for this film (as in: has no source in comic book canon which I am aware of) but I freaking love it. I’m a sucker for platonic male/female relationships and the connection these two have is in a lot of ways the beating heart of this film. Which makes it all the more tragic that they drift apart in the future (something I’m hoping will be remedied in X-Men: Dark Phoenix). The key to their relationship is that they feel safe around each other. This is the first time that either of them has realized they’re not truly alone in the world. That someone hasn’t pushed Raven away for her natural form and that Charles realizes his ability to read minds does not make him a freak. There’s a sense of ease, comfort, and community they have with each other that was totally foreign to them up until that moment. A strong foundation to a strong relationship.
3) Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw.
Bacon’s Shaw was all but glossed over in most promotional materials, making his presence in the film a pleasant surprise for first time viewers. And pleasant it is because Shaw is an absolutely wonderful villain. Bacon brings a refreshing and engaging amount of charisma/fun to the part. He’s the bad guy you love to hate with a little bit of Bond villain in him. The first thing he does when we meet him in murder Erik’s mother in front of her 12ish year old son. And then he reacts with unadulterated GLEE when that murder allows Erik to tap into his mutant powers. He’s downright giddy! In a series filled with classic bad guys like Magneto and William Stryker, Shaw is able to hold up with the best of them.
Shaw [after murdering Erik’s mom]: “We’re going to have a lot of fun together.”
4) James McAvoy as Charles Xavier.
McAvoy’s Xavier is delightfully more flawed than Stewart’s. He is much more of a cad. He is more arrogant, a bit more green, a bit more cocky, and a lot more naive. BUT he’s not just that. He’s not some douche bag who learns to be a great man. You see the greatness in him still. He is still Charles Xavier after all. When things get serious, he gets serious. He lets Moira know how important this is to him, he has hope for the future of his people and he is able to put away the womanizer we meet early on when it comes to helping people. There’s still that naivety a little but, the belief that everything will be alright after they save the world. That fear will just stop. But it’s mixed in with Xavier’s trademark hope. McAvoy is great as the character and a joy to watch.
5) Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique.
Raven is in a much different place than Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique was in the original X-Men trilogy and it’s a lot of fun to watch. There is this humor and warmth to the character that we don’t often get to see. A smile, a playfulness with Charles, but we see her develop into the more jaded warrior of Magneto’s crew. Watching that transformation is great and heartbreaking, especially as it shakes up her relationship with adopted brother Xavier. And Lawrence is great in the part. A pre Hunger Games role, I think it’s one of my favorites that she has under her belt. Many of her characters are so serious and dower these days when the actress has a wonderful heart/sense of humor she gets to show off her. It’s lost in the future installments, but that makes sense considering the path the character goes down. It’s a tragedy, but one that’s good to watch.
6) Oh Charles…
Raven: “Would you date me?”
Charles: “Of course I would. Any man would be lucky to have you, you are stunning.”
Raven: “Looking like this?”
[Charles stutters for a second then looks at Raven.]
Charles: “Blue? [Beat.] You’re my oldest friend…I’m incapable of thinking of you that way. I feel responsible for you.”
He changes from, “oh absolutely,” to, “I could never think of you like that,” REALLY fast when he realizes she’s talking about her natural form. And that’s where his naivety comes into play. He doesn’t understand what it’s like hiding who you really are in such a basic and obvious way. Not telling someone you can read their minds is fundamentally harder than having to wear a skin that isn’t your’s because you think people will reject your natural form. And that’s the key to her conflict in this film. Being mutant and proud.
7) McAvoy and Lawrence have such a wonderful natural chemistry as adopted brother & sister, must obvious in the scene above when Raven asks Charles if he’d date her. Her snuggling up to her brother while he reads her his thesis makes my heart melt.
8) Michael Fassbender as Erik/Magneto.
Honestly the casting of Erik & Charles could have been royally screwed up. This film does it perfectly. Fassbender brings a single determination and focus to his character. He is ruthless, brutal, violent, intimidating, but you still sympathize with him. Hell, you are ROOTING for him. In a lot of ways he’s even more sympathetic than Charles is. Fassbender is able to play the pain Erik has been though with much more relevance than McKellen ever got the chance to because the story allows it. He is in anger mode, with a bit of self loathing (he is what he is because a man murdered his mother, in his mind) but more with a taste for vengeance. Fassbender is absolutely beautiful in the part and I wouldn’t ask for a different actor to play him.
