Should X-Men: First Class have made a clean break from the previous X-Men films? Probably so, according to how convoluted the continuity is now. Maybe this is in keeping with the spirit of the X-Men books, without a doubt Marvel’s most confusing comics from a timeline perspective, but one gets the impression that no one on the First Class crew actually took the time to watch the previous four X-Men films.
Check out these differences between First Class, the earlier X-Men movies, and the comics on which they are based.
(Mouseover for some fun)
Professor Charles Xavier
From X-Men: “When I was 17, I met a young man named Erik Lehnsherr...”
Does it look like James McAvoy is playing a seventeen year old in X-Men: First Class? Not one bit. In keeping with the comics, the men did meet each other as young adults, but the specifics of their initial meeting are different -- in the comics, they meet at a psychiatric hospital catering to Holocaust survivors; in First Class, they meet during an attempt to subdue the evil mutant Sebastian Shaw.
From X-Men: “Cyclops, Storm, and Jean were some of my first students.”
Even if “first students” isn’t quite the same as “first class,” this is still contradicted by later films. In First Class, the school is established in 1962. If X-Men: The Last Stand takes place in the “near future” of 2006, then the “twenty years ago” title card that introduces the moment in which Magneto and Professor X meet Jean Grey for the first time would be set sometime around 1986. That’s a twenty-four year difference from the moment the school opened, till Jean Grey became a pupil. Unless enrollment was way down, there’s no way Jean could be considered one of Professor X’s first students.
Cyclops (aka Scott Summers) shows up in the movies for the “first” time in the mid-1970s world of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, when Prof. X rescues him from William Stryker, along with a dozen other young mutants. Due to the time frame, this would also discount Professor X’s claim that Cyclops is one of his first students.
On a bit of a side note, these contradictions also mess up the age difference between Jean Grey and Cyclops. Cyclops is clearly a teenager in Wolverine and Jean looks to be around ten years old in The Last Stand. This would put Cyclops considerably older than Jean, when it’s obvious in the first three films that Jean is clearly older than Scott.
The line from X-Men about first students is an obvious nod to the comics (save for Storm), because the original first class was made up of Cyclops, Angel (aka Warren Worthington, not Angel Salvadore, as seen in First Class), Iceman, Beast, and Jean Grey.
Xavier (explaining why he can’t find Magneto with Cerebro): “He’s found some way to shield himself from it.”
Wolverine: “How would he know how to do that?”
Xavier: “Because he helped me build it.”
Way to take credit for Hank McCoy’s invention, Professor! This bit of dialogue is in keeping with the comics, more or less. Xavier created Cerebro, with some later help from McCoy, but Magneto didn’t really have anything to do with it. In First Class, it’s established that Hank McCoy created Cerebro, but it’s possible that Prof. X and Magneto may have built the massive, updated version that we see in the first X-Men film.
That aside, it’s Magneto’s helmet that keeps Xavier from finding him, and according to First Class, Xavier should know this since it’s actually a major plot point in the film.
Xavier walks in The Last Stand and Wolverine.
Whoops. In The Last Stand, Xavier walks to Jean Grey’s house from his car (in a scene that takes place in the mid-1980s). Backing up a little bit to the 70s, Xavier is seen walking out of an helicopter in Wolverine. It’s clearly established in First Class that Xavier is paralyzed in 1962. I’m not sure how the filmmakers missed this major continuity boner.
In the comics, Xavier is paralyzed before he starts the school, by having a large stone dropped on him by the alien Lucifer.
In X-Men, Mystique knows where Xavier’s school is and knows how to sabotage Cerebro.
This works out pretty well, since First Class establishes that she knows how to break in to Xavier’s home undetected. She’s also familiar with Cerebro, so this little bit of retro-continuity helps X-Men make a little more sense. Without First Class, this was one of X-Men’s biggest plot holes.
In The Last Stand, Beast knows Mystique very well.
Again, this is a happy accident. First Class establishes a strong relationship between the two characters, so when Hank McCoy reviews the security footage of Mystique in The Last Stand, it makes sense that he would be intimately aware of her abilities.
From X-Men: The Last Stand: “My family tried to kill me, you pathetic meat sack.”
There’s nothing in that line that contradicts the events of First Class, but it adds an interesting layer of subtext to her orphaned character, and why she immediately took to Xavier as if he were her brother. While there’s no connection like this at all between Xavier and Mystique in the comics, it works well for the films.
Hank McCoy is first seen, sans blue fur, in X2: X-Men United.
The characterization is correct -- Hank appears as a pundit for mutant rights on a news program, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. He gets his blue fur in First Class (in a way that’s shockingly close to the comics -- the blue fur is the result of an experiment gone awry, not his personal mutation), but he’s 100% fur-less in this X2 scene, which takes place decades after First Class.
I guess he gets his hair again before The Last Stand, because he’s blue and furry by the time Kelsey Grammer played the role (though the make-up design is completely different, right down to the eye color).
Banshee is taken in by Xavier at the end of Wolverine.
Banshee is one of the kids that Xavier whisks away to safety at the end of Wolverine. This majorly contradicts First Class, which finds Banshee as one of Xavier’s first students. In addition, he appears to be the same age in both films, despite more than a decade passing between their events. In the comics, Banshee was a former Interpol agent, making him an adult when he finally joined the X-Men. He was never a student at Xavier’s school.
Banshee’s daughter Siryn is in X2.
This is just a nifty Easter egg from the comics that doesn’t impact the films’ continuity much.
In Wolverine, Emma Frost is a teenager and is taken away to safety by Prof. X at the end of the film.
First Class gets Emma Frost more or less correct. She’s portrayed as one of Sebastian Shaw’s key members of the Hellfire Club, and a powerful psychic in her own right, just like her comic book roots. The diamond skin ability, as seen in First Class and Wolverine, is a power that was added to the character only recently in the comics. Her appearance in Wolverine doesn’t jibe at all with her appearance in First Class, with the character aging backwards and having no apparent ties to Xavier, despite their confrontations in First Class.
It’s pretty obvious that the X-Men film continuity is beyond repair at this point. First Class is entertaining enough on its own, to the point that timeline nitpicks are just that -- nitpicks. Still, they probably should’ve cleared the slate with this prequel, and allowed Xavier’s first class to mimic the first class of the comics, re-introducing our favorite X-Men instead of third tier characters like Darwin and Angel Salvadore. Maybe the next X-Men film will be a clean re-start, but if not, I’ll still be there to see the further adventures of Professor X and his mutant super-team, no matter how much further they complicate the timeline of the series.