10 Years On, Does X-Men’s Return to Form Hold Up?
Available On: Microsoft Store
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release: June 1st, 2011
The year was 2011. After the messes that were 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, and 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I, and most others, had lost all faith in the X-Men film franchise. The MCU was picking up pace at this stage, and everyone had begun to write off the X-Men movies as long past their prime.
Then along came X-Men: First Class, the replacement for a Magneto prequel that had been stuck in development hell for years, telling the story of a young Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr as they recruit a group of young mutants to form the X-Men and prevent a nuclear war.
First Class managed to revitalise the X-Men film franchise, spawning a series of direct sequels over the next few years. Some better than others, all focusing on the younger versions of the characters, through Days of Future Past, Apocalypse, and Dark Phoenix.
So how does the movie that kickstarted the new generation of X-Men hold up a decade later? How does it fair against the movies that have come after it?
So What’s It About?
X-Men: First Class tells the origin stories of many fan favourite mutants, most notably Charles “Professor X” Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), as they recruit a team of mutants to fight against Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant supremacist bent on causing a nuclear war.
Set primarily in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, we delve into the pasts of Professor X and Magneto as they meet, become friends, and eventually inevitably part ways. Rounding out the cast of mutants are the likes of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Angel (Zoe Kravitz), Emma Frost (January Jones), Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), and Havok (Lucas Till), among others.
Mystique first comes across Professor X when they’re both young children, and she becomes his adopted sister. We see more of Magneto’s backstory in Auschwitz, particularly what happened after he bent the gate that we see in the first X-Men movie. We then look deeper into his motivations and what exactly set him on his path.
The two get drawn together when CIA agent Moira MacTaggert recruits Xavier as an expert on mutants after witnessing Shaw and his group of mutants using their powers. They then find Magneto, who’s also after Shaw to avenge his mother who he killed in Auschwitz, and they all begin their journey of forming the X-Men.
Does It Hold Up?
In a word, yes. I hadn’t seen this in about 5 or 6 years now at this stage, and I was thrown right back to being a teenager obsessed with X-Men. This was a huge step up from The Last Stand and Origins, which is admittedly a very low bar, but it clears it by a mile.
And thank God too, because after those two, if this didn’t succeed, it likely would’ve been the end of the franchise. We never would have gotten Days of Future Past, or maybe even Logan which are still by far my favourites of the series.
I think what makes the movie work so well here, is the full focus on each of the characters. The X-Men are some of the best creations, in my opinion, to come out of Marvel and here it shows. The chemistry between the actors (especially McAvoy and Fassbender) really helps these new versions of the characters come to life. In the original trilogy, they felt like superheroes, but here they felt more like real people.
Two of my favourite scenes from the entire series are in this movie. The first being Magneto in the bar in Argentina when he comes across the two nazis, which is still absolutely phenomenal to this day. The second being when the newly formed X-Men are all showing off their powers to each other. The chemistry between the cast is so apparent here, as they’re just hanging out, and showing off.
The standout of the movie though was definitely McAvoy and Fassbender. I’d forgotten just how well they pull off the beginning of this iconic friendship/rivalry in the years since I’ve seen it and was not disappointed with this rewatch.
Also when Magneto puts the coin throw Shaw’s brain. Cinema at its finest.
Actually, the entire final sequence at the beach. God, I love this movie.
What Doesn’t Hold Up, Though?
I mean, there’s a lot of retconning, but that’s just part and parcel when you watch the X-Men movies. They don’t really make sense altogether and I’ve learned to live with that and just enjoy them for what they are, which is fun superhero movies that you can shut your brain off while getting overt semi-political commentary. Also, seeing as it was meant to be a reboot originally, and not a prequel, it can be forgiven.
What I found strange on my rewatch, which I hadn’t noticed before, was that while all of the acting was pretty good all-round, Jennifer Lawrence really wasn’t at her best here. It’s not that she was bad per se, but of all the characters she had the most lines that just felt a bit flat. Now, whether or not that was the writing? I’m not sure, seeing as she usually does a pretty good job.
Now, I couldn’t write a First Class review and not mention their most ridiculous mistake of all. I’m talking, of course, about Darwin. Darwin. The mutant who cannot die is the only one to die. The team who wrote this movie owe someone an apology. I’m not exactly sure who they owe that apology to specifically, but it’s owed. This has rotted my brain for the last 10 years and I’m still not over how annoyed I was when I first saw it. How do you take your character’s one defining trait and just throw it out the window? If it’s for shock factor then that’s not a good enough reason.
“But Darragh,” you might be saying. “By doing this they show the audience that any of them could die!” But nobody else died, now did they? Just Darwin. So if that was their idea then it’s even more wasted. Killing off any of the main mutants would have had the same effect and it would at least make sense.
Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say this movie definitely holds up. Great characterization, great acting, great script and direction.
Matthew Vaughn really pulled a miracle out of the bag with this one, because before this movie, I was so sure that the X-Men was a dead film series with no hope of returning to form.
The beach scene is definitely up there with the best final sequences in the franchise, bringing everything to a head perfectly, and answering all those questions you didn’t think or care to ask! (Where did Magneto get that helmet from?)
While the series once again dipped in quality over the last few years, this and Days of Future Past are among the best of the franchise to date, and it’s definitely worth a look back on.
Watch This Movie if…
You like the X-Men
You like fun action movies
You enjoy period pieces that don’t take themselves too seriously
You’re a fan of Magneto or Xavier
You want to see that Hugh Jackman cameo again
All images are taken from imdb
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