Okay, I just had to re-watch Brian Singer’s original X-Men (2000) after seeing X-Men: First Class. I wanted to see how these two movies played off each other. Call XM:FC what you want–origin story, prequel–it still has to be a good movie. And I think Singer’s original X-Men is a much better movie than X-Men: First Class. Here’s why.
1. XM: So much more character development of several characters–Rogue, Wolverine, Magneto, Xavier, Jean Grey. This movie takes time with its characters and keeps focus on Wolverine as the “schill” or the “new guy” who gets to experience all the Xavier School like we do, for the first time. He operates “as us” so other characters tell him things we need to know. Their world is well-developed already and intricate and we get the idea that it’s solid and has been this way for awhile, and has stuff that we haven’t seen yet.
XM:FC barely develops Eric as a tragic, one-note, revenge-minded character, and Charles as a privileged fop whose compassion comes because of his blindness to others hardships (though occasionally, his mind-link helps him “understand” your pain). FC Xavier comes by his compassion too easily; original Xavier seems much kinder, empathetic, a person I’d admire.
None of the minor characters in XM:FC are even developed. They barely get screen time except to fight. Sure XM has its share of background/throwaway characters who simply run through a door, or make an ice rose, but we don’t need to know who they are. They aren’t pivotal to the plot. XM:FC characters are, and it’s a shame they are never really developed.
2. The plot. XM:FC is really James Bond with multiple agents (and their powers). Shaw wants to destroy the world so he can take over. Geesh. So what. Magneto, at least, had a lot of points in the X-Men series, and especially in the first movie. He doesn’t want mutants to become the new concentration camp residents–the hated, registered, and captive “race” ruled over by “better” people. Good point. And his solution is a smart one. Make everyone “different” (or the same) and no one will feel they have the moral right to be over anyone else. And he’s willing to make everyone “advanced”. I really don’t think there’s an evil will in Magneto–just an anger. He doesn’t really care about anyone anymore.
Fassbender, who plays Magneto in XM:FC doesn’t show any of the complexity that Ian McKellan shows as Magneto in XM.
XM:FC starts off by playing Pauper against Prince, but moves as fast as it can into the James Bond plot.
3. XM is loaded with funny lines and humor-filled situations. When Wolverine suddenly appears after a battle with a mutant that can disguise herself as anyone, Cyclops asks him “How do I know you’re the real Wolverine.” Wolverine says, “You’re a dick.” And Cyclops says, “That’ll do.” There’s a lot of funny, good moments in XM.
There is no humor in XM:FC. It’s just not there.
4. XM:FC has better special effects. I liked them more. But lets take two pivotal scenes in both movies where Magneto turns weapons back on human beings. In XM, it is the cops whose weapons are taken and pointed at them. In XM:FC the weapons are missiles that the Navies of two countries have fired on the X-Men. There is more menace behind the power of Magneto, and more threat in the bullets of cop guns than there is in the scene on the beach with missiles and huge Navy ships. XM crackles with tension over whether Magneto will kill innocent people and how easily he could destroy everything; XM:FC overblows the scene so that you know the missiles can’t be used to hurt the X-Men or the ships because that’s too much collateral damage for this movie. In XM you are left with a sense of barely controlled rage, two men in a chess match with real people; in XM:FC, it’s just a nice picture, him stopping all those missiles at once. But the tension is gone.
So the effects are better–but the effect isn’t.
5. There is a plot arc in XM that is missing in XM:FC. XM starts with Magneto who has been stripped of those who loved him and Rogue who is forced to pull herself away from everyone who could love her. They are similar characters. The plot is about Magneto wanting to use Rogue to make everyone a mutant. In the movie, Rogue gets a protector, Wolverine, who tries to help her throughout the movie, and hurts her, and at one point sacrifices his life to save her. Magneto is determined to fulfil his plan and his arc is clear in retrospect. He even uses Ellis Island which supposedly made immigrants into citizens—making them just like everyone else. There’s an immigrant motif going on here (as well as a gay motif that is developed in the whole series) that is interesting and having the last scene include the Statue of Liberty, sign of hope for all immigrants coming into that harbor, and Ellis Island where they were often run through registration and stripped of identity, has metaphorical resonance. Magneto has setbacks, and of course, Charles is trying to figure out his moves before he can get them all finished. It’s a well-designed chess match that makes a good movie.
XM:FC has no plot at the beginning except to show the difference between how Charles and Eric were “raised”—and most of that is cut. THAT would have been wonderful, as I said in my other review of XM:FC. A Charles/Eric plot line that eventually brought them together. Skip the mutant collection/school….. save that for movie 2. It would have been great to just have Charles/Eric/Raven. Instead, they rush through the rival origins, grab a gaggle of mutants they never give plots or arcs too, and then set them to fight the only man with an arc, and his arc is so cliche (to take over the world through nuclear war) that it’s boring.
XM:FC has a boring plot. It assembles a collections of cyphers with powers to stop a man we never understand.
Overall, X-Men (2000) is a better designed and written movie, in my opinion, than X-Men: First Class (2011). I think both movies had excellent actors, though I don’t know how MacAvoy and Fassbender as Xavier and Magneto could compare to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan who are allowed so much good dialogue to act their way around. I think the writing of the movie was subsumed by the crafting of the special effects in the same way that the powers of the characters outshone the characters themselves.