9) Of course within one minute of meeting Rose Byrne’s character she is strips into her underwear because, hey, sexy women get objectified in film!
Yes, I understand that the Hellfire club is like a sexy lingerie strip club thing. Yes I understand that Moira is a determined CIA agent who will do her job no matter what. And yes this is the only time Moira does this and she’s actually a pretty great character. But you know what? The Hellfire club did not NEED to be a sexy lingerie strip club. It could’ve been some elegant hoity-toity how do you do thing. And Moira didn’t need to strip down to her lingerie at all in the film. It was not needed. It does not tell us anything about her character or the story.
Ugh, living in a post Wonder Woman world is going to be a lot harder than I thought. I mean, I wasn’t exactly blind before. But I definitely needed glasses to see through the haze which is the male gaze and now I do with Wonder Woman. And now it’s just…oh boy.
10) Rose Byrne as Moira is a solidly written character that the actress plays well. The filmmakers don’t spend much time focusing on the, “Moira in her underwear,” stuff and she turns into pretty much the best government agent in the film. She is intelligent, more focused on the job than any of her coworkers (who are dogged down by fear, bigotry, and male ego), and she forms this nice relationship with Charles which yes ends up romantic but is also more based on mutual respect. I love couples with mutual respect for each other. Rose Byrne plays the part wonderfully. I love the actress now BECAUSE I was introduced to her in this film. She is capable, strong, but not pigheaded or egotistical. She’s good at her job and she knows it so she continues to be good at her job.
11) January Jones as Emma Frost.
So I know there is a lot of hate out there for January Jones as Frost, but I don’t really mind her. But I’m not going to like strongly defend her either. I put more blame on the writing than her as she works with what she is given. Emma Frost is this badass in the comics who - yes - dresses in a VERY sexual manor (because she likes to, I believe) but she is also wonderfully complex. She usually has an intense rivalry with Jean Grey, is often romantically linked to Scott Summers, is an extremely powerful telepath, reformed bad guy who is often not so reformed, and over all fascinating read. But the filmmakers sorta just latched onto the, “sexy female bad guy with diamond skin and telepathic powers.” Which would’ve been fine is Emma had been developed a bit more but she never really goes beyond that/Shaw’s hench woman.
And again, the power of Wonder Woman has me asking: why is she dressing so sexually? I mean if there’s like a legitimate reason, like the character is more comfortable with that or confident in her body, than go for it! But a reason is never given she just does that and it seems to be for the sake of the male gaze. Which is disappointing to say the least.
12) The scene which I (and Henry Jackman’s score) refers to as Frankenstein’s Monster.
This is Erik at his most brutal. He finds those two “former” Nazis (can you ever really be a former Nazi if you’re not repenting for your sins?) in a bar and engages in conversation with them. It’s incredible tense in the most wonderful sense, because Erik is enjoying screwing with these Nazis. And then he cuts them down in the most brutal and badass way possible in a wonderful (and wonderfully simple) moment of action supported by Henry Jackman’s incredible score. I am very much enjoying any and all forms of media where Nazis are absolutely wrecked so this has is even more enjoyable now than it was in 2011.
13) The blonde Charles with looked familiar to me…
Then I realized she’s Annabelle Wallis, who is in The Mummy with Tom Cruise.
As of writing I have yet to see the new Mummy film so I don’t like or dislike this actress. Just noticed it.
14) When I first saw this it took a second to sink in.
Charles [to the CIA agent who accused him of doing a magic trick]: “No agent Stryker. Although I could tell you about your son William…”
15) Oliver Platt as the Man in Black.
I enjoy Platt’s performance in this film. He’s not your typical government stooge to keep the heroes in line. He’s like a kid at Christmas. All these years he thought the impossible wasn’t so impossible and now he has proof. And he’s super excited about that and helpful because of it. He’s just a wonderful addition to the film.
16) According to IMDb:
A telepathic battle between Professor X and Emma Frost was going to be in the film, but upon the release of Inception (2010) the concept was scrapped. This was then used in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), between Professor X and Apocalypse.
17) So let’s consider Charles and Erik’s first encounter, shall we:
Charles jumps in to save the life of a man he doesn’t know.
