You’re going to hear a lot of that. Hell, I was one of the first to take that standpoint. Azazel and Havok!? What the hell!? Y’know what, anyone who’s still saying that (and me of 12 months ago)… grow up (oh, look, I did). There are plenty of reasons for this NOT to have been the story of the five original X-Men. First and foremost, that story has already been told ad nauseum. It didn’t NEED to be repeated. Second, if you work with those characters, you’ve got two choices – slavish devotion to what’s gone before or else deviation for the sake of originality at the risk of outrage over not following continuity. Starting off with an entirely different team means you have leeway to tell whatever story you want with the characters. And it also leads to my third point, which is… this isn’t the first group of students that Professor Xavier reaches out to and invites to come study at his school. This is the group of mutants that persuades Charles to form a school in the first place. Aside from Hank’s presence here, you could still go off in the next movie and bring the other four originals in and it would work. Though I’m not saying you should.
Where this movie shines is balance. It balances the themes and characterizations of classic X-Men comics with interesting new twists for the movie universe. It balances a story rife with pathos against phenomenally choreographed action sequences and beautiful special effects. And of course, it balances Charles and Erik and their divergent paths. It does all of these things, and it does them flawlessly.
Do I have questions? Absolutely. They seemed to combine Sebastian Shaw and Mr. Sinister, and I’m not entirely certain why. Who was “The Man in Black?” (For the record, I’m guessing Malcolm Colcord). And of course, the big one… does this mean they’re dumping any and all established movie continuity?
Dear god, I hope so. This movie was great, and there was plenty they did here that does not match up with the standing continuity. I can only hope that they continue down this road without a thought to what came before. The opening scene payed homage to the prior films, as did a certain cameo (called it!), but the majority of the rest of the film set itself apart, and did so in a VERY good way.
I’m not saying, like our own Lee Rodriguez did, that this film is perfect. That’s overselling it. What this film is, however, is SO good that you’ll overlook or else forget entirely the things that didn’t hold up. They’re there; don’t get me wrong. When asked if he can pilot the Blackbird, Hank says “Of course! I designed it!” Ummmm… yeah. I don’t think all aeronautical engineers are trained pilots. There’s the scene on the island (Jekyll Island, ironically enough) where the CGI of the palm trees being crushed is absolutely horrendous. The physics behind Banshee’s flight are dubious at best, as is the acting in a few of the lesser roles. But it’s all so minor and so far removed from what REALLY matters that in the end, it doesn’t at all.
The single most legitimate complaint I’ve heard about this movie is that the lesser characters end up under-developed. We know NOTHING about Azazel and Riptide; scarcely more about Banshee, Darwin, and Angel. They’re set dressing… a chance to show off some cool special effects and advance the plot. It’s a fair criticism. The movie could have done just as well if you’d pared the cast down a bit. Fassbender and McAvoy carried the film as Erik and Charles and this almost could have worked with just the two of them; Mystique was somewhat necessary for their story and was fleshed out almost solely for that purpose; Beast served as a wonderful counterpoint to Mystique, the “good guy” who is in reality far less noble than “the villain”; Mr. Shawnister was delightful as the extreme that lies beyond even Magneto; and hell, even Havok served a purpose as the embodiment of everything that humanity has to fear in mutantkind. But beyond that? Even Emma was nearly pointless as anything other than a MacGuffin.
Add it all up, though, and the good far outweighs the bad. This movie was better than all of the best parts of X3 and Wolverine: Origins combined. It was a more well-rounded movie-going experience than Thor. And frankly, by the very nature of the plots, I suspect it will be a far more grounded and relatable story than Green Lantern. And, yes… I’d put it up against the first X-Men and argue its superiority (though I still say X2 has it beat).
First Class gets 4.5 out of 5 idle-threats-with-a-grenade gone horribly wrong.
Don’t worry about staying through the credits, though. There’s nothing. They should have saved the final scene… it would’ve been the perfect payoff.