Since this is more of a recap than a review, I’ll take a minute to address the people who (justifiably!) maybe don’t want to read a ton of words just to hear a stranger on the internet say “yeah, I liked this movie” at the very end: yeah, I liked this movie. It was everything a summer blockbuster should be, plus some subtle, thoughtful commentary and a fresh take on the old “mutants as allegory for disenfranchised social groups” theme. You will enjoy it if you like to think too much about movies, and you will also enjoy it if you like to watch Michael Fassbender toss around nuclear warheads like Vader on a bad day. It’s smart but accessible and full of good-looking people kicking bad-guy ass, and Don Draper himself would raise his glass to the sweet Sixties wardrobe.
If you’re still here and weren’t just looking for a brief opinion on the film (or googling the phrase “michael fassbender ass”) (justifiably!), hello! Get comfortable. Snap into a Slim Jim. We’re gonna be here a while.
I hope this new thing of making superhero movies with forces that are opposed, but not necessarily in a good/evil way, becomes a trend (then again, there was that whole Spider-Man 3 thing where nobody knew what the fuck was going on or who everyone was supposed to be rooting for, and we all know how that turned out). It was there a bit of it in Thor (though Loki as a character did fall down a little in terms of storytelling), but X-Men: First Class takes it to the next level. At no point did I feel I wasn’t supposed to be understanding of either of the main characters’ stories or motivations–that might be different for each viewer, but Matthew Vaughn and the writers did a good job of dividing our attention and sympathy between both of these opposing forces, even if one had to be coded as “bad“ for sequel purposes.
Full disclosure, though: I will always side with Magneto, no question. Also full disclosure: I haven’t read all or even many of the comics, remember little-to-nothing about the first trilogy, and spent the duration of X-Men: Origins: Wolverine: ::: :: :::: :: :::::::: ::::::::::: Hugh Jackman Gets Naked :::::: ::::::: ::::::::::::: ::::::Colons, Bub: thinking about how I was going to make some knuckle-blades out of tinfoil when I got home. I have no opinion on comics continuity or lack thereof, except for the opinion that it’s ridiculous to expect Hollywood to extract exactly what you want from almost 50 years of source material that is known for periodically going insane.
X-Men: First Class is about the literal first class of mutants, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr being the ones who start uniting them into what will become the X-Men. Charles Xavier is, of course, Professor Xavier, and is played by James McAvoy with a lot of humor and charm. We picture Professor Xavier as Patrick Stewart, who is charming but sort of austere at the same time, so it’s interesting to see the character as a cocky young scientist, hitting on girls with cheesy nerd lines and telepathing his way through the world.
Michael Fassbender has played a Nazi victim (This Movie), a vampire Nazi (Blood Creek, which is a little obscure but really worth checking out if you enjoy having fun with your bad movies), and a British spy/Nazi killer (Inglourious Basterds), and has somehow been totally great at all of them. He’s best here as Erik Lehnsherr, aka Baby Magneto–he’s got the Christian Bale talent and intensity without the Christian Bale personality. Which is good news for us because this dude is gonna blow up in just a minute. It’s about time. He has fantastic chemistry with everyone in the cast, particularly McAvoy, which gives the movie a more lighthearted feel in the comedy bits and more of an edge in the dramatic bits. Which is another nice trend in superhero movies, this idea of not sacrificing the humor for the drama (ahem, Christopher Nolan’s Batman. Get out of my bathtub) and vice-versa, but understanding that these are two sides of the same emotional coin and thus can be used to improve on each other.
Raven Darkholme/Mystique, our sexy naked blue shapeshifter, is played by Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone/looking awesome in a red dress demi-fame. She’s probably one of the best young actresses working today, and it was a relief to see that the character wasn’t just played for titillation’s sake. Raven has an emotional journey just the same as Charles and Erik, and her specific journey is probably the most relatable to the audience. She’s familiar, and thus you will probably spend most of the movie wanting to tell her it’s totally going to be okay, YOU’LL GROW INTO YOUR NOSE SOMEDAY. Or whatever your own teenage insecurities consisted of. Obviously, most of us don’t grow into our noses or spontaneously start to look good in bandage dresses, but if we want to be well-adjusted, we learn to accept ourselves and find other people who are willing to do the same, not necessarily in that order. There are some interesting musings on being members of a visible minority versus being able to hide in plain sight, too, which is pretty cool for a summer blockbuster.
Rounding out the good superhumans are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Mutants, most of whom are probably not teenagers and none of whom are ninjas. Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till) can throw energy like his brother Scott Summers/Cyclops will in the future, but with his body; Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicolas Hoult) has crazy monkey feet and then a crazy blue monkey tiger body; Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) has fly wings and pukes acid lava balls; Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) can scream loud enough to effectively echolocate stuff underwater and also fly; and Armando Muñoz/Darwin (Edi Gathegi) has an evolutionary survival mutation that allows him to adapt to any situation, except for the Black Dude Dies First And While Defending White People situation, which apparently only George Romero knows how to cure.