Charles helps Erik to calm down and find peace because he doesn’t like him to be upset.
And of course, this:
Erik: “I thought I was alone!”
Charles: “You’re not alone, Erik. You’re not alone.”
Yes this is a strong first interaction between what will be the bromantic frenemy relationship of the century, but more so than that it plays into some strong conscious gay subtext feature in the film. Like in X2 when Bobby came out to his family as a mutant, there are small but important lines between being a mutant and being gay. Two lines stand out in particular: the one above and then…
Hank [when he’s outed as a mutant]: “You didn’t ask so I didn’t tell.”
X-Men have traditional been used as a parable for those fighting for their rights in those world (specifically America). When they were first being published there was a strong line between Professor X & Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Magneto & Malcolm X. But as times have evolved, so have the X-Men. With a number of LGBTQIA actors and characters in the franchise, in the 21st century X-Men has at times strongly paralleled the issues gay people face in this world. Particularly through Hank’s, “don’t ask don’t tell,” line and Erik’s, “I thought I was alone.” Gay visibility was not as much of a thing in the 50s as it is in 2017, and it was in the 60s when things like the Stonewall Riots occurred giving gay people much more visibility. This film is set in the 60s.
18) Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast.
Hoult brings a lot of heart to the character originated brilliantly by Kelsey Grammer in The Last Stand (Hoult even watched early episodes of “Frasier” to see if he couldn’t emulate Grammer in any way). He features the same intellect as Grammers’ Beast but is a lot more soft spoken. He has not made peace with the animal side of himself yet or who he really is. Like Raven, he needs to learn to take pride in his status as a mutant. He just gets there in a different way than she does. This was the first film I saw with Hoult and I have to say I’m glad for it. Because I think he’s a talented actor who was able to make the role of Hank McCoy remarkably memorable.
19) There is also a notably strong chemistry between Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence. It isn’t like Emma Stone & Andrew Garfield in Amazing Spider-Man where you can see them getting hot just by being near each other, but it’s incredibly cute and adorable. There’s a natural back and forth between the pair, a natural trust which means we as the audience are invested in their blossoming relationship as well.
20) While I personally think the relationship between Charles and Raven gives the life its heart, that is not to undersell the intense importance Charles/Erik’s relationship is.
Erik: “What do you know about me?”
There is this immediate vulnerability Erik has with Charles which he is NOT comfortable with (since in the past he’s been vulnerable under the worst possible of situations), but Charles doesn’t manipulate Erik with the knowledge he has. There’s an immediate depth of feeling the future Professor X has for his new ally. He wants to make sure he’s okay and the fact that he doesn’t take advantage of Erik’s vulnerability is something Erik is not used to. Meaning Erik trusts Charles more than he has trusted anyone ever before and Charles is able to help Erik reach his full potential as Magneto.
21) I laughed SO hard at this line the first time I saw the film.
Hank [when he hooks up Charles to Cerebro]: “Are you sure we can’t shave your head?”
(GIF source is unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
22) The montage where Erik and Charles find all the mutants to make up the first X-Men team is a slick way of covering a sequence which could have easily dogged down the pacing of the film. Instead, “okay, we need to find Angel and Havok and Darwin and Banshee…” they just cover it in about five minutes with upbeat music and clever pacing/editing.
23) The gay subtext in this film COULD have been much more obvious if they had kept this deleted (where Charles shows off his powers to angel):
Hugh Jackman accepted the opportunity to cameo as Wolverine, when he learned he would be the only character in the film to use the word ‘fuck’. He improvised the line, “Go fuck yourself,” after using seven other takes to say, “Fuck off”. The reaction from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender to the different line was authentic.
My entire process while watching this scene the first time was, “Hey, that guy looks familiar. Huh, he kinda looks like Hugh Jackman. Hey wait, that IS Hugh Jackman!” This is by far one of my favorite cameos in a film EVER and his appearance makes Hugh Jackman the only actor (to date) to appear in every film with the words X-Men in the title (he didn’t appear in Deadpool so he hasn’t appeared in every X-Men universe ever).
25) I mentioned in my recap for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that Jason Flemyng is one of my favorite character actors because of that film. Well he fills out Azazel’s red skin quite nicely.
26) Charles and Erik’s scene at the Lincoln Memorial is very telling of their future rivalry.
