I’m one of those pedants who’ll argue that though The Dark Knight is a better film based on a technical and objective perspective, X Men: First Class is an infinitely better comic-book movie. There’s nothing wrong with that. Released in 2011, almost a whole year before The Avengers, it showed that ensemble superhero pieces could work, period superhero pieces could work and that sometimes, Polish concentration camp survivors could have Irish accents and no one would question it. It’s a great way to spend two hours and it wasn’t hard re-watching it a couple of times to supplement this article.
And then there’s X Men Origins: Wolverine, which isn’t a great way to spend two hours and it was certainly hard re-watching it. So many good ideas and characters gone to waste– Deadpool’s first film appearance will always and forever be this movie. Let that sink in for a minute. Like Doctor Who’s journeys through time, the potential of Wolverine is immeasurable and being hopefully better used in the upcoming reboot, The Wolverine. He could have gone anywhere in the world and seen anything in this film. The mysteries surrounding the X-franchise’s ‘favourite’ character could built upon and explored. He’s an immortal Canadian born in the 1840s, played by an all-singing all-dancing Australian. What could go wrong with a film focusing on that? As we found out, everything.
X-Men: First Class and X-Men Origins: Wolverine both came from the same studio and the same source material. They shared actors and a sequel trilogy. How did it come to pass that First Class is still a solid film today with an upcoming sequel, whilst Wolverine has been pushed to the back of the shelf and already rebooted? In a world of prequels, sequels, interquels and reboots, is there anything truly original left to say? What can we learn from the best and worst of the X-Men Franchise?
How To Make A Prequel…
4. In A Period Setting, Use The Period It’s Set… In
I am a massive fan of the designs and events of the 1960s so when I heard about First Class, I was nearly catatonic with happiness. The film is by no means accurate – set in 1962, Moira and Raven wear miniskirts that weren’t truly invented until 1964 and only popularized in 1965, for example – but by setting it in 1962 they make use of one of the defining moments of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, which took place over about two weeks of October, albeit with months of build-up. This is interwoven throughout the film – Shaw is seen setting up both the international environment that caused Russia to want to place the missiles in Cuba as well as exacerbating the crisis itself, by having his mutant henchman kill the crew of the missile boat so it won’t turn back under orders.
First Class also echoes the social changes present at the time, mostly the civil rights movement and women’s liberation. As it always has been with the franchise, the existence of mutants can be see an as allegory for the civil rights movement and race relations, though officially the comic and films have applicability and so draw parallels with other marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ community.
The film also uses the institutionalized sexism of the 1960s as a plot point – continually Moira is discredited and ignored due to her gender and this does nothing but help Shaw’s plans. After Xavier manipulates her mind into forgetting about the X-Men (which she names), she is eventually sent “back to the typing pool,” and told the CIA is “no place for a woman.”
On a lighter note, the film also echoes the feel of films of the 1960s; James Bond and pulpy sci-fi. Fassbender declared that his role was a movie-length James Bond audition, January Jones as Emma Frost dresses like every 1960s pinup at once. The brilliant closing credits in the film are directly influenced by Doctor No. Overall, First Class is a film set in the 1960s, about the 1960s, that could have been made in the 1960s. First Class doesn’t just ‘happen’ to be set in the past, which is the mistake of a lot of prequels. It uses as many aspects of a carefully chosen era as it can to make a coherent and entertaining film.
We are currently seeking Film contributors on WhatCulture. To find out more about the perks of being a Film contributor, click here.