The main villain of the film is Sebastian Shaw/Klaus Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), a mildly immortal Nazi doctor who can absorb all kinds of energy, from nuclear to punching. He’s the founder of the Hellfire Club, which seems to exist mainly as a halfway house for wayward lingerie-clad prostitutes and wayward corrupt government officials. Kevin Bacon does great with smarmy bad guy roles. He’s got charisma–remember when he brought rock n’ roll back to Beaumont?–and when he goes evil, he does it like…I guess creepy uncle is really the only way to describe it. It’s awesome. His right-hand hottie is Emma Frost (January Jones), who also does well as a smarmy bad guy in trashy/fabulous lingerie. She’s a powerful telepath and can turn her body to diamond. Shaw’s left-hand man is Azazel (Jason Flemyng), a red-skinned Satan-looking mutant who can teleport, fight with a giant knife, and has a prehensile tail. Shaw’s other left-hand man (it makes total sense in the context of the film) is Janos Quested/Riptide (Álex González), whose mutant superpower is having great hair despite the tornadoes that come out of his hands.
The humans mainly consist of CIA agents and military personnel, the latter of whom are bound and determined to ruin just every single thing they possibly can. The CIA guys are pretty cool, though–Dr. Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) and the Man in Black (Oliver Platt) are pro-mutant liaisons, and the former suffers some light love-interest shoehorning that isn’t too awful, for a superhero movie.
Our journey begins in Poland in 1944. Young Erik Lehnsherr is being dragged away from his mother and father by Nazi soldiers at a concentration camp. I’m, uh. I can’t make any jokes about this, because Michael Ian Black is the only person alive who can make Nazi jokes work. Erik is held back by several soldiers as he screams and reaches toward the huge gates separating him from his family. The gates start to bend inward as Erik and the guards are dragged through the mud, and it takes a rifle butt to the face for Erik to stop. In a window, Dr. Klaus Schmidt drinks tea and contemplates some evil shit.
In Westchester, New York, still 1944, young Charles Xavier hears a noise in the kitchen in the middle of the night, and goes down to handle his business with a baseball bat. It‘s worth noting that this nerd has a framed picture of Albert Einstein next to his bed. A lady in a red dress is digging through the refrigerator. His face drops when she tells him to go to bed and offers to make him a hot chocolate, because apparently Mama Xavier is a stay-in-bed mom. She becomes a cute little blue girl, and Charles adores her instantly, offering her all the food in the kitchen and making plans for how they’re going to be best bros 4 lyfe, because he‘s never met another mutant. Tiny Raven Darkholme is ecstatic, too, because he‘s not afraid of her.
Klaus Schmidt creepy-uncles all over everything, talking science and offering Erik candy and getting a little pissy when Erik is only interested in where his mother is. Schmidt takes a long time to get to his point, which is he knows Erik is special and wants him to move a coin.
Erik can’t do it; there‘s a sad moment where he apologizes to Schmidt and tries to smile to alleviate the tension. It‘s revealed a moment later that Schmidt‘s cozy office has a glass wall looking into a harshly-lit torture chamber/experimentation room. Schmidt, irritated, leans back in his chair and says “The only thing I can say in favor of the Nazis is that their methods are producing results.” Here is a protip: if someone ever says something like that to you, despite claiming to not be a Nazi, they are a Nazi. Run like the wind, because they’re about to drag in someone you love and threaten to shoot them if you don’t slide a quarter across their desk on the count of drei.
Erik still can’t do it. Schmidt shoots Erik’s mother. Erik goes nuts, screaming “Nein!” for like an hour while he crumples a bell, then crushes the helmets of the two Nazi guards–like, with their heads still in them. He wrecks the torture chamber as Schmidt looks on with delight, encouraging the destruction. When the NEIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN is over, Schmidt creepy-uncles Erik some more, telling him that he’s got some big plans and giving him the coin he failed to move while Erik cries. The coin brings us into our title card, which in turn brings us back to the coin, weaving through an adult Erik‘s splayed fingers without touching them. He sits on a bed in a cute hotel room in Geneva in 1961, wearing a bathrobe, brooding over his photograph map of men he’s going to murder, because he has become a badass Nazi hunter. Wunderbar! He sends his swastika quarter into the forehead a picture he apparently drew of Shaw.
An adult Charles Xavier has less to worry about. He hits on a girl in a pub with bad mismatched contacts by explaining what heterochromia is, reading her mind to get her drink order, and then calling her a groovy mutant.
Amy: How’s that seduction technique working out for you?
Charles: I’ll tell you in the morning.
Amy decides to reclaim the word “mutant” when Charles tells her how awesome being a mutant is, toasting with “Mutant and proud.”
Raven, in blond girl form, watches them flirting from the background and rolls her eyes so hard they fall out of her head. She slides between them smoothly, and when Charles introduces her as his sister, cockblocks like a pro. She lets one of her eyes turn from blue to their natural gold as she deadpans Amy to the point of discomfort. Charles drags her out of the pub with a quickness when Amy points the eye out, and calls her on her blockage when they get out to the street. He tries to spin it like it wasn’t totally about him getting to make it with Amy, and the go home.
Raven, blue, brushes her teeth ineffectively, sneering at the mirror. Charles hears it and sighs. When she leaves the bathroom, she asks if he’d date her. Yes, but what if she was blue? Awkward. Suddenly he can’t think of her as anything but blue blue his blue sister blue. She flops down on the couch and makes him read his thesis to her, and his voiceover about prehistoric mutated humans extincting their less-evolved kin continues over a shot of Erik, snazzily dressed (dove grey suit, grey coat, fedora, bright red briefcase), walking into a Swiss bank with a brick of Nazi gold.
