It’s hard to imagine a better pair of actors than Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. They brought such depth and gravity to the original X-Men movies when they could have easily veered into the realm of cheese. When talks began to create a series of origin stories based on some of the major X-Men characters, I started getting a bit nervous about the filmmakers trying to recreate younger version of Magneto and Professor X. It was difficult to believe that any actors trying to imitate McKellen and Stewart would feel like anything less than shallow caricatures. In James McAvoy and Michael Fassenbender however, the brains behind X-Men: First Class pulled off a miracle. Both actors contain such strength and intelligence, it was easy to get quickly invested in them and their relationship with one another.
Having not read the comic books, I have only known these characters from the movies and I was extremely excited to see a bit more of their histories. Much was not explored in this prequel and I am feeling a strong urge to take a trip to my local comic book shop to discover more about Xavier’s childhood, how Raven ended up breaking into his house and what happens after Xavier and Erik once they break off their friendship. Marvel’s strategy of developing their superhero franchises has worked out well in general and I hope that it will introduce more and more people to the original source material.
As for the film itself, I found it to be quite understated, yet extremely enjoyable. The period details never felt forced or costumey and the cast was, overall, excellent. McAvoy’s portrayal of a young and cocky Charles Xavier was outstanding and while his character arc was not quite as developed as it could have been, the brash graduate we met at the start of the film was replaced by a man humbled and conflicted by the end. Fassenbender is a revelation as Erik Lehnsherr and I am so excited to see more from this actor and from Magneto. He possesses such a quiet, fiercely intelligent strength and he proved himself to be a worthy successor to McKellen. His search for his childhood tormentor provided for some deliciously violent scenes and you could already see glimpses of the man that he would become. It’s hard to imagine anyone going through what he had and not coming out the other end broken and disgusted with humanity. He reminded me a bit of Wolverine and his focus on revenge. They both accepted help reluctantly, but ultimately they can only depend on themselves.
Kevin Bacon was shockingly creepy as the villain in this film. There was very little background or subtlety to his character and it somehow didn’t matter. His portrayal of a man with such a single-minded focus was disturbing and gave me new respect for his acting skills. January Jones was rather forgettable as a women with skills to rival Xavier. The younger mutant recruits were charming and fun to watch, although it was disappointing to see the path that every single female mutant character ended up taking. Elizabeth Lawrence did a pleasant enough job with Raven, but her character was rather lacking in depth and I wanted to see more about her internal struggle and ultimate decision.