X-Men: First Class (2011)

Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Ray Wise, Zoë Kravitz, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Jason Flemyng, Álex González

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Expectations: Super low. These X-Men movies just don’t sit right with me, and the trailer for this looked awful.

Maybe I’m getting too old for this shit. Maybe X-Men was always this juvenile. Maybe I just don’t care about the equality struggle of the mutants anymore. These are thoughts I’ve had over the last few years while soldiering through the mediocre series of X-Men films. After hearing nothing but outstanding stuff about this new & retro take on the X-Men, I hopefully decided to give it a shot in spite of the initial feelings and reservations the trailer brought to my mind’s surface. I kept my expectations as low as humanly possible, but as the X-Men have always held a special place in my heart, I’ll admit I was excited to finally see this one.

The film opens with what looks to be the same footage that opens the first X-Men film, but it’s been several years since I last saw that one, so maybe they re-shot it. In any case, it’s the same scene: a teenage Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) residing in a German concentration camp, exhibiting his magnetic abilities by bending a metal gate when the guards pull him away from his mother. Next we are introduced to a grade-school aged Professor Xavier, walking downstairs to thwart a would-be burglar with a baseball bat. Turns out it’s Mystique. For whatever reason, Hollywood has a hard-on for putting Mystique in every X-Men movie… oh right, it’s the blue skin-tight bodysuit on the beautiful girl, that’s why. Anyway, the rest of the film follows these mutants and the path they take to achieve their place in society as the mutants they are. Sound familiar?

Yep, if you’ve seen any of the previous X-Men films this one tells the same overall story, but this time it’s set in the 1960s with the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If the seminal event of the Cold War was really this tensionless, I have to wonder what all the fuss was about. The film fails to capture the feel of the era it tries to depict and it’s so all over the place that I’m shocked anyone thought this was any good. It honestly feels like the Austin Powers series was their 60s research. As such, the film ends up playing more as a comedy than anything remotely serious, bathed in a high-gloss CG cheese that requires a ridiculous suspension of belief I apparently no longer possess. I suppose it was nice of them to try rebooting the franchise by going the prequel route, but honestly if you’re gonna reboot it, fucking reboot it. Don’t give the reboot the same visual style and the same tired storytelling, which I guess signals that this isn’t a reboot at all. This is nearly as misguided as X3 was, and to call that one a piece of shit is being kind.

There’s gotta be something good I can say. Hmm… Well, the acting ain’t bad. I do like the cast, with the exception of the seemingly always bored and wooden, I mean diamond, January Jones as Emma Frost. Everyone else is pretty good with Michael Fassbender the definite high point of the film. The early scene where he confronts three ex-Nazis in an Argentinian bar is the only scene in the film I wholeheartedly enjoyed, and I say that with absolute certainty and without hyperbole. The scene has shades of his underground bar scene from Inglourious Basterds, which is a dubious reason to enjoy a scene, but it does play really well. Jennifer Lawrence is also equally good as Mystique, as much as I don’t care for her character overall. Most of the other mutants are merely sidelined, one-dimensional characters that are needed in the finale based upon one ability, instead of making up the grand, first class of the X-Men as promised. Perhaps if they scaled back the number of mutants in the film to the six that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started with (not necessarily the same mutants, but the same number of major characters) the film would be a lot stronger and focused.

Please correct me if I’m wrong as I haven’t read an X-Men book in at least ten years, but I remember the stories of the X-Men always being cerebral, thought-provoking and very science oriented. They were the perfect opposite end of the Marvel spectrum to something like Thor, with its broad strokes of Norse mythology and cosmic shenanigans. The X-Men should never be all about flashy displays of power, but– well shit. Y’know, I think I’ve nailed down what it is. Like Sin City, I think X-Men hit its zenith within the comic book art form. It is a product of the format, and one that just doesn’t translate well to other mediums. As such, these films are not for me. I’ve seen the best version of X-Men possible, it was a series of panels and two-page spreads that fired my synapses and sparked my imagination in a million different directions. No movie will ever come close to that experience, or at least no movie by the creative team at Marvel overseeing the current gen of X-Men films.

17 comments to X-Men: First Class (2011)

  • Mike_D

    Thank god you came to a more sensible conclusion than what your opening statement was leading to. It truly is not you; its them. Clearly. And you’re absolutely right. As much of a cliche as it is to say one thing does not translate well to other mediums, I’ve always believed X-Men does not. X-Men is not only based in it’s medium’s strengths, but also its misgivings. The primary one being it’s serial long running nature and the inconsistencies that come from it. While inconsistency may seem like a fault, I believe X-Men has been defined by how it has survived these narrative inconsistencies. And it has never been with grace. They always come out with scars. Year after year, decade after decade, the only thing X-Men has to show for it’s resilience is it’s scars.

    Also, I have no problem with these X-Men movies making absolutely no sense. If Hollywood has taught us anything this last decade it is that audiences are capable of forgiveness. Remember, for as big of a hit as the X-Books are, this is the first Motion Picture Feature outing for our mutants. Its cool if we got it wrong. I mean we got the director of Usual Suspects to kick it off?! He had the wisdom to kick off the finale by putting our heroes in an SR71, fly to the Statue of Liberty to confront the heavy, use superpowers to cloak their entrance and… break in and prowl around the gift shop? Yeah, I waited my whole life to watch Cyclops check behind the broom closet for Magneto. It’s easier to just dismiss these movies than be disappointed by them.