The Swiss bank accountant reminds Erik that possession of Nazi gold is illegal, so that’ll be extra. Erik, speaking French, doesn’t mind, and proceeds to suavely let the Swiss bank accountant know that he needs to hand over Schmidt’s whereabouts with a quickness. The accountant is unsure right up until Erik starts pulling the fillings out of his teeth. Schmidt is in Villa Gesell, Argentina. Erik bids him good day, and if the accountant would like to not die horribly, he’d best not let Schmidt know that Erik’s coming.
Moira MacTaggert and another agent are on a stakeout of the Hellfire Club in Vegas, and Moira spots a Colonel Hendry of NATO. That makes him, some dirty Commies, a shitload of hookers, three mob bosses, the Italian ambassador, and the CEO of Lockheed at this same party. Moira decides she’s going in with the flock of lingerie prostitutes, so she strips down to her underwear and gets into the club. It’s sleazy and super Sixties on the inside. Emma Frost takes Col. Hendry into one of the curtained booths. Moira is interrupted by a couple of dudes who want to get all up in that, but she brushes them aside and makes a beeline for Emma and the Colonel’s booth. EXCEPT THEY’RE TOTALLY NOT IN THERE! Moira closes the curtain behind her and starts poking around until she turns the booth around and into a fancy office. She finds some papers in Cyrillic and grins.
Schmidt, now known as Sebastian Shaw, creepy-uncles around a secret room and asks Hendry what is the deal with him not voting to put Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Hendry’s like, dude, don’t you remember that this movie’s set in the Sixties? Turkey’s close enough to Russia that those missiles would start a nuclear war. Shaw’s all, double durrburger with geez, Colonel.
“I don’t ask for favors, Colonel. I express my expectations.” What he expects is for Hendry to push for those missiles to make their way to Turkey. Hendry’s only interested in some more champagne. Shaw motions for Riptide, lounging at the bar, to make a hand tornado. He does, and it knocks a confused Hendry into a wall. Emma gets into his head with a warning that they will never give him up/let him down/run around, though they may hurt him. Emma whistles for Azazel, who pops Hendry out of the club in time for him to vote yea on the Nukes In Turkey issue.
Moira calls her boss, trying to explain that Hendry totally disappeared! But her boss is having none of it, because Hendry is right there voting yea. She hangs up, frustrated. Her partner’s like “You’re insane! But I still want you to tell me what we’re going to do!” She says they need to find an expert in genetic mutation. Presumably, her partner then says “That’s exactly what I thought you’d say, you goddamn lunatic.”
Charles Xavier presents his thesis at Oxford, then goes drinking with Raven.
A mutant walks into an Argentine bar and orders a beer with a heavy ceceo pronunciation (“Una cervetha, por favor”), and notices the picture of Shaw on the wall. The two German guys at the table behind him are apparently really invested in his German beer, so he has a short conversation and joins them at their table, then basically tells them that BTW he knows they’re Nathis. It is a testament to Erik’s hotness and/or magnetism that they both still clink glasses and drink with him, staring awkwardly. “This stranger is so handsome and he’s wearing the hell out of that outfit, so WHY DO WE FEEL LIKE WE ARE ABOUT TO DIE PAINFULLY? But omg look at those shoulders.”
Erik shows them the numbers on his arm. One of the Nazis tries to shank him with his Hitler Youth knife, but Erik grabs it and reads the inscription: Blut und Ehre. He asks which one the Nazi would like to lose first. They protest that they were just following orders. When I am ordered to do terrible things, I totally make sure all my little keepsakes are perfectly shined and taken care of to remind me of how I definitely didn’t want to murder all those people! Erik knows that this is bullshit and decides the blood needs to go first, and pins the Nazi’s hand to the table with the knife. The other one jumps up, and the bartender goes to shoot Erik. Erik forces him to shoot the other Nazi, then tosses the knife into the bartender and stabs the first Nazi’s hand again.
The Nazi asks who Erik is. Erik, because he’s a little bit of a drama queen, says he’s “Frankenstein’s monster, and [he’s] looking for [his] creator.” He floats the gun into his hand and shoots the last Nazi.
Charles Xavier drinks a whole lot of liquor out of a giant fluted glass. Moira shows up, lets him get about ten seconds into his “you are a sexy mutant” speech, and tells him she needs his help. He reads her mind, sees what went down at the Hellfire Club, and is instantly sold on her.
Hendry visits Shaw on his sweet yacht, but instead of mojitos and lounging, there are threats and grenades. To be fair, that’s how most of my yachting excursions have ended. Hendry is the first one to pull a grenade, but Shaw ignores the threat, takes the grenade, and pulls the pin. He releases the depressor and absorbs the explosion with his hands! All 19 of them! I don’t know why Hendry is so surprised that he’s a mutant–he’s seen what Shaw’s henchmen can do, and it just doesn’t follow any kind of logic that they’d be at the beck and call of just some guy, you know?
Shaw taps Hendry on the shoulder, apparently transferring the grenade’s power into his body, and disintegrates him.
CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia. Charles gives his thesis presentation for a few of our best and brightest, and they think he’s full of shit. Since shit rolls downhill, they bitch at Moira, and decide she’s going back to the typing pool. Charles is like “Slow your roll, bro. I thought you’d be skeptical, so I will drop some pie knowledge on you.” He also drops some “You were thinking about your son” knowledge, and because he makes awesome decisions, some “Nice job with the Jupiter missiles in Turkey.” Moira’s boss accuses her of bringing a spy into the midst and is about to call the assassin squad in, so Raven morphs into one of the agents. Several grown men soil themselves as Charles gloats, but Moira’s boss orders Charles and Raven to be locked down.
