An In-Depth Review at X-Men: First Class (Spoiler-Free… I think)
(for a quick look of this movie, check out my Review)
The X-Men franchise means a lot to me. I’m an avid fan: I’ve read as many of the comic as possible; I’ve seen all of the cartoons (even “Pryde of the X-Men); I’ve seen all of the films (even the made-for-TV movie “Generation X); hell, I’ve even read some of the books. So when I tell you that I was trying my hardest not to be a snobby fanboy when going to see “X-Men: First Class”, please bear with me and understand when I say that I don’t think much of the movie. It’s not because of the horribly messed up continuity, or that my favorite characters weren’t present in the movie. It’s just that this film isn’t uncanny, astonishing, or new: it’s just a typical, predictable mish mash of action and plot that follows the same potholes as its predecessors.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good movie. It’s a summer action flick which has a fun story to follow. And, I’ll admit, it’s a step above the most recent X-Men movies. I was actually more than excited for the script when I heard it took place in the sixties, with the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis behind it. I even hoped for a little Civil Rights Movement thrown in, maybe more. While it doesn’t get too far into all of the politics of the time, it does keep its promise to make this movie about Xavier and Magneto.
What the Movie Gets Right:
Xavier and Magneto are hands down the best thing about this movie. I was a little shocked when I heard James McAvoy cast as Professor X. I didn’t even know who Michael Fassbender was until I saw him in this flick. But whatever preconceptions I had were washed away very early in the film.
I love Magneto. He’s is one of my favorite villians, if not THE favorite, because he always straddles the line of “Good and Evil”. When written well, writers have cast him as a villain with a horrid past, trying to do for the mutant race what he couldn’t for his Jewish heritage: save it from pain. He saw what humanity was capable of, and he more than anything wanted to make mutantkind to live above that world. If it was up to Magneto, all mutants would be with him, even the X-Men. It’s why his team has always been called a “brotherhood”.
This film takes that and gives passion to a character in a way Ian McKellan was unable to do in the previous trilogy. Perhaps it’s because some of the scrapped “Magneto” film was combined into this script: but whatever the reason it’s done well. Magneto’s terrible childhood gives credence to his mission to rise above his enemies and stop them before they do terrible things.
Xavier has never been all that approachable as a character. For many years he was seen as a fatherly, wise sage-like character, dispensing love, knowledge and advice to otherwise troubled, unstable youths (although in early comics he was a bit of a militant a-hole… you’d be surprised). In recent years there’s been attempts to humanize him, even demonize him: he’s manipulated others in ways he’s swore he’d never do over the years, all for the sake of the greater good. For people’s own good (like wiping Cyclops’ memory of his youngest brother dying so that Cyclops could continue to lead the X-Men: sure, Scott has done great things, but Jesus that’s messed up).
This movie takes a different spin, sort of, having a “groovy” Xavier who uses his intellect (and his telepathy) to impress young women into having a good time, when he’s not lecturing on genetics. It isn’t until Xavier meets Moira MacTaggert that his part of the plot takes off.
Mystique, as played by Jennifer Lawrence, was captivating in that it’s a different take on Mystique than what’s been done before. She’s an innocent, impressionable girl, who, as a shapeshifter, is trying to be what she think everyone else wants her to be, struggling to be comfortable with an identity of who she is. Her character perfectly connects to the Mystique of the previous Trilogy, a Mystique proud of being a mutant. Had they changed the ridiculous make up effects of the previous movies she’d have been perfect, but as it stands the look is still the worst thing about the movie visually besides Beast’s feral appearance.
Beast, as played by Nicholas Hoult, was good. He was a shy smart guy, completely unaware of what potential he has to change the world due to his social awkwardness. He was the quintessential teenage nerd: a mind that could move mountains, but pimples and glasses that make him as effective as a fly on the wall. Hoult’s performance was one that, in retrospect, I wish the film would have expanded upon, as it is the heart of the X-Men franchise: coming to terms with who you are.
What the Movie Gets Wrong:
Ok, that’s harsh. The movie is, as I said, a fun ride. The political backstory is actually a clever use of historical fiction to tie the X-Men to, where their participance decides the fate of a new world war. It’s just that getting from Point A to B of this movie was a bit of a cookie cutter experience.
The X-Men team are completely unnecessary in this movie. While personally I’d’ve preferred to see the actual first class of X-Men (Cyclops (Scott Summers, Iceman (Bobby Drake), Beast (Hank McCoy), Angel (Warren Worthington III) and Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), or even the proto X-Men team revealde in the Deadly Genesis storyline (of which Darwin debuted in). But what you get in this movie is a motley crue of characters from all eras of X-Men continuity, like Angel Salvatore, a semi-recent character who is shouldn’t be around for decades, and Banshee, who should be as old as Xavier and Moira.
But even putting that aside, the characters are treated 2-dimensionally. Besides an expected montage of their training with their powers, the characters fill their roles in the movie and then are fairly generic afterwards.
You have your jock, arrogant type in Alex (or Havoc, and why is he in this movie before his older brother Cyclops?) who’s only purpose is to help push Beast into wanting to change his appearance. They all but ditch the subplot of his wanting to be locked up because of his inability to control his powers.
You have a rather forgettable class clown in Banshee, who’s use in the movie was only really helpful in locating something via sonar later in the movie.
Beast, as much as I loved him, was used so little that he became the nerdy pushover.
Darwin and Angel Salvatore, the remaining characters, are used so little that it doesn’t matter if I write about them, because once you see the movie you’ll see their purpose after a few scenes.
And even the villains are cut out of the same typical action movie mold. Kevin Bacon makes for a fun movie villain because he carries this swag that propels the movie along, especially since the rest of his team (this so-called Hellfire Club) have no energy to spare. Jones’ Emma Frost is a rail-thin and flat-toned character who as Emma Frost should have been witty and vicious. Azazel, Nightcrawler’s pop, is a stiff henchman who’s only benefit in the movie is giving us cool (albeit short) teleportation fight scenes. Riptide is a handsome, dashing look guy, but for the life of me I can’t remember if he ever speaks. He’s just a henchman with a party trick.
The movie also suffers from trying to connect the continuity of the other films too quickly. By the end of the film, they establish the Status Quo rather swiftly instead of drawing out what could be a thrilling, alluring ride through Xavier and Magneto’s early years, from budding friendship to darker descents.
I cannot stress enough that overall the movie is fairly great. But the use of characters, the pacing, even the technical aspects of the flick (that the cheap fight sequence around the end between some of the flying characters) lacks due to the same problems of the previous movies: trying to fit in too much to appeal to too many characters and ideas.
I’m sure on paper the producers thought that having all of these characters would draw major fans, but all it did for me was prove that Fox, Singer, and Vaughn weren’t ready to make a sophisticated X-Men movie. It was a step in the right direction, a big step, but it will take a little more walking before this franchise gets its proper treatment.