  • Mike_D

    Oh, and why the fuck did they kill everybody!?!
    (that’s the other thing about X-men, there’s next to no symbolism in the book. there’s no reason the team leader’s powers is to shoot lasers from his eyes. it’s random, like adolescents and life. its just a bunch of individuals as they are, so corny kill-offs shouldn’t work)

    • Thanks for backing me up. I sometimes feel like the disgruntled old man yelling about how some stories just don’t translate well, and it is a cliche, but fuck if it isn’t 100% true with this. This latest series entry really drove that fact home. With this one it’s weird too because they’re trying to make one consistent X-Men world/story between it and all the previous movies, but yet it adds absolutely nothing. All this ground has already been covered… Imagine what a good quality team could have done with a four movie story arc? Nevermind the fact that it doesn’t really translate.

      HAHAHAHA, looking for Magneto in the broom closet. Perfect take down of that first X-Men movie, man. What a joke. The final nail has been driven into my hope for future X-films because they clearly have no idea how to handle them-.

      • Mike_D

        X-Books are naturally hard to translate. So it is almost in their defense that the movies are dumb, but it is possible, of course, to adapt the material well. It just requires a more sophisticated appreciation of the material.

        The greatest hurdle to get over is the fact that X-Books read closer to dramas than melodramas. The fiction is geared more towards adult. This one Wizard Magazine editor put it best: (super paraphrasing) “The X-Men were the weird superheroes that didn’t mix with the other Marvel superheroes [they were so off beat]. I remember picking up my first X-Men issue in 80-something to see what the hype was about. On the cover was a guy shooting lasers from his eyes and battling some tentacled creature, but what was inside was some boring story about some guy with a broken vehicle and looking for his lost wife.”

        That sounds like the premise of an Antonioni film. I guess a cool X-Men movie can be made, but Antonioni would have to make it.

        • Wow man, that paraphrased editor nailed it. Holy shit, I would love to see that movie. Not necessarily because it would automatically be something amazing, but I imagine it would feature the character depth I’m missing so much that just isn’t possible when there are fifteen mutants and they’re all doing their tricks on-screen almost constantly.

  • Much like the Superman films overused Lex Luthor, I think it’s time to move the X-Men away from Magneto for a while: I know, I know, Magneto is the classic anti-X-Men villain, but surely there’s other threats the X-Men have fought along the way?

    Great review Will, although I admit, I was a lot more forgiving with my thoughts on this one. I enjoyed it a lot, especially Kevin Bacon’s central villain character (until his truly awful death scene, which was horribly written and executed!), although I agree, what the **** was January Jones doing in this film trying to act – she’s terrible!

    • I totally agree. Magneto is awesome, but at four main films in, another villain makes sense. The problem is also that there are always like five villains in each film and none of them besides Magneto get any depth. And Magneto’s depth isn’t even explored all that much.

      For instance, the two male henchmen in this one, for the whole movie I thought they were one guy because they never talked and they looked exactly the same except one was red. I thought he was just a manifestation of the other normal guy. When they do show up they are nothing more than a mutant power, which is ironic in a movie that is supposedly about these mutants being able to be seen for their true selves and not as freaks with powers.

  • Thank you. Finally someone who sees this for the relatively average movie that it is. Everyone seemed to be raving about it but I thought it was quite bland and unremarkable outside of Fassbender’s work as Erik/Magneto. And I never thought they could use the line “My legs. My legs. I can’t feel them” with a straight face. I just about exploded with laughter at the end of the movie.

  • Dan

    Well, I haven’t even bothered with it and by the looks of things that’s a good thing. Despite everyone telling me the X-men films are the best of the superhero movies I have been constantly unimpressed by them. I’d much prefer to watch Batman Begins but then that is streets ahead anyway. In fact, I’d put Hellboy and the Fantastic Four ahead of the X-Men films. Only the even worse Spider-man films rank lower in my opinion.

    • No way are the X-Men films the best of the genre. They are poor representations of the comics and characters and very straight-laced, average movies. The Nolan Batman films are infinitely superior. But wait, are you saying all the Spider-Man films are worse? The first two are fun.

  • Mike_D

    I will say that I absolutely love that other people dig the movies. Whether the movies are good or bad, for someone to be touched by whatever charm that made it from the source material delights me to no end. The more X-Men love, the better. Even in light of casting a fucking six foot plus fucking Logan (which may have it’s own hollywood logic, and clearly did work out for Hugh Jackman, which I’m happy for… but it does seem like some satire right out of a Simpsons episode).

    • Yeah I can understand the sentiment. I feel the same way about Adjustment Bureau and all the mediocre Phil Dick adaptations. At some level it is a part of a thing you love, getting loved on a grand scale. I just would like once in a while for them to adapt something well.

  • The two leads definitely kept this from being worse than it could have been.

    • Indeed, although I thought McAvoy was a bit annoying. He’s good, but in this he seemed too cocky for my taste. I realize that they were painting Xavier in this light on purpose, but I didn’t care for it, or his manifestation of it. That being said, he did good.

  • Monica

    I watched it twice and loved it. The trick, you see, is to only take it for its appearances. Yes, originally, X-Men was thought-provoking and made sense but the movie forms are purely for visual entertainment. The second time I watched it was at home in HD through my employee subscription to DISH; it just wouldn’t have been as good in SD since the film wasn’t based on plot. These movies are just for the special effects and explosions, the aesthetics, that’s why Mystique is in every one.

    • Yeah, you’re right. It’s all about the visuals and the explosions. I can understand that, but personally I would like more out of a film called X-Men. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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