Moira, infuriated, yells impotently at her partner until he freezes at the water fountain with water going up his nose. Charles tells her, telepathically, to meet him on the third floor of the parking garage. The Man in Black fanboys all over Charles and Raven until Moira drives up, at which point he’s like “IDK guys, my dad might get mad if we go out tonight!” Charles mind-controls him into getting in the car, and they drive to the Man in Black‘s offsite facility that he somehow had built for a reason and through means that are not totally made clear.
Water, nighttime. Erik’s head breaks the surface. I was very disappointed that there was no knife in his teeth, but there is a knife in his sexy wetsuit when he climbs onto Shaw’s evil yacht, where Shaw, Emma, and Riptide are just chilling attractively together. I always wonder if teams of bad guys that are never out of one another’s presence on purpose are all doing it on the down-low. I feel like Team Shaw totally is.
Eric confronts Shaw with a calm “Herr Doktor,” and all three evil mutants stand. Shaw keeps the other two from attacking, greeting Erik warmly/creepy-uncley in German. Emma’s all, “Dude, he’s here to shank you” and nails Erik telepathically, hurting his brain and dredging up memories of the torture and experimentation inflicted on him. He throws his knife, but Emma diamonds up and catches it, then slaps him off the yacht and back into the water, smiling coyly when Shaw tells her that they don’t harm their own kind. Torture in the name of science and creepy-uncleing doesn’t count, obviously.
The Coast Guard shows up loaded for bear (also how most of my yacht excursions have ended), deploying assault rafts and carrying Moira and Charles onboard their main ship. Emma blocks Charles’s telepathy, and Charles is like “Welp, I’ve done all I can do” and watches uselessly as Riptide throws some tornadoes at the Coast Guard.
Erik, being a badass of the highest order, uses the yacht’s anchor and chain to hack the boat into several pieces. Unfortunately, there’s an emergency submarine, which he decides to try and waylay. While in the water. This goes about as well as you’d expect, and he can hold onto it just well enough for it to drag him under.
Charles, apparently just as nuts as Erik is, decides to jump into the water and drag him back up so he doesn’t die of bad decisionmaking skills. It’s totally romantic. I mean heroic.
(I mean romantic.)
Erik, appalled at both being forced to not drown himself and that someone was able to stop him from doing it, demands to know what the fuck, man? Charles tells him that he’s a mutant, too. Everyone is mutants! And Erik isn’t alone.
Secret lavish compound of mysterious funding/purpose. The Man in Black explains that Shaw is working with the Russians, so the mutants are going to be helping with that whole situation. He takes them to meet Hank McCoy, who Charles falls in love with immediately and then even more immediately outs as a mutant. Hank backflips up to hang upside down on the wing of a plane. Raven then falls in love with him, too. Everyone loves each other! It’s all so cute, like a thousand baby sloths hugging you to death. Erik lurks in the background, intrigued but not quite ready to stop brooding. He hasn’t killed a Nazi in like three hours, so he’s a little off.
Shaw and Emma watch t.v. in their submarine(?). Emma’s worried about Charles getting into Shaw’s head, but the Russians have built him a helmet. And like, okay, it’s kind of cool for a helmet? But having the coolest helmet is like having the most extensive collection of, say, Final Fantasy game character figurines. It’s a helmet. You’re still a fucking dork in a helmet.
It works, though, because Emma can’t read his mind. He’s thinking she’s beautiful and that she needs to go get him some more ice for his drink, pronto. Instead of going to a refrigerator, she goes up through the hatch and gets some microbe-infected glacier ice and sighs at the frozen, barren wasteland all around the parked submarine. I like that she sighs and gets annoyed with Shaw–obviously there’s still a long-ass way to go with regards to equal treatment in this genre, but having four women in a movie, all with their own motivations and characters, none of whom are really plot devices (yes, Christopher Nolan’s Batman, I can still see you when you’re hiding in the closet) is a step in the right direction. SIGH.
Raven and Hank, in the grand tradition of young people everywhere, have decided that they are perfect for each other based on some basic similarities (mutant, young, horny). They turn science into foreplay and discuss what it’s like to have to go to such lengths to hide things that humans wouldn’t accept them for. Raven lets Hank take a blood sample, and just as she’s about to kiss him, Erik strolls in with a hilarious “Kinky.” and cockblocks them. It’s a solid effort, but he could really use a few lessons from Raven. He ups the awkward ante by telling Raven that, if he looked like her, he wouldn’t change a thing. This is like a girl who knows she’s pretty telling a girl who thinks she’s ugly that no, she’s totally beautiful and should be proud of it, namely awkward and hilarious. Even if it’s true, it’s still awkward.
Erik, having done his good deed for the decade and seriously like a day out from his last screaming Nazi, puts Shaw’s CIA dossier in his cute red briefcase and prepares to hit the road. Charles hoves in like the creeper he is, says a bunch of inappropriate shit about knowing Erik’s pain, and is like “I won’t stop you from leaving. I could, but I won’t,” and walks away to watch Erik through a window or something until Erik decides to come back.
YAY, CEREBRO VERSION 1.0 APPEARS. The Man in Black wants the CIA to be involved with finding mutants, but Charles and Erik say that’s a terrible idea, and threaten to bounce if he doesn’t let them do the talking. He agrees, and they all go out to boot Cerebro up. There’s a cute line about Charles not letting them shave his head and then it’s mutant-findin’ time, complete with Team Assembly Montage!
