Here’s the thing: I usually try to focus my FTE posts on stuff that’s at least a little bit under the radar. Of course there are exceptions (um, hello, Elf), but for the most part I figure the optimum use of this space is to shine a light on something folks might have missed, or at least glossed over because you couldn’t have known how AWESOME it was.
So a well-received blockbuster from last summer probably doesn’t fit that description. But I rewatched it on DVD the other night (yes, I’ll admit I was a solid 2.5 sheets to the wind by the time we put it on), and it dawned on me that if you’re just the right type of nerd, X-men: First Class is THE GREATEST COMIC BOOK MOVIE EVER MADE.
I qualified that last sentence because when you think of comic book nerds the image that comes immediately to mind is the uber-geek with encyclopedic knowledge who will give a condescending continuity lecture at the drop of a hat. And there’s plenty in this movie for that guy to hate (seriously, several of these characters weren’t even created until the past decade, and that Alex guy is supposed to be Cyclops’ BROTHER, don’t get me STARTED). But if you’ve been reading comics for any length of time and still manage to like them after all these years, you’ve long since learned to let stuff like that go. It may be tempting to get your panties all twisted when Hollywood swoops in and messes up your beloved playground, but actual Marvel canon is just as screwy when you really look at it. I mean, Kitty Pryde has aged maybe six years in the last 30, people. Get over it.
Fortunately, we’ve reached the point where comic book movies are so entrenched in the cultural lexicon that they’re starting to riff on the formula, and X-men: First Class functions as a prequel to the movie franchise, set in 1962 during the week of the Cuban missile crisis. It tells the story of newly-minted professor CharlesP Xavier meeting magnet-powered fugitive Erik Lehnsherr for the first time — the relationship between the two men is pretty much 80% of the movie, and the care with which the filmmakers craft it is how you can tell they’re just the right type of nerd, too.
If you’ve never actually read any X-men comics, the movie works as a fun, solid action flick anyway. But the stuff that it does well is the same stuff that genuinely good superhero comics are doing these days: it takes these iconic characters and finds something new for them to do that reminds you why you love them in the first place. Seeing young Magneto cast as a badass ninja assassin, or young Xavier using his mutants-are-the-future schtick to hit on drunk girls at a 1960s college party is brilliant. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are flawlessly cast here, too (their bromance is so pure!), and when you see that they first meet when Charles leaps off a boat to save Erik from his own obsessive revenge-fury?
It just explains so much.
As for the rest of the movie, the girl who will be in The Hunger Games and that kid from About a Boy are fantastic as teenage Mystique and Beast (and their scenes together will break your little heart if you’re a big dorky softie like me). But the rest of the cast is fleshed out with cardboard cutouts — mostly all boobs and no gravitas or faceless dudebros. To me, none of that mattered. First Class is a lighthearted, swinging superhero period piece, but it also shines a light on these two men — one full of hope for the future, the other already chewed up by the world into a hardened cynic –and helps us understand why even decades of plastic prison cells and barely-thwarted genocide attempts will never quite tear them apart.
Granted, if you love the X-men the way I love the X-men then you’ve already watched this movie and formed your own opinions. And if you don’t, there’s a decent chance you saw it anyway and thought it was pretty okay. So for bearing with me while my inner fanboy gushed for a few paragraphs, I leave you with this: a spoilerific send-up from HowItShouldHaveEnded.com (a nerd-joy goldmine that probably deserves its own post, and also where I swiped the above headline from).