Vaughn gets an “A” for X-Men: First Class
by rick olivares
I grew up on the X-Men. I lived and breathed it. I knew the canon more than most of my school subjects. I know and love it so much that I was skeptical of Bryan Singer’s production of the first film.
When it came out, I felt that it raised the bar for further adaptations. That was the first comic book film adaptation that really rocked and paved the way for Hulk, Iron Man (especially Iron Man), and Batman Begins.
The one thing that I realized that much of the origin story and other subplots cannot be adapted for film. There’s a difference in the more compact storytelling in film as opposed to a 24-monthly comic book so I understand it perfectly. You can also get away with drawing costumes and armor in comics but in the movies it just doesn’t work all the time.
X-Men: First Class isn’t a straight adaptation of the limited series by Marvel. For one, the limited series features the original X-Men of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby – Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, the Beast, and Iceman. Matt Vaughn’s film version uses Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr extensively as the main protagonists. But that doesn’t matter.
Marvel for years has retro-mined the old stories for newer ones (read the Uncanny X-Men issue titled Madripoor Nights) and the story of Professor X and Magneto had been a rich ore. There’s the connection to Moira MacTaggert, Proteus, Juggernaut, Cassandra Nova, the Scarlet With and quicksilver, and lots more.
The relationship between the two has been an interesting one – once brothers, once enemies. Even Magneto became an X-Man later on. Incredible.
Vaughn was very faithful in his adaptation of Mark Millar’s and John Romita Jr.’s Kick Ass. There’s none of that with X-Men: First Class. The only thing it has in common with the comic book series is the title. And thus, Vaughn takes it in a bold new direction (sort of like J.J. Abrams’ modern spin on Star Trek) by setting it in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis and using characters who would come much later in the X-Men mythos (in the comic series, Xavier loses the use of his legs during the Korean War). The Beast was part of the first generation of X-Men while Banshee was with the second gen that was a part of the now classic X-Men #94 where the old team left leaving Cyclops to break in a new team of mutants. This “prequel” mixes all three generation of mutants (a fourth including Zoe Kravtiz’ Angel) and it’s a wondrous mix for film and fanboys who I am sure will not mind the massive changes.
During the promotions for the movie, I purposely did not read anything. I wanted to be surprised just as X-Men #94 surprised me all those years ago. I knew nothing not even the cast so imagine my elation at seeing quite a cast – Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Matt Craven, Oliver Platt, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. There are even cameo appearances by Michael Ironside
The two leads – McAvoy and Fassbender – played minor roles in Band of Brothers and there’s something about sacrifice they all know about which they brought to X-Men: First Class. And what performances! McAvoy’s Xavier somewhat reminds me of how Brendan Fraser played Monty Kessler in With Honors – cocky, smooth, but damn good.
Fassbender, in my opinion, nearly steals the show. And rightly so, I always thought that Magneto was a more interesting character. After God Loves, Man Kills (if you haven’t read that X-Men Graphic Novel then get on it post-haste), Magneto became a real cool character. Fassbender without any trouble turns Lehnsherr/Magneto into a sympathetic character.
Rose Byrne has the right amount of spunk and beauty to play MacTaggert. Thankfully, she isn’t underused her in the way Halle Berry was as Storm in the first installment of X-Men.
Kevin Bacon, after a career of playing awkward and flawed characters such as quicksilver’s Jack Casey, Tremors’ Val McKee, The Air Up There’s Jimmy Dolan, he’s played some memorable villains beginning with The River Wild all the way to Wild Things to Hollow Man. His Herr Schmidt/Sebastian Shaw character is probably his most frightening to date.
The crux of the X-Men canon has always been about racism and mistrust. X-Men: First Class, manages to expound on what was shown in Bryan Singer’s opening scenes of a Nazi death camp. Schmidt/Shaw prods Lehnsherr and shows his how violence can produce the results one desires. It is reinforced later on when the CIA and the American and Russian navies attack the mutants (in Uncanny X-Men #150 “I, Magneto”, the Master of Magnetism sinks a Russian nuclear submarine after he is attacked. This is, aside from God Loves, Man Kills, where we see Erik’s character begin to change from a one-dimensional villain to a complex and tortured anti-hero). Vaughn understands that and makes good use of those learning’s without ramming it down the throats of the viewers.
Magneto’s and Xavier have divergent roads that eventually meet before going into different directions. And I have to love the symbolism here. Vaughn does a marvelous job in taking X-Men lore and blowing it up into a brave new world. It’s a superb movie that snuck up on all and revived the X-Men film franchise (just as Batman Begins did for the Caped Crusader after George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell did the horrible – cringe cringe – Batman and Robin).
For the comic book geeks, this is the equivalent of the Ultimate treatment of the old Marvel Universe. And just as it was after Singer’s first film, with X-Men: First Class, you’re left with the wonderful feeling that “I want to see more.”
And that means you can expect a sequel.