Erik: “Identification: that’s how it starts.”
This is where Erik’s naivety truly shines through. He actually believes he can convince humans to not be afraid of what they don’t understand, collectively. While Erik’s output might be a little more dower it’s also a little more realistic.
27) The bonding scene between the young X-Men is great.
I’m a sucker for superheroes screwing around with their powers as a way to bond with each other (see: the party seen in Age of Ultron). There is strong humor throughout, each character is developed in simple yet unique ways and we begin to understand their relationships with each other. And it’s just a lot of fun to watch!
Note: I really like Zoe Kravitz in this film, but I think that speaks to her natural charisma more than anything else.
28) Professor Xavier is a jerk.
Charles [after he finds his new mutants comfortable with their powers, screwing around like the young people they are]: “I expected more from you.”
29) The way Erik tears through the Russian guard to get to Frost (and, by extension, Shaw eventually) shows how determined he is. He is ruthless and if anyone actively stands in his way he will tear them apart. It’s simple but powerful. The way he handles Emma also shows off this dedication, as well as the dissonance between how far he’ll go versus how far Charles WON’T go.
30) The “Children of the Atom” scene which showcases Shaw’s plan is nicely effective. It has a unique and impactful visual style and its simple enough that the audience isn’t dogged down by unnecessary exposition.
31) Shaw’s attack on the CIA is an incredibly strong turning point for the film. Outside of what’s been going on with Erik, the darkness of previous X-Men films has pretty much taken a backseat in this film. Until this moment. It’s when everything turns to shit, giving an unfortunate end to Oliver Platt’s character and showcasing Shaw’s powers in a unique and threatening way. The few issues I have with this scene are:
I wish we got more in Angel’s head about her decision to join up with Shaw; she does so then her character kind of disappears. It’s like she’s his new Emma.
Even in 2011, the black guy dies first.
32) My brother and I both made this joke the first time we saw this film, so thanks to @jakegyllenhaal for putting it in GIF form.
33) Okay, I might be about to get philosophical here.
Stryker: “In times like this, SECURITY is more important than liberty.”
(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
This is an issue in today’s modern age, but here’s the thing: liberty is more important than safety. Above all. “Give me liberty or give me death,” is a famous line that is basically one of the things this country is built on. So no, Security is NOT more important than liberty. Liberty and freedom above all. And if you have to compromise on security to do so than you should. At least, in my opinion.
This is - in a lot of ways - what I’ve missed from the X-Men series. Charles actually being a teacher. Actually seeing the X-School in work and seeing students learn to master their powers. You know why Harry Potter is so cool? In part, it’s because we like to imagine taking all the classes. And now we’ve finally get that. It shows Charles being more of a teacher and growing into his role of Professor X more which is wonderful. Also - like the recruitment scene - the montage format is great. The editing and music keep it from dragging down the film. We could easily have spent like, “okay, two minutes on Beast now two minutes on Havok now two minutes on Banshee,” etc. But the montage makes it like a music video. Easily digestible, supported by Henry Jackman’s score, and just a lot of fun. Each character’s development is also continued, making them unique individuals who’s relationships with each other and personalities we understand. It’s just really great.
35) Glad to see they’re trying to maintain SOME continuity with the series.
Hank [about Raven]: “When you’re 40 you’ll still have the looks and sights of a teenager.”
36) Rage and serenity.
This is the moment of greatest trust and vulnerability Erik has with Charles. Erik trusts Charles enough to let him go through his mind and find his most intimate memory with his mother. It’s a holiday I assume (that’s a menorah so I’m thinking Hanukkah as Erik IS Jewish) and it’s this beautiful memory of someone he misses more than anything else. And it shows Charles who Erik is. It is the strongest moment in their entire relationship and defines it’s better qualities in a lot of ways. It’s pure character and I love it for that.
37) Hank and the cure.
(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
There’s a strong juxtaposition between where Hank is with his self worth and Raven. Magneto has convinced Raven that she should be mutant and proud, that she should embrace her natural form. And she tries to do the same. It doesn’t exactly work though.
Hank: “My feet and your natural blue form will never be deemed beautiful. [Raven changes her skin back.] You’re beautiful now.”
