While it seemed like a good idea at the time to watch all five of the X-Men movies back to back, coming around to watching the first one made me realize that they’re better suited as being treated as separate entities. When you watch them close together, the continuity changes are quite glaring. Aside from that, this movie generally holds up and I can totally see how this one movie really paved the way for the previous generation of superhero movies. I say previous in the hope that the recent Avengers movie, prequels and sequels, as well as Nolan’s Batman movies, lead into the current generation of superhero movies. But X-Men still stands as a landmark in superhero movies.
I mentioned that one of the strongest points of X-Men: First Class was the relationship between Xavier and Magneto. While that relationship isn’t quite as strong, nor the main focus in this movie, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan create a unique and believable relationship of two people who have a deep understanding of one another, yet are at odds because of their ideologies. But that’s not the only strong relationship in this movie, the real focus is the fatherly relationship between Rogue and Wolverine. One of Wolverine’s best qualities is his loyalty, and this movie really capitalizes on that without overselling it. When I first saw this movie, I was disappointed at how young Rogue was, but I thought Anna Paquin handled the role quite well. She looks up to Wolverine as a protector and a pseudo-father figure, but there’s also a hint of romantic attraction on her end, keeping it realistically complex without ever creating an overly sappy father daughter type moment. The other relationship that bears mentioning is the one between Wolverine and Jean Grey. Jean is with Cyclops, yet Wolverine is almost instantly attracted to her. Hugh Jackman and Famke Janssen have a great chemistry in this movie, keeping things fairly subtle.
The opening scene in this movie is still amazing, head and shoulders above the shortened version in First Class. It’s something that I don’t think would have ever been done before in a superhero movie. It’s shot in muted tones of gray, in the rain, in the middle of a Nazi concentration camp. If you didn’t know any better, you might think you were watching a film about the Holocaust until the gate starts moving. It’s presented to the audience as if it’s something that could have happened. And throughout the movie, that sense of realism combined with the powers of superheroes was something new. Even when costumes are finally introduced in the third act, they are more sensible costumes. They’re not bright and colorful, they’re more like a flight jacket. They even get the chance to poke fun at some of the more unrealistic superhero conventions, like yellow spandex and their codenames. The special effects for the most part are also less flashy, and more subtle than most superhero movies. Aside from a couple big scenes, most of the mutant powers weren’t overly flashy.
As I said in the beginning, it was a mistake to watch the other X-Men movies right before this one, especially compared to how well the Avengers movies connect to one another. The changes in continuity make a certain amount of sense when you’re just looking at the one single movie, but if you try to look at them as a whole, they serve to knock holes in one another rather than building each other up. Xavier says that Magneto helped him design Cerebro, yet First Class said that Beast designed it. Magneto reveals his thought-blocking helmet for the first time, yet First Class showed him with it over forty years ago. Xavier says that Wolverine was in Alkali Lake almost fifteen years ago, yet Origins seems to take place just over twenty years prior. Sabretooth is essentially a completely different character than in Origins. It’s a lot of minor things, but they still bugged me because they were so fresh in my memory.
Another thing about this movie that was somewhat hit and miss were the villains. Magneto is an amazing villain. He’s intelligent, extremely powerful, and has a point. There’s a large grain of truth to what he does which is what makes him so dangerous, and believably able to recruit others to his cause. Mystique is also a great villain, when she’s used properly. She’s best when she’s using her powers to mimic the right people, like when she leads Rogue away from the school, or when she captures the Senator, and especially when she eventually replaces the Senator. I wasn’t nearly as fond of using her as a hand to hand fighter, or I should say foot to foot fighter. When she grabs the Senator with her foot, it just looks goofy. Even though I didn’t fully like the fact that they were brothers, Liev Shreiber was a great Sabretooth. He was violent, slightly feral, but still had a measure of intelligence to him. Taylor Mane has only two lines and doesn’t deliver them that well. In this movie he’s just a beast that growls and looks mean. And Toad is mostly just a bit of comic relief, and one of the more unrealistic and bizarre choices for a villain. Ray Park did a fairly decent job, but I’m not sure that Toad was the best choice for this movie.
In the end, the strengths of this movie far outweigh the weaknesses, though I would suggest to give at least a few months time between watching the newer movies and revisiting this one. The relationships at the core of the movie still hold up and most of the special effects haven’t aged that poorly. There’s also much more of the familiar characters in this movie and none that really need to be identified to any casual fan of the X-Men. Even Halle Berry as Storm, who I thought was the weakest out of all the actors, did a decent job. It started the superhero movie revolution and it still stands as one of the stronger movies even twelve years later. Next up, I’m looking forward to revisiting what’s considered the even stronger sequel X2. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.