X-Men: First Class – The Road to Dark Phoenix

Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy, and Lucas Till in 20th Century Fox's X-Men: First Class.

X-Men: First Class does a solid job in taking things back to where it all begin when both Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr meet for the first time.

A brief prologue lays the beginning foundations for Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and Raven Darkhölme (Jennifer Lawrence).  I like that director Matthew Vaughn opts for a shot-for-shot recreation of the X-Men opening.  It’s a brilliant way to tie the new series into the original trilogy of stories.  For this film to work, there has to be some semblance of belief that this cast turns into the originals.

A series of events must happen for the trio to come together.  Following an encounter with the Hellfire Club, CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert invites Charles and Raven to visit the CIA offices.  While they find an ally in one agent (Oliver Platt), CIA Agent Stryker (Don Creech) is no fan of the mutants.  Maybe this is where his son, William Stryker, gets his mutant hatred.  With a temporary base at Division X, Xavier and company meet Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) for the first time.  Other new mutants follow after searching for them through Cerebro.  These initial recruits are Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz), Armando Muñoz, (Edi Gathegi), Alex Summers (Lucas Till), and runaway Sean Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones).

Their troubles with the Hellfire Club aren’t over.  They’re only just beginning.  Sebastian Shaw’s (Kevin Bacon) yacht has some kind of a void where Charles can’t read his mind.  On top of this, Emma Frost is another telepath so no chance of getting into her mind at least when she’s in her diamond form.  They have a goal in mind: starting World War III.  It’s going to be up to this first class of X-Men so to speak in order to stop them.  Just as soon as they came together, it’s the mutant infighting that starts to tear them apart.  Thus, the foundations are start to get drawn for the people we meet in X-Men some thirty-eight years after this film takes place.

Some things have changed from what we know in the first X-Men movie.  Rather than meet when both were 17 years old, it’s clearly a few years after that.  It’ll be some time before the team really becomes the X-Men but a CIA covert operation is a satisfying beginning.  One way or the other, Charles had to meet Moira MacTaggert.  Her origin story strays a bit from the geneticist and mutant affairs expert in the comics.  It may not be exactly the same but Moira still has this fascination with mutants.

Hugh Jackman has what is without a doubt the best cameo in cinematic history.  There aren’t many F bombs in the films but they find a way to make it count.  This is one of the few sincere laughs in the film, too.  It happens as Charles and Erik go searching for mutants to help their cause.

Like any X-Men film, there are themes of mutant rights.  There’s enough of a political subplot to where the civil rights movement would be a bit much.  The film is already grounded against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Rather than the US facing off against Russia, both countries turn on the mutants.  It comes with a cost though as Magneto accidentally deflects a bullet into Charles’ spinal cord.

Visually speaking, there’s a nice nod here to 1960s movies–the James Bond films in particular.  We can see a little bit of Bond in Erik Lehnsherr before he goes fully bad on us.

After a sour film closing out the original trilogy, X-Men: First Class is a return to greatness.

DIRECTOR:  Matthew Vaughn
SCREENWRITERS:  Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, and Kevin Bacon

20th Century Fox opened X-Men: First Class in theaters on June 3, 2011. The film is available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.