Perhaps because the cast of the first X-Men was getting older, but for whatever reason the heads at Marvel decided to bring in a new wave of comic book mutants to the big screen. They also did this in the middle of laying out the grand plan that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). By all appearances, they seemed to be taking place in some kind of alternate reality, divorced from anything going on with the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. Or was it? Nerds- er, I mean, people who pay (obsessive) attention to such things claim there are Easter eggs hidden all over the X-Men and MCU films that reference each other. I cannot imagine these are all intentional, although a connection between the two was given a huge boost recently in the WandaVision show airing on Disney +. I will not spoil that one for you. What I will spoil with this review is X-Men: First Class (2011) and why it does not make sense with the other X-Men titles.
X-Men: First Class starts almost exactly as did X-Men (2000): a young Erik Lensherr (Bill Milner) is being led into a concentration camp during World War II. When he is separated from his parents, his fear and anger manifest themselves in the power that would lead him to being called Magneto as an adult (Michael Fassbender). Reaching out for his mother and father, he bends the metal gates towards him. This attracts the attention of a Nazi official going by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who is also a mutant that can absorb any form of energy and redirect it at others. He attempts to unlock Erik’s potential by using that anger he previously exhibited as a tool, making it even more pointed by shooting Erik’s mother in front of him. At the same time this is going on, we are introduced to a young Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher) in his family’s home that would one day become the location for his school for gifted youngsters and that he would lead as Professor X (James McAvoy). He is awoken one night by a noise in the kitchen (remarkable given how huge is the place) and finds a women who looks like his mother rummaging in the refrigerator. Because Xavier can read peoples’ minds (among other telekinetic abilities) he knows that it is not actually his mother but a little girl shapeshifter named Raven (Morgan Lily). Realizing they are both different, Xavier tells Raven that she can stay with his family. They become surrogate siblings and she (Jennifer Lawrence) follows him to Oxford where a dozen years later he earns a Ph.D. (I guess) in studying genetic mutations. His work attracts the attention of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who is now investigating the activities of Sebastian Shaw and notices others in his circle, like Emma Frost (January Jones), who have abilities. She is also Scottish in the comics and previous movies, but whatever. Because this is now the Cold War, Moira sees the ties that Shaw has with the Soviet Union as dangerous. But due to the potentially people with Shaw that she cannot handle, she brings in Charles and Raven to help stop this new menace. In their first attempt they meet Erik, who is on a revenge quest. When they do not succeed, Erik and Xavier join together to find other people in the world with abilities. This is aided by the invention of Cerebro by Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), a fellow mutant with a big brain and even bigger feet. It can detect other mutants in the world, and when they are found Xavier and Erik go to recruit them to a new team they are forming. The impetus to stop Shaw gets a boost when his true plan is discovered: he wants the United States and the Soviet Union to commence a nuclear war against one another, and he would rule over what is left. After a bit of a stumble when Shaw and his associates attack the CIA base where Xavier’s “first class” was originally housed, they begin training in earnest at his childhood home in upstate New York. They are ready just in time for Shaw to launch his plan, which involves the Cuban Missile Crisis. I mean, why not muddy the waters further with some actual history? Despite seemingly going along with everything, Erik uses this as an opportunity to finally get revenge on Shaw. Once that is accomplished, he attempts to turn all the remaining mutants to his side to commence a war against the humans he sees as the real enemies. This is apparently a broken record for Magneto, but whatever. What stops Erik is Xavier getting hit by bullet that deflects off Erik’s helmet shot by Moira after she attempts to stop Magneto from sending back the projectiles fired at them by the combined American and Russian navies. They then go their separate ways, and the film basically ends with a Xavier in his trademark wheel chair.
Believe it or not, there are more of these X-Men movies, with X-Men: First Class being merely the first of three more after it. Later ones will attempt to tie these and the previous ones together, so standby for those reviews, though you can check out the last of them by reading our review of X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Still, already very little is making sense in this one in relation to the earlier releases. This can be summed up in the character of Raven, or Mystique as she eventually calls herself. This same character, skin tight, blue make-up and all is in the first three films. But now they have her as having grown up with Charles Xavier. And yet we are supposed to believe that this was never a factor later on when the previous films are set? Not once did Xavier say, “Hey, that’s my sister Raven, go easy on her!” And what about all these other characters that we are introduced to in this film? They seemingly fall off the face of the planet for all we know. I suppose you could say they did things as carefully as they could, but why not simply reboot the entire franchise? Were they contractually obligated to keep elements of the other films in these new ones? Stay tuned for other moments like this in other iterations of this new wave of the franchise.
X-Men: First Class keeps pounding away at the idea of being different being a good thing, and I have already commended it for this philosophy in other reviews in the X-Men series. I will not copy Hollywood’s style of endlessly recycling plots (or, in this case, reviews). Instead, let us look at Erik’s desire for revenge. There again we have an idea that has been repeated almost ad nauseam in film. Regardless, it is understandable that Erik would want to seek personal retribution on Shaw, the man who murdered his mother and apparently tortured him in other ways that they did not bother to show us. Conversely, Xavier preaches a forgiveness and compassion consistent with Christian teaching. Yes, he prepares his students to do battle. Yet fighting always seems to be a last resort for him, and he tries to encourage Erik to be the “better man.” There are a number of plays on that phrase, but for Xavier being that kind of person means turning the other cheek. I believe there is a Bible passage about doing that very thing with one’s enemies, no?
I wonder if the executives at Marvel would want people to watch X-Men: First Class first, its sequels, and then the ones made between 2000 and 2005 last? Either way, they do not make much sense together, and they will make less as they go on. However, if you have never seen any of the others, then watching this prequel by itself is a mildly entertaining experience. If you are a fan of the comic books, there are a number of characters in it that had not been on the big screen before, even if they are horribly out of place when compared to their print versions. So, whatever.