First up is Angel, working in a gogo bar. She says things like daddy-o and doesn’t seem to mind it when Charles and Erik end up in bed together:
Charles seemingly pretty keen on the idea of just going for it and making the love right there. Erik interrupts him before they can have the devil‘s threeway (AT LEAST FOR NOW). They’re obtuse and weird for a second until Erik floats a champagne bucket and Angel figures out what’s up. She shows them her pretty wings and levitates for a bit, and Charles offers her a job.
Second is Darwin, a cabdriver. Erik and Charles slide into the backseat and…are obtuse and weird some more. All of these job offers seem a bit sexually threatening, honestly, what with the door locking and the “We were rather hoping you would…take us all the way.”
Third is Alex Summers, locked up and in solitary confinement for unspecified reasons. Fourth is Sean, trying and failing to hit on a girl. He scares the shit out of some fish, and then Erik and Charles lurk up on either side of him.
Last is some guy with dumb hair and a cigar.
J/K IT’S WOLVERINE. That’s how you do a cameo. Erik and Charles introduce themselves, and are immediately met with a beautiful “Go fuck yourselves.” They decide, wisely, to leave it alone.
Emma is concerned with how she can feel Charles’s Cerebro-amplified presence, even though they’re still in the middle of an ocean somewhere. She tells Shaw, and he tells her to go to Russia without him so he can take care of some stuff. I WONDER IF THAT STUFF IS THE NEW MUTANT MUPPET BABIES yes it is.
Erik and Charles have a totally hetero chess date on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Erik has a bad feeling about what they’re doing. “It starts with identification,” and then he fears they’ll be rounded up, experimented on, and eliminated. Charles says no, not this time. Who agrees? Hands up. I promise that information will not in any way be logged and used against you in the future!
Cute character-establishing bonding scene! Everyone picks codenames for themselves and displays their powers, which is such an authentically young-person thing to do I tried coming up with a codename for myself for when we inevitably meet up later at the mall. Darwin grows gills in a fish tank; Angel flutters her wings and spits a lava acid ball onto a statue; Banshee breaks a window; and Havok cuts the statue in half with his body lasers. Basically, they destroy everything, and are super adorable while doing it.
Moira gets clearance to bring the mutants to Russia to try and capture Shaw. Erik thinks this is a bad idea, like most ideas involving young people and espionage are (Spy Kids 3D). Charles insists that they’re exceptional and it’ll be totally rad times in Russia, just you wait! Then they see all the property damage and rampant teen-ing that’s going on. Moira yells at them, Erik is sarcastic, and Charles is suitably chastened (but now they have nicknames, too!). They decide to leave the kids at home and go to Russia alone.
Soviet General’s Awesome Red Communist Mansion. Well, the road leading to it, anyway. A truck full of CIA operatives is stopped by a military checkpoint, and Charles mind-whammies the soldier inspecting the cab into seeing…an empty cab. They get through the checkpoint, no problemo.
Emma charms her way into the Soviet official’s mansion while Charles hijacks a guard to spy. Shaw isn’t there, but Erik isn’t willing to just pack up and go home, and skips off to start WWIII. Actually, he wraps up several guards in barbed wire, dismantles like 18 rifles, kicks a guard in the face while in midair, and gets into the house with no problem. Charles follows him, calming down traumatized guards as he goes. They reach the official’s bedroom at the same time, where he’s making out with a projection of Emma while the real one eats a cracker and contemplates becoming a lesbian, because the dudes around her just suck, all the time. Trust me, Erik is the solution to all of your problems, and he can pull off a mock turtleneck.
Right now, though, he’s the cause of a few of her problems, namely by wrapping a metal bed frame around her until her diamond skin, hard but very brittle, starts to splinter, forcing her back into her human body, where Charles can get information out of her. Shaw, of course, wants to take over the world. Emma deadpans “Beautiful, isn’t it.” But it’s difficult to tell if she’s being sarcastic or not. I vote sarcasm. Charles says they’re going to hand Emma over to the CIA for questioning, even though it’s not like they’ll be able to get anything from her. She could probably even just convince them to let her go.
Alex and Darwin are having a serious love connection over pinball while some passing agents say gross things to Angel. Raven tells her they’re just gaping morons. Angel knows, but she’d rather morons gape at her because she’s hot than because she’s a mutant. She can parse the people-know-I’m-hot thing–the people-know-I’m-a-mutant thing is still weird. “I would rather them stare at me with my clothes off than the way these bozos stare at me.”
Raven answers quietly, “At us.”
There’s a few thunks from outside. Inside the compound, the Man in Black and another operative hear them, too. Actually, they become the thunks when Azazel teleports in and up into the sky to drop them. Several million dollars in government-funded training splatter all over the place, and all hell breaks loose in the form of Azazel murdering like a hundred people by either dropping them or stabbing them with his swords/tail.
Shaw walks in and Force-chokes an agent who is shooting him and calling for backup, demanding to know where the “More evolved people” are being kept. He absorbs a ton of bullets and an RPG, only to return the favor and burn all the attacking agents.
The mutants are all terrified, but they’re like “We can help!” when the few remaining agents try to make them go back to their room. If I happened to be working that day, I would use this opportunity to take a nap at my desk or something, because I can guarantee that the government would not pay me enough to try and shoot a mutant who eats bullets and then throws them back at me. Damn, just clock out early.
