X-Men: First Class
The start of the prequel-ish series and brings in James McAvoy (I adore him in Becoming Jane and he’s Tumnus the Faun in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) to play Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender (he’s the reason I went to watch the Jane Eyre movie that came out around the same time and led me to actually reading the book [that sometimes works]) to play Erik Lensherr. Oliver Platt (Porthos in the 90’s Three Musketeers) is simply “Man in Black Suit,” though Kevin Bacon (star of Footloose) brings dimension to Sebastian Shaw. Jennifer Lawrence (this came out a year before the first Hunger Games film, where her fame skyrocketed. She has since won a Golden Globe for American Hustle and an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook [no, I have not watched those, but I love her in this role]) is Raven, while Nicholas Hoult (now you see him all the time for ads for The Great, and he’s remarkable in Tolkien) is Hank McCoy, and Lucas Till (the new MacGyver) is Alex Summers. A few older adults are familiar; Rade Serbedzija (Prince Kragin in the first Downton Abbey movie and Gregorvitch in Deathly Hallows, and Emile de Becque in the TV movie of South Pacific with Glenn Close) is the Russian general, Glenn Morshower (he shows up in a bunch of TV shows, usually as someone in charge) is General Hendry, and the senior William Stryker is played by Don Creech (yep, that’s Mr. Sweeney from Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide).
The film begins the same as the first X-Men film, in Poland in 1944. But this time, we see someone watching young Erik Lensherr pull down the gates. This man is known as Klaus Schmidt and he’s very interested in discovering Erik’s abilities. The Nazis are only partially correct in their idea of genes unlocking a new age, but Schmidt is focused on latent abilities. He offers Erik chocolate to move a metal coin. When that fails, he brings in Erik’s mother and threatens to shoot her after the count of three, unless Erik can move the coin. Sadly, the teenager cannot move the coin, and Schmidt shoots Mrs. Lensherr. Erik goes on a rampage, destroying everything else metal in the room, to Schmidt’s great delight. As a “reward,” he gives Erik the coin at the end, noting that he can unlock the boy’s gift with rage and pain (that does not bode well). At the same time, in Westchester, New York, a young Charles Xavier discovers a young Raven in his kitchen. At first, she morphs into Mrs. Xavier, but Charles quickly realizes she’s a fake since his mother has never stepped foot in the kitchen and has never offered to make him hot chocolate. But when Charles realizes it’s another mutant, he’s excited, as is Raven.
Eighteen years later, in Geneva, Switzerland, Erik tracks down a former Nazi banker to make him give up the location of Klaus Schmidt. He’s sent to Argentina, where he notices a photo of Schmidt aboard a ship based out of Miami. Erik kills the men, after remarking that he is Frankenstein’s monster, and he’s looking for his creator [this sequence highlights Michael Fassbender’s talent with languages]. At the same time, Charles is finishing his degree at Oxford University and hitting on girls in pubs, while his “sister” Raven watches on. While Charles praises pretty girls for their “mutations,” such as two-colored eyes and brown hair, Raven has to hide her true form in order to fit in. She mocks a girl for saying “mutant and proud,” but the relationship between Charles and Raven is very sweet: Charles is very much a brother by saying that the overall concept of his sister dating is that “any man would be lucky to have you,” while the actual thought is, “you’re my sister, I don’t think of you that way.” And he genuinely fears Raven slipping up and what the consequences would be. [And excellent editing, playing Charles’ thesis over the scene where Erik walks into the bank, stating “the mutated human species meant the extinction of its less-evolved kin.”]
In the States, CIA agent Moira McTaggert is investigating the Hellfire Club in Las Vegas, discovering several officials and important people are all meeting, including General Hendry, so she sneaks in. And overhears Shaw pressuring the general to put nuclear missiles in Turkey, extremely close to Russia and almost certainly a declaration of war. But some of his mutant companions help sway the general. When her report is not believed, she sets out to find an expert in genetic mutation. Which leads her to Charles, who initially tries to flirt with her, until he discovers that there is something more interesting going on. So, Charles and Raven accompany Moira back to the CIA headquarters, where Charles gives his presentation, but isn’t taken seriously, until he uses his abilities. Of course, they think he’s a spy, until Raven transforms into Styrker. They’re still not trusted, so the man in the back ground [Oliver Platt] offers to house them in his facility, since it’s secure and off-premises. Then a lead comes in about Shaw’s whereabouts, and Charles persuades Moira to take him.
