X Men: First Class (dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2011) – Mutants Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr unite on the same path to stop a spark that could ignite the third World War.
Returning to untold history, X-Men: First Class presents an effective reveal of answers to split ideologies.
Hostility between two camps often stems from trite motivations. Best guesses? Vengeful retribution. Pecuniary greed. Thirst for power. Sometimes, it lazily boils down to an innate appetite for destruction.
What has always made X-Men a fascinating stand-out in the superhero genre is its muddied distinction between villainy and heroism. Settling on neither black nor white, X-Men: First Class treads cautiously on this divide and looks to the past for answers to their differences.
1944, to be exact.
At an early age, Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) acquainted with death in concentration camps that prosecuted and killed men for their borne identities. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) never had to. Raised in a privileged household, he saw nothing beyond his walls of comfort.
In this involuntary fight, both men essentially stand on the same side, calling for a world where mutants can be themselves in the open. The same words ring true to them, ‘Mutant and proud’.
But as time passes, Erik’s aspirations grow in grandiosity and aggression that he deems necessary. As Charles chooses pacifism over conflict, they continue to drift apart. Disparate ideologies drive them onto separate paths, past their common cause to co-exist with humans sans the X-gene. To reach the same singular destination of assimilation, Charles sees defense and Erik, offence.
Down to the X-team, mutants like Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank (Nicholas Hoult) posit a similar conundrum. Before they were Mystique and Beast, they take solace in hiding their true skin. But when Hank’s physical mutation finds permanence, he struggles with shame in his identity. Mystique instead chooses to accept herself and finds resonance with Erik’s ideals.
The young mutants unite to counter the same threat, yet arrive at odds with their means to an end. Similar experiences end up interpreted in vastly different shades. Rather than focusing on a battle against destructive vice or romantic entanglements (I’m talking to you, Last Stand), First Class takes on a character-driven design that thoughtfully explicates what shapes each person to be who they are.
Supported by an impressive ensemble cast, this origins approach injects new life and style to a quickly tiring franchise. Of the large team, there is no question that the spotlight falls upon James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Despite large boots to fill, both inhabit their respective roles with astounding presence. As Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen did, the pair convincingly traverses from close-knit friendship to bitter rivalry.
A gripping part of history once hastily told by the original trilogy finally gets the treatment it deserves. X-Men: First Class cleverly retraces and expounds the riveting story of how the opposing sides took form.
Read my review of Days of Future Past here.