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.