Erik has caught up to Shaw (who is in fact Klaus Schmidt) after Shaw has killed Hendry by demonstrating his mutant power: he absorbs energy and can redistribute it, which also keeps him young. Erik is knocked off the boat by Shaw’s associates, then uses the anchor to begin tearing the ship apart. Emma Frost and Shaw escape into their submarine, which Erik attempts to stop using his powers. But the U.S. Coast Guard is also on the scene, with Charles on board. Charles senses Erik in the water, after mentally running into Emma, who is also a telepath. Charles urges Erik to stop and let the sub go; he’ll drown. When the man doesn’t listen to him, Charles jumps into the water himself and calms the man down. “You’re not alone.”
Charles brings Erik back to the “Covert CIA Research Base,” where they investigate the application of paranormal powers in a military setting. Or as Charles jokingly calls them, the “mutant division.” They meet young Hank McCoy, who on top of being extremely intelligent, has abnormal feet. Charles accidentally outed Hank, but Raven is pleased to meet the young man. It’s someone else who has a physical mutation. Hank has developed a supersonic plane [looks an awful lot like the SR-71 Blackbird], (which appears in the other X-Men films). When the two teens talk afterwards, Hank wants some of Raven’s blood in order to develop a serum that will mask their physical mutations, but not their actual powers. Erik walks by in time to stop a kiss, but also points out they shouldn’t have to hide. Erik is still bent on revenge, but Charles stops him before he leaves. Charles wants to help Erik, and stresses that Erik has a chance to be a part of something bigger. Erik in fact, stays, but they find out that the missiles have been placed in Turkey and Shaw is on his way to Russia. He also has a helmet that blocks a telepath’s ability to read his mind.
It’s time for Charles and Erik to gather mutants of their own. Hank developed a transmitter, he calls Cerebro, that can amplify Charles’ brainwaves and abilities, so Charles can locate other mutants. Hank suggests shaving Charles so the helmet would fit closer, to which Charles definitively says “don’t touch my hair.” They first find a club dancer whose tattoos are actually wings; then there’s a cab driver, then Alex Summers who is in solitary confinement. Next, there’s a teenaged boy on a date, but he can drive fish away. They find Wolverine in a bar, but all he says is “go fuck yourself,” and they leave. The teens get to know one another and show off their powers and decide on nicknames. The club dancer is Angel, the cab driver is Darwin, because he adapts to survive. Raven becomes Mystique and the red-headed boy is Sean and he goes by Banshee because of his sonic blast. Alex becomes Havok due to his laser blasts. Erik and Charles are trying to plan their next step and are disappointed to find the kids having a party and goofing off (and destroying part of the building). Raven does manage to tell them their nicknames; Charles is Professor X and Erik is Magneto. The adults head off for Russia to hopefully head Shaw off, but he doesn’t show, Emma is leading the meeting with the Russian general. Erik is determined to take her instead, so Charles chases after him. Erik wraps Emma in metal hard enough to crack her diamond form, which allows Charles to read her mind for Shaw’s plan: place U.S. missiles in Turkey, place Russian missiles in Cuba and then make a nuclear war happen. “Radiation gave birth to mutants; what will kill the humans will only make us stronger,” and Shaw can take over the world.
Shaw, in the meantime, has discovered that Erik and Charles are recruiting, so he heads for Virginia to find them. His minions accompany him and start ripping the agents apart. The agents attempt to protect the kids, even though some of them were teasing them not too long ago. Until the last guy is very eager to hand the mutant teenagers over to the psychopath. Shaw only wants to make an offer to the kids, saying that the humans will eventually rise against the mutants and they need to pick their sides now: either wait to be enslaved, or rise up to rule. Angel willingly goes with Shaw. Darwin starts to go with Shaw, then signals for Alex to let loose a laser, hoping to take out the bad guy. Unfortunately, they did not realize that Shaw would absorb the power, then feed it to Darwin. Shaw, Angel, and his minions leave. When Erik and Charles return, Charles initially wants to send the kids home, but they point out it’s too late for that. Erik convinces Charles to train the teenagers. And Charles knows where.