Dude, you just said the girl you like will never be beautiful unless she looks like someone else. And I get that you’re projecting your own issues onto her, but also you’re words hurt her so much that she instinctively goes back into hiding.
Aka: the moment Hank and Raven would not get together (as of now).
38) Charles and Erik playing one last chess game before going to stop Shaw.
It is widely foreshadowing of the conflict to come between the pair and an unfortunate piece of dramatic irony for us as the audience. It is the showcase of the dissonance in their relationship at its most basic.
Charles: “Killing Shaw will not bring you peace.”
Erik: “Peace was never an option.”
That is just not applicable to Shaw for Erik, but humans as well. He’s not interested in peace with humanity, he’s interested in supremacy. As we saw in 2000′s X-Men.
39) Mystique seducing Erik always felt a little off to me. I know she’s mad at Hank and that Erik is the only guy in her life right now to make her feel totally comfortable with who she is (along with helping her be mutant and proud) but it feels a little unearned. I don’t get any sexual chemistry between them. I see a nice relationship but not a sexual one. Maybe it’s just me. But the Rebecca Romijn cameo is appreciated!
40) Hank’s gone into Beast mode.
The practical makeup to get Hoult looking like the blue beast is incredible, because it IS largely practical with a bit of CGI to help enhance some areas. You begin to see a bit more of Kelsey Grammer in Beast now which is fun, but Hoult still makes the role his own. This is what helps him accept the animalistic instincts in him and reach the status of mutant and proud. It’s a great part of the film.
41) Now I’m just thinking about the first X-Men…
42) The climax of the film not only shows the team working well together but has some nice surprises in it (mainly when the Russians blow up their own ship). It’s best seen when the team find Shaw’s submarine and Erik says he’s going in. Charles does not question or second guess his teammate’s decision but works with it and sends him back up. It’s a lot of fun to watch this team in action.
43) Erik and Shaw’s final encounter.
For most of this scene Erik is silent, just letting Shaw rail on him because it allows Erik’s telepathy to feed through. He says nothing until he’s about to be in control which takes a lot of self discipline.
Erik: “Everything you did made me stronger…That’s the truth. I’ve known it all along.”
And then what Erik says right before he kills Shaw is INCREDIBLY powerful especially when you think of the path Magneto goes down.
Erik: “I agree with every word you’ve said. We are the future. But unfortunately, you killed my mother.”
The way Erik ends up killing Shaw is so cruel and dramatic then, with the mirrored cinematography on Charles’ head (as he’s in Shaw’s mind) just driving the point home. He’s not just killing Shaw. He’s killing any kind of platonic relationship he could have with Charles too.
44) And so Erik’s transformation to Magneto is complete.
He is now the mutant leader we know from the first film, with his powers under full control. Now that he’s done with revenge he can move on to freeing his mutant brothers and sisters. He’s embraced not just his powers but his role as a leader of mutants and an enemy of mankind. And he’s tired of being vulnerable.
Charles [about the US and Russians Erik is about to kill]: “They’re just following orders!”
Erik: “I’ve been at the mercy of men just following orders.”
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45) The ensuing fist fight between Charles and Erik could have easily been based around powers. Charles could have used his telepathy to control Azazel or Angel or someone and send them in to fight Erik with him using his metal manipulation to throw them off. But you know what? Seeing this too just get in a freaking fist fight is much more realistic for their relationship, a lot more raw, and a lot more entertaining.
46) Well, if this isn’t a declaration of platonic (???) love I don’t know what is.
47) It’s nice to see Mystique not go straight for Erik to join him but to make sure that the person who is practically her brother is alright. And then Charles encourages her to go with Erik! It’s still a strong relationship even if it is in tatters.
48) Charles likes to fuck with people’s minds without consent. What he did to Jean in The Last Stand and now getting rid of Moira’s memories without even asking.
49) Oh man.
Moira [talking about things she half remembers]: “A kiss.”
[Room full of male CIA agents groan.]
CIA Agent: “Gentlemen, this is why the CIA is no place for a woman.”
X-Men: First Class is an incredible amount of fun. Matthew Vaughn’s directing style gives the series a boost of adrenaline it desperately needed. Supported by memorable characters, a strong story with strong themes, and absolutely amazing performances almost across the board, this is the reason we still have X-Men films today. An absolute treat for first time viewers and old fans alike, you all should watch it.