The villains get to our good guys after killing almost everyone, and Shaw immediately starts trying to sell them some knives, using the perks of world domination and mutant supremacy as incentive. There’s a bad moment where he says that they’re going to have to make a choice once the humans realize they exist, and those choices are “be enslaved” (CLOSE-UP SHOT OF THE ONLY BLACK DUDE IN THE WHOLE MOVIE), or rise up to rule.
Angel goes with Shaw, and tells the rest of them to go, too, because they don‘t belong among the humans. To be fair, Shaw does make a pretty good offer. Everyone looks totally betrayed, and Darwin steps forward. Alex tries to stop him, but he still goes. Shaw tells him he made a good choice, but something is afoot. He turns to rock and grabs Angel, yelling for Alex to do some body-laser karate on the bad guys. It would be awesome, except Shaw absorbs the lasers and grabs Darwin, dropping a tiny ball of nuclear energy into his mouth with an “Adapt to this.” Darwin can’t, and his body turns to metal and to stone before becoming skin again, and he breaks apart while Alex watches helplessly. It’s super sad, especially since Shaw had just said trying to protect his fellow mutants was admirable. I’m really bummed that Darwin died, but how cool would it be if he can also adapt to dying? Like he shows up in the sequels all, “Sup, I’m immortal now. YOU’LL NEVER LOSE ME AGAIN!”
Shaw, in a badass fur-collared coat, meets with the Soviet official and tells him to take some missiles to Cuba, in what is basically the same scene as the one with Hendry, implicit mutant threats and all.
Erik and Charles get back to the destroyed facility, and Charles wants to send everyone back home. Or to prison, as it were. The baby mutants don’t like this idea at all, because a) they killed Darwin and b) he can’t even be buried. Erik brings up that c) they can avenge him, and Charles is like “SHUT UP, PSYCHO” and pulls him away for a sidebar. Erik, previously unsure of their capabilities, is now confident that revenge is a sufficient motivator for them to become the awesome badasses they were meant to be. Charles stipulates that they’ll all have to train. YES I LOVE TRAINING MONTAGES.
Moira’s boss and the other head agent (I think it’s Col. Stryker’s father) debate turning Emma Frost over as she sits in an observation room. She cuts a hole in the two-way mirror and threatens them, which I think the mere fact that she could cut a hole in the mirror with her finger would have done admirably.
Russian warheads make their way toward Cuba. The U.S. government doesn’t like that at all, and sends a fleet to head them off.
Westchester. All the mutants stare in awe at the giant-ass Xavier house. Erik gets sassy: “Honestly, Charles, I don’t know how you survived, living in such hardship.” Raven says it was hardship softened by her presence, and offers everyone a tour.
Moscow. Soviets are sending missiles to Cuba. Okay, this movie is unnecessarily two hours long, and I think a lot of that could have been helped without these side trips to Russia and a lot of the CIA stuff not directly involving the mutants. It’s not that the stuff doesn’t flow, it’s just that it’s a little bit extraneous–we understand the plot. We don’t need to see so many scenes of Soviets and the U.S. government explaining the plot to each other. Plus, this thing is 6,000 words already and the movie’s only three quarters of the way through. I GOT SHIT TO DO, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS!
(No I don’t.)
Westchester. Charles holds a gun to Erik’s head, because Erik wants to deflect a bullet. Charles keeps the gun up for a second, completely unsure in the face of Erik’s hilarious Conrad Veidt grin where you can see all 966 of Michael Fassbender’s cute teeth.
Charles drops the gun and is like “Here’s the thing: we’re bros and I love you. Bros don’t shoot bros in the face.” Erik’s all “You’re not a bro if you DON’T shoot me in the face.” Erik grabs Charles’s hand and puts the gun back to his head, saying that Charles knows he can deflect it and besides, doesn’t he want Erik to challenge himself? But Charles is adamant: “If you know you can deflect it, you‘re not challenging yourself! Whatever happened to the man who was trying to raise a submarine?” Uh, you pulled him out of the water before he could do it, Chuck.
The submarine‘s too big for him. “I can’t. Something that big, I need the situation, the anger.” Erik says. Charles tells him the anger’s not enough. Erik thinks back to the fourteen thousand Nazis he’s killed and prissily says “Well, it’s gotten the job done all this time.” Charles counters that it’s nearly gotten him killed all this time, and tells him they‘ll try something a little more challenging.
The screen does a 24-style split as the other mutants train–Charles lets Alex use his family’s nuclear bunker to laser a seemingly neverending collection of mannequins, using an invention of Hank’s that will theoretically let him aim his lasers. He manages to do it after Charles and Hank stand off to the side, in a scene reminiscent of the Wanted film. Hank does more science on his and Raven‘s mutations and explains that she‘ll still look like a teenager when she‘s forty. She sits on his lap to look into his microscope. Hank also races Charles with his shoes off. Banshee jumps out of windows and then is shoved off of a giant satellite by Erik until he can shriek himself airborne. Mystique and Erik have A Moment while she’s lifting weights, and he points out that her efforts to keep looking like Jennifer Lawrence are keeping her from recognizing her full potential. He levitates her barbell and then drops it on her, and when she catches it, she’s blue. And stronger. The seed of acceptance has been planted.
Charles tells Erik to try and turn the satellite to face them. Erik hesitates, then goes for it.