At the mansion, Charles teaches each teenager that they need to control their powers, not let their powers control them (we see this lesson repeated in the previous trilogy). Seeing Sean learn to fly is humorous, just the way he falls into the bush, and then Erik simply pushing him when Charles tries to let him out of trying. It’s Erik who points out to Raven that she is splitting half of her attention in order to look normal. She wants society to accept her, but she won’t accept herself. And Charles and Erik work together, Charles showing Erik that he doesn’t need to use anger to fuel his power; that true focus lies between rage and serenity. Charles feels the good in Erik. Hank finishes the serum and shows Raven, but she’s realized the truth in Erik’s words and it doesn’t help that Hank calls the serum a cure. She’s finally mutant and proud. When Hank tries the serum, it initially works, but then goes the wrong way. Meanwhile, Erik and Charles are playing chess and discussing the mutant issue, fundamentally on opposing sides, but for the moment acting like gentlemen. Raven sneaks into Erik’s room to wait for him and even tries her older form, but he doesn’t say “perfection,” until she’s in her natural blue form. She confronts Charles afterwards and he struggles to see her point.
The team heads out to try to put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis, using the plane that Hank developed. He’s now blue and furry, thanks to his serum, but he’s now become Beast. When they reach the embargo line, Charles makes the Russians fire on their own ship, so the Americans won’t have to fire and then start the war. They figure Shaw is nearby, perhaps underwater, so they use Sean as sonar (and he stays away from Erik, so he won’t get pushed out). Shaw is indeed on site and plans to become the weapon, draining the nuclear reactor of his sub. But Erik manages to lift the sub out of the water and crash it on the beach. The plan crashes shortly after. Erik heads for the sub, and Beast, Havok, and Banshee take on Angel, Riptide, and Azazel. Erik realizes that smashing the mirrored walls of the reactor will allow Charles telepathy to work, so he can freeze Shaw. Shaw attempts to win Erik over to his side, and Erik admits that Shaw made him into a weapon. Then Erik puts on the helmet so Charles can’t stop him from using the coin to pierce Shaw’s head in final retaliation for killing his mother. [Excellent editing, following the path of the coin and overlaying Charles’ face occasionally, indicating that he feels what Erik is doing.]
Stryker is causing problems and orders both sides to hit the mutants on the beach. This just adds fuel to Erik’s argument that the humans are against the mutants and they all need to band together. Charles still holds hope that there are some good humans out there. Erik manages to stop the missiles and turns them back to the ships, but Charles tackles him, breaking his concentration so the missiles start exploding in midair. The two men wrestle, then Moira starts shooting at Erik. He deflects the bullets, but one lands in Charles’ back. Erik retaliates by cradling his friend and strangling Moira. Charles points out this was Erik’s doing. He releases Moira, but pleads with Charles that he needs the man by his side; they’re brothers, they want the same thing. No, my friend, we do not (and we’re hit by James/Charles’ piercing blue eyes). Erik leaves Charles, makes one last plead to gain allies. Raven steps towards him, though she detours to her brother, who gives her permission. “Mutant and proud,” are her parting words. The rest of the team swarm their leader and Charles can only say he can’t feel his legs.
They’re back at the mansion, formalizing plans to make it a school. And Charles has to protect the anonymity of his students, so with a kiss, he wipes Moira’s memory. Erik breaks Emma Frost out of prison, now wearing the repainted helmet and a cape and going by Magneto.
This has become my favorite X-Men film, because it’s a story that can really stand on its own. They make it fit well into the Cuban Missile Crisis, so we wonder, could this really have happened? There’s also more energy to the movie. It’s nice to see older Charles and Erik get along on occasion, but it’s even better to see how they started. Yes, some continuity snarls show up, but since none of the movies were exactly planned out years in advance to fit together, it still works. And I probably allow much more leeway since I have never read the comics. It’s also not as dark as many of the previous movies were. Several mistakes were made by characters in complete innocence. The soundtrack also heightens the energy of the film, with the electric guitar and steady pace.
And yes, I totally subscribe to the theory that Charles and Erik are a couple. And utterly adore the new fact that Charles and Raven are siblings. These people need more hugs!
I love blueink3’s Rumor Has It, which picks up where this film left off and adds an unknown child of Charles’ to the mix.
Up Next: Days of Future Past