Is “X-Men: First Class” Really First Class?
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
By now, fanboys have probably caught onto what Marvel is doing: Treating movies like comic books.
Sure, they are bringing their famous superhero characters to the big screen amidst plenty of CGI special effects. But there’s a bigger scheme afoot.
Marvel isn’t treating movies as stand-alone entertainments the way we usually think of cinema. Rather, it’s releasing them the way comic books are published – as a series of entertainments that are linked.
Y’see, fanboys don’t just buy the #1 issue of a comic book, they buy the entire series. And the stories are continued from one to the next. Back when I was publisher of Marvel Comics, we used to compare comic books to soap operas, using “Days of Our Lives” scripts to teach our young writers how to tell sequential art stories with greater skill.
Look at the Marvel superhero movies of the past decade: “Spider-Man” was followed by “Spider-Man 2” and “Spider-Man 3,” just like a comic book series. And now it’s being rebooted, just as we used to do with comic books, retelling the story in a new way.
The “X-Men” films have worked the same way. “X-Men” followed by “X-Men 2” and “X-Men: The Last Stand”. And that was followed by the “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” spin-off. At Marvel we always had a half dozen or so different “X-Men” titles being published simultaneously. With a Wolverine spin-off.
Now we have “X-Men: First Class,” a prequel to the other X-Men movies. (Prequels? Heck, at Marvel we even published a title called “X-Babies,” about the mutants as tiny tots.) This new story about Professor X and Magneto as young men is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Just to remind you (in case you’re not an avid fanboy), the X-Men are mutants – genetic freaks who have superpowers. Humans fear them, but the X-Men don costumes to go save mankind from various threats … even itself.
When legendary Marvel Editor Stan Lee created the X-Men, he saw it as a plea for tolerance, accepting people who are different from us. Now, in college textbooks, they’re labeled as “archetypes,” iconic characters that strike a chord within each of us.
Those of you who saw the previous X-Men movies (or read the comic books) think of Magneto as Professor X’s bitter rival, two mutants who have differing views on how to handle being “different.” But in this prequel, you learn that they started off as best friends.
Some compare them to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, two men seeking the same goal, but via very different paths.
In “X-Men: First Class” we meet these young mutants who are just coming to terms with their powers. Charles Xavier, the stud who grows up to become Professor X, is a high-level telepath who can read and influence human minds. His pal Erik Lehnsherr, who later becomes Magneto, has the ability to control magnetic forces.
You’ll also meet mutants who are shape shifters, can spin at incredibly fast speeds, have high-pitched sonic abilities, shoot blasts of cosmic energy, display insectoid physiology or blue fur, and have retractable claws made of Adamanthium.
James McAvoy (“Atonement,” “Wanted”) gives us the young Professor X, while Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Jayne Eyre”) opts to be the young Magneto.
Kevin Bacon (“Footloose,” “Tremors”) is closer than six degrees as Sebastian Shaw, leader of the nefarious Hellfire Club. Sexy January Jones (TV’s “Mad Men”) plays the villainous Emma Frost. Oliver Platt (“Please Give,” “Frost/Nixon”) is a Man in Black. And Hugh Jackman (the “X-Men” movies, “Sailfish”) does a cameo as Wolverine.
Director Matthew Vaughn has proven he can do action movies with “Layer Cake” and the comic book-y “Kick-Ass.” He says, “I love superhero films. I want more to be made but they need to be taken seriously as a genre and not just comic books.”
Casting was a challenge. “James McAvoy was top of my list when we talked about who would play Professor X. He got pretty annoyed with me because I made him audition with every single actor who came in for Magento, because I was like if we’re trying to do that Butch Cassidy Sundance Kid chemistry I think it was really, really important that you have to see that chemistry beforehand. The poor guy, I’m wheeling him in everyday saying you’ve got to read with this other actor and this other actor. And then when Michael Fassbender came in, after 20 seconds the two of them together, and I’m like OK, I’ve found them.”
Problem was Professor X and Magneto had already been played to perfection by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in those other “X-Men” movies. Vaughn said to his stars, “I think they did a great job but you’ve got to make these characters your own.”
As he pointed out to McAvoy, “When we first meet Charles Xavier he’s not a Professor and we were trying to show that transition. Seeing Magneto becoming a villain, that’s far more interesting than watching a guy sadly becoming a cripple and becoming a teacher ultimately. Charles Xavier, he’s the hardest character to make interesting.”
But he declares, “I think James did a fabulous job.”
The story for “X-Men: First Class” is new. In the comic books, we hinted that Magneto had a history that went back the WWII Holocaust. But in this new take, the story is set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Can the young mutants Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr avert a nuclear disaster?
Well, it’s no spoiler to tell you that war is averted. Not only do we know how America’s historic confrontation with Russia and Cuba turned out, we also have those other X-Men movies – the stories that take place after this prequel – to prove they survived.
Oh, and as for my premise that Marvel is treating these movie like comic books, “X-Men: First Class” is envisioned as the first in a prequel trilogy. When I was at Marvel we would have termed that a “limited-edition series.”
And just watch, all those other Marvel movies – “Iron Man,” “Thor,” the upcoming “Captain America” – are really part of a bigger series, leading up to a movie about that grand ol’ Marvel superhero team, “Avengers.”
C’mon, haven’t you moviegoers been staying until the films’ end credits are over in “Iron Man,” “Thor,” et al. to see those snippets of Sgt. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) pulling his Avengers team together for a movie blockbuster? That’s the one fanboys are really waiting for.
[from Solares Hill]