The satellite doesn’t feel like looking at them, no matter how hard Erik tries. Charles says “You know, I believe that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity.” For me, that point is between the end of one taco and the beginning of the next, but for Erik, it’s a sweet memory of lighting candles with his mother that Charles manages to pull up from “the brightest corner” of Erik’s memory system, and thanks Erik for sharing such a beautiful memory with him. “I didn’t know I still had that,” Erik says. Charles tells him that there’s so much more to him than he knows, that there‘s good in him along with the pain and anger. They’re both crying. If one of them was a woman, this would be the moment where they started kissing passionately, but instead they’re manly bros and Charles tells him to get back out there and win it for the hometown, ass-slapping implied.
Erik totally makes that satellite his bitch, crying first with the effort and then showing all his teeth again in a giant smile. Charles is proud and pats him on the shoulder, but Moira calls them in to watch footage of JFK explaining the plot some more. The Bay of Pigs was about mutants, guys! Shaw and Angel are watching too, and they clink glasses over how Shaw is going to be unstoppable.
Hank brings Raven the serum he’s been working on, something that will make them look normal without ruining their powers. Raven, thinking about what Erik said, wonders if they really need to look normal, because they shouldn’t have to please anyone with their appearance, and in fact, humans should look up to them for being awesome. Hank says that his feet and her blue skin will never be considered beautiful. I disagree; she is my favorite shade of blue. This hurts her, and Hank leaves with one of the syringes of serum while she stares at the other one.
Charles and Erik have another romantic chess date in the study. Charles is like, ho dee hum, Shaw’s planning a war and that can’t be allowed to happen. Erik’s like “I’m going to kill him. That was the plan the whole time.” Charles apparently thought he was kidding this whole time, and changes the subject to say that everything will be fine when they reveal themselves to humans by saving them from Shaw. Erik knows better, knows that they’re “the next stage of human evolution” and are already way more awesome than regular stinky old humans. They debate, and Charles tells Erik that killing won’t bring him peace. Erik: “Peace was never an option.”
Hank injects serum into his foot. It looks normal for a second, but then shit gets real and he mutates even harder than he was before, destroying his lab in the process.
Erik walks into his room to find Raven in his bed. He says “Well. This is a surprise.” like he was totally unsurprised. Raven asks “Is it the nice kind?” Erik tells her maybe in a few years, and she morphs into Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. AWESOME CAMEO NO. 2. He says he prefers the real Raven, and she turns back into Jennifer Lawrence. He’s like no, the REAL Raven. She turns blue. “Perfection.” he says. She asks, uncomfortably, if he’ll pass her the robe. He tells her she doesn’t have to hide, and sits down on the bed, asks if she‘s ever thought a tiger should be covered up, and calls her an exquisite creature. THEN THEY MAKE OUT. It’s unclear if they do it, because the next scene is her, still naked and blue, surprising Charles as he digs around in the refrigerator in a nice little reversal. He gets awkward immediately, because her boobs are right there, and tells her to put some clothes on. She calls him on his treating her like a pet instead of a person, and also for his blind faith in how the world is going to treat them. He doesn’t say anything, and she storms off.
Hank has left a note for the others before they see his wrecked lab, asking them to meet him at the airbase and bring the box marked X, which is full of suits. The suits are less nerdy than you’d think, but they’re still a little nerdy.
Hank is revealed, and explains that the serum he made didn’t attack the cells, it enhanced them. Raven is supportive, telling him that this is who he was meant to be, and he seems to believe her. Erik says he looks rad, and Hank chokes him out until Charles makes him stop. Erik says he wasn’t mocking Beast, which Alex decides is his new name. Hank has built a plane, and can fly it.
Dudes on ships explain more plot to each other. The crew of the Aral Sea is all dead, thanks to Azazel, and the Russians try to tell the Americans that they’ve lost control of it and not to fire. The Americans don’t believe them, and prepare to fire. Charles mind-controls a Russian soldier to fire on the Aral Sea to avoid an international incident, and the Russian soldier is commended and then brought to the brig.
Our heroes can’t find Shaw, so they deduce that he’s underwater. Sean can use his voice like sonar, so they use him to locate the submarine, where Shaw is about to go quite literally nuclear.
Erik hangs onto the landing gear, struggling painfully to pull the submarine up. Charles reassures him telekinetically, telling him to remember the place between the last bite of one taco and the first bite of the next. He hauls that sucker out of the ocean, to swelling music and stares from the Russians and Americans, and it’s really awesome until Riptide comes out and ruins everything with a cyclone.
Erik drops the submarine onto the beach, holding onto the landing gear for dear life while Charles yells for him to take his hand. Hank’s plane starts to break apart in the cyclone. Erik finally grabs Charles and they fall back into the plane as it turns, Erik magnetizing himself and Charles to the ceiling. The plane comes to a stop when it crashes on the beach, and they float gently to the floor.
They make a plan: Charles will guide Erik through the submarine until they can stop Shaw, Beast and Havok will run interference on Angel, Riptide, and Azazel, and Mystique will stop anyone who comes through the entrance. Which is like “You can guard the car” in terms of awesome delegation, and she’s annoyed but agrees.
The fight begins in earnest, Azazel teleport-battling Beast and Havok as Erik smashes Riptide with a section of submarine and runs inside. Erik disables the reactor; Shaw was not finished eating. Havok ends up alone on the American battleship, surrounded by armed soldiers. Whoops? Angel shows up, spitting lava and acid, and breaks Havok’s power-focusing chestplate. WHOOPS AGAIN.
Banshee returns from the deep, screaming at Angel, and they have a fight in midair.
Erik finally manages to find Shaw, mostly because he’s like “HELLO ERIK.” Erik follows him into the telepath-proof nuclear refueling station, and Charles freaks out.
