Making the Grades
When filmmakers run short on a sequel storyline, they can always opt for a prequel plot. Going back in time to 1944, X-Men audiences now get to meet the famous comic book mutants before Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (played as young men by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) found themselves on opposite sides of a war to protect or destroy mankind.
Caught up in the horrors of the Nazi uprising, 12-year-old Erik (Bill Milner), who eventually becomes Magneto, is a young Jewish child in the Warsaw Ghetto. After watching his mother (Éva Magyar) shot and killed in front of him because he is unable to engage his powers to move a metal coin, Erik is brutalized by the sadistic Nazi doctor Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).
Meanwhile, in New York, the privileged, young telepathic, Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher), meets a blue-skinned child ransacking his family’s kitchen for food. All three of these misfits, like the others they later encounter, share one commonality—feelings of alienation. Isolated from or marginalized by the rest of society, they try to hide their supernatural strengths and abilities though Angel’s (Zoë Kravitz) wings add an exotic element to her striptease act.
In time, Charles and Erik cross paths at a covert C.I.A. facility where a classified group of government agents are recruiting mutants to side with the United States in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Erik is understandably wary of being rounded up and identified—something he experienced before the mass ethnic cleansing took place in Europe. But Charles optimistically believes in the good of mankind and convinces Erik to work with him as they search for other mutants.
The group they assemble—minus the crotchety Wolverine (cameo by Hugh Jackman) who rebuffs their invitation with a strong, sexual expletive—arrives with a variety of genetic anomalies including a sonic squeal and the ability to breathe under water. Yet many of these mutants are immature and undisciplined when it comes to their powers. And once they discover there are others like them, they’d rather party than prepare to fight Sebastian Shaw and his own team of mutated henchmen (January Jones, Jason Flemying, Álex González).
Like this franchise’s early films, graphic and frequent violence follows these super humans wherever they go. Stumbling upon a couple of former Nazi guards in an Argentine bar, Erik gruesomely fixes one man’s hand to the table with a knife before killing both guards and the bartender. When it comes to sexual content, Mystique, in her blue body paint, isn’t the only female to show some cleavage. Even C.I.A. agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byme) bares nearly everything when she goes undercover as a prostitute on a very revealing assignment.
Though X-Men: First Class does an adequate job of explaining these characters’ backstories, it likely won’t make parents feel anymore confident about enlisting these comic book characters for family entertainment.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about X-Men: First Class.
How can childhood experiences affect a person’s decisions in adulthood? What role does choice have in an individual’s life path?
How does feelings of isolation contribute to the mutants’ outlook on life? Why are some mutations seemingly more acceptable than others? Are there physical or mental challenges in our society that are more easily accepted than others? What are they?
Does setting these fictional characters in real historical events add to or distract from the story? How do you feel about the negative portrayal of military personnel? How have soldiers and others contributed to the freedoms we enjoy now?