Thursday Night Movie Club
X-Men: First Class
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Release Date: 3 June 2011

Director: Matthew Vaughn
James McAvoy
Laurence Belcher
Michael Fassbender
Bill Milner
Kevin Bacon
Rose Byrne
Jennifer Lawrence
Beth Goddard
Morgan Lily
Oliver Platt
Álex González
Jason Flemyng
Zoe Isabella Kravitz
January Jones
Charles Xavier
Charles Xavier (12 Years)
Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Young Erik
Sebastian Shaw
Moira MacTaggert
Raven / Mystique
Mrs. Xavier
Young Raven (10 yrs)
Man in Black Suit
Janos Quested / Riptide
Angel Salvadore
Emma Frost
X-Men: First Class movie poster #1 X-Men: First Class movie poster #2
X-Men: First Class is a very good film in the X-Men series. This story tells the early years and the heroic exploits of Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender). They have recognized that a mutation has given them extraordinary gifts. Xavier can not only read minds, but he can control them if he so desires. Lehnsherr has the ability to manipulate all forms of metal, no matter how large. Between them, they are the most powerful mutants on the planet. Nothing can stop them. Except themselves.

This is a prequel to the three previous X-Men movies. Star Wars episodes 1-3 show the danger of making a prequel. The audience knows how things end. The trick is to make the audience care about where the characters have been and how the current story affects how the characters have changed 40 years later.

To accomplish this, the screenplay by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, & Matthew Vaughn puts a spin on history tying Shaw's plan of nuclear holocaust with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. A digital President John F. Kennedy makes an appearance. The pre-X-Men are tasked with using their special abilities to stop Shaw and avert the crisis while keeping the situation under wraps.

Elsewhere, C.I.A. Agent Moira McTaggert (Byrne) discovers that Sebastian Shaw has collected his own mutant followers. Shaw is planning to escalate tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union for his own personal gain. A global nuclear war would destroy humanity leaving only mutants to repopulate the planet.

MacTaggert has begun to suspect the existence of mutants. Her research leads her to Charles Xavier who has just published his thesis on mutation. She invites him to work in conjunction with the C.I.A. to locate other mutants.

Everything starts from a noble idea. Both Xavier and Lehnsherr have grown up alone without guidance. They do not want this to happen to others like themselves. With Xavier's mental abilities, the two construct Cerebro with the blessings of the government. Cerebro is a device which enables Xavier to seek out and locate other mutants. The two then travel the country to bring the mutants together and help them cope with their new abilities. Since each mutant's powers are different, they must be trained to control their abilities so as not to cause harm to themselves and others around them. It is also not a bad idea to teach these teenager mutants to not exploit their gifts for personal gain, such as bank robbery.

McAvoy and Fassbender have their hands full with their acting parts. Through three previous films, yet later in time, the rolls of Xavier and Lehnsherr/Magneto have been played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan respectively. McAvoy and Fassbender have to capture the nuances of character that the latter actors brought to their parts. McAvoy especially has tough chore as he is playing Xavier prior to the accident that left him stuck in a wheelchair. Both actors accomplish this quite well. In one key sequence, Lehnsherr must use his powers to raise a hidden submarine. This is no small task to act as if you actually can raise a sub by using your brain power. ("Use the force, Erik!") Fassbender plays it straight and with very small facial changes, shows the effort Lehnsherr goes through to raise up a submarine. Very convincing.

Besides the top-notch special effects is the game of "spot the mutant." Since none of these actors were in the previous installments, unless you are well versed in the X-Men series of comics, one of the joys of X-Men: First Class is discovering who the mutants are. Since some of these mutants have not appeared yet, the audience does not know the mutants or their abilities. It is quite fun finding out.

The first example comes when a young Charles finds his mother in the kitchen. When she asks Charles if she can make him a sandwich, Charles is suspicious. His mother would never make him a sandwich. Charles uses his psychic ability to uncover a mutant named Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) who has the ability to morph her physique into any person, living or dead, with perfect accuracy in their gestures and vocalizations. Like Rebecca Romijn before, Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job with one of the more poignant characters: Raven/Mystique. Since Raven can become any person she wants to be, she constantly struggles with who she really is. Unfortunately, who she is is sort of a red-haired, blue-skinned, scaly thing with a great body.

Once settled in a top secret laboratory funded by the C.I.A., the band of mutants meet with Dr. Hank McCoy who helps them with Cerebro and with the newfound mutants. With his abilities, Xavier accidentally lets slip a secret that McCoy has been hiding. He too is a mutant. During his spare time, McCoy is working on a formula that will reverse the effects of the mutation and turn him back into a regular human. He tests the experiment on himself with disastrous results. McCoy's mutation is intensified and he changes into the Beast, a large blue fur ball.

Shaw's assistant Emma Frost (Jones) also has telepathic powers which she uses to thwart Lehnsherr's attack on Shaw. Shaw and Lehnsherr have a long history. Shaw conducted unauthorized research in a Polish prison camp where Jews were slaughtered during World War II. Shaw sees the potential in young Erik's ability to manipulate metal. When Erik cannot use his mental power to move a coin, Shaw murders Erik's mother in front of him. The enraged Erik lashes out killing two German guards and destroying two rooms in the camp. Shaw promises that training the young Erik will be fun. Erik Lehnsherr has a long memory and spends countless hours tracking Shaw down.

Shaw has his own secret. He is a mutant with very special powers. Shaw can absorb energy directly into his system. This energy absorption has kept Shaw at the same age while Lehnsherr and other mutants have aged. Shaw is also highly intelligent in his own way. Mistrust is an element of all evil geniuses. Shaw protects himself from Frost's psychic powers by shielding his mind with a special helmet he devised. The same helmet that will become Magneto's trademark to protect him from Xavier.

The effects are quite spectacular. But the acting elevates this movie into the better than usual comic book movie. X-Men: First Class is one of the better efforts in the series. The writers hold to the basic theme. Teenage boys and girls go through puberty. For some of them, the transformation to adult is a more drastic change. Not in their wildest imaginings could these young adults foresee the profound change that awaits them. One day you are a normal teenager, the next you are a freak of nature. Some of the mutants embrace their abilities. Some are repulsed and only want to be normal. Others, like Shaw, have their powers go to their heads.

Shaw realizes that it is only a matter of time before the existence of mutants is discovered. He knows that mutants will be looked upon with fear and loathing. Inevitably, there will be a war between humans and mutants. Things will not go well for mutants. Mutant registry, persecution, imprisonment and possibly covert experimentation. Lehnsherr begins to think Shaw might be right. He plans to start up his own organization to fight for his freedom. Xavier does not think it will come to that. All the seeds are sown for all of the future episodes.

The X-Men movies can continue on the strength of mutation alone. The sky is the limit when inventing a character, giving them a personal history, and then change their lives by giving them some extraordinary ability. The simple truth that none of these people asked to be mutated. The question is how do they behave after they have mutated. Personal/family conflicts can take characters in any direction.