Banshee rescues Havok from the ship, but Angel burns one of his glider suit wings and they crash-land on the beach.
Shaw…apologizes for “what happened in the camps.” He creepy-uncles Erik a bit, throwing him into the mirrored walls–as he’s breaking them with his body, Charles can communicate with Erik again. Erik tries to pull down pipes and beams to separate himself from Shaw, but Shaw just pins Erik to the wall with one of the beams. Somebody didn’t think their plan through very well.
Beast fights Azazel, who almost blinds him with his tail before Mystique, in Shaw’s form, tricks him for long enough that Beast can slap him in the chest hard enough to knock him down.
Shaw is seriously going for gold in the creepy-uncle Olympics, sticking his face right up in Erik’s and holding onto the back of his head. I don’t know if anyone’s ever held onto the back of your head, but it’s up there with people touching your throat and face–not everybody should be allowed to get that close, and if someone who isn’t allowed to do it is all up on it, it’s bad and wrong. Erik is not enjoying himself. Shaw tells Erik that he never wanted to hurt him, and that he wants him at his side when the mutants rise up. He calls him “son.” I AM SO CREEPED OUT RIGHT NOW.
Erik, not looking at Shaw, concedes that everything Shaw did made him stronger. Shaw creeper-smiles at him, but Erik snatches the helmet away with some wiring, and Charles takes control of Shaw with a lot of effort. Erik puts Shaw’s helmet on so that Charles can’t talk him out of murder. He tells Shaw that he agrees with everything Shaw said, but “Unfortunately, you killed my mother.” Shaw can’t move, but I feel like if he could, he would have just peed all over the place.
Erik pulls out the Nazi quarter and floats it, telling Shaw that he’s going to count to three and move the coin. Charles can’t release Shaw at the risk of Shaw killing Erik, so he’s forced to feel the coin as it moves through Shaw’s brain and out the back of his head, killing Shaw. Erik’s all teary-eyed again.
The U.S. government is scared of the mutants, so they decide to nuke the shit out of the beach. Moira’s boss reminds them that there’s an agent on the beach, but they don’t care.
Erik floats Shaw’s body out and starts his speech about how the humans are about to blow them the fuck up. Charles confirms it, but still thinks humans are awesome and so tries to convince Erik not to throw their own nukes back at them, which I think there‘s a chapter in the Art of War about how if you fire your missiles at someone and they can turn them back around on you, you deserve whatever the hell you get. Moira tries to communiate with her superiors, but they still don’t care.
The Americans and the Soviets fire everything. Erik stops them in midair and spins them around, preparing to send them back. Charles tries to talk him out of it again. “Erik, you said yourself that we’re the better men. This is your chance to prove it. There are thousands of men on those ships, good, honest, innocent men who are just following orders!”
Erik: “I’ve been at the mercy of men just following orders. Never again.”
Charles attacks him to break his concentration, and the missiles are all WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO and start falling and randomly exploding all over the place. Erik and Charles go at it hard, Charles trying to get the helmet off while Erik is distracted. He doesn’t manage it, and Erik busts him in the face before getting up to guide the missles back from whence they came.
Moira starts firing on him, though, and he deflects the bullets. He deflects one of them straight into Charles’s spine, and is absolutely horrified as he forgets about the missiles and runs to pull the bullet out (protip: if you or someone around you ever gets shot, don‘t do that unless you are a doctor in a hospital. What kind of hospital are you in that people get shot, though? Another protip is that you should probably move if that‘s the case). Erik pulls a Pietà with Charles, cradling his head and shoulders as he accepts responsibility for his actions. Wait, no, he blames an equally horrified Moira and starts strangling her with her dog tags. Charles tells Erik that it wasn’t Moira’s fault, it was Erik’s. This makes Erik stop and realize that Charles is right, and he takes full responsibility for his actions.
Hang on–nope, he just tells Charles that everybody wanted them to turn against each other. But he still wants Charles to be with him, because they‘re
married with children brothers. “All of us, together, protecting each other. We want the same thing.”
Charles: “My friend, I’m sorry. But we do not.”
Erik decides he’s going to peace, then, if Charles is going to be like that, and he’ll take any of the kids who want to come with. Mystique does, and…I could kind of understand why Angel went with Shaw, but Mystique, who has been Charles’s best friend for most of his life, doesn’t make much sense. I mean, at least stay to make sure he’s not going to die. Our antagonists (I still firmly believe they’re not bad guys) poof away, leaving the remaining mutants and a despondent Moira to slowly realize Charles is now a paraplegic because he says “I can’t feel my legs” ten times in a row. Whoops.
JFK explains some more stuff. It was super nice of him to do this cameo! Charles, in a wheelchair, walks with Moira, and talk about the future (baldness, X-Men), and Charles explains that Moira can’t say anything about them. Moira knows; Charles kisses her, then STEALS AWAY HER MEMORIES. Except for the kiss. Which she tells a panel of men about, and they all get grossed out because girls have cooties and the CIA is no place for a woman.
They’re interrupted by a crash, which is Magneto and crew breaking Emma Frost out of prison.
“Where’s your telepath friend?”
“Gone. Left a bit of a gap in my life, if I‘m to be honest. I was rather hoping you could fill it.”
“Erik, I believe?”
Erik, unsmiling: “I prefer…Magneto.”
SO DO ALL RIGHT-THINKING PEOPLE, BRO.