Here’s what I liked about X-Men: First Class: Michael Fassbender’s charismatic performance, and a plethora of attractive actresses (Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, and January Jones, even if Jones can’t act). Here’s what I didn’t like about the movie: almost everything else.
I can usually tell when a movie isn’t working for me by how often I check my watch, and I was checking it almost every ten minutes. This film was a dull slog, and is actually worse than Brett Ratner’s third installment, which makes it the worst of the lot. It’s bad for different reasons, though–it’s just plain boring.
I haven’t been overwhelmed by any of the X-Men films, and to take away the one breakaway star of those films (as he was in the comics) Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, is a fatal misstep (he appears in a very short, amusing cameo). First Class is full of so much exposition, so much “who are you and what is your power” that the director and screenwriters almost forgot to include any action scenes.
This is a prequel, an explanation of how Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr (James McAvoy and Fassbender) became acquainted as allies, and then became enemies under the names Professor X and Magneto. Some other familiar X-Men are on hand, such as Beast, Mystique, Emma Frost and several others who, while doing some Wikipedia work, I see all exist in the Marvel Universe. But like X3, there are so many of these dang mutants, some of them with vague powers, that it all becomes a blur.
The action is set in 1962, and the villain is Sebastian Shaw, a powerful mutant played by Kevin Bacon, chewing the scenery as if he were the baddie in a bad James Bond film. He is able to manipulate the Americans and Russians into the Cuban missile crisis, in the hopes that normal people wipe each other out and leave the Earth to mutants. It seems like a badly-thought out plan, and I couldn’t help but wonder where he was getting his money to build his own custom submarine.
Fassbender and McAvoy team up to stop him, and the climax at the blockade line around Cuba has some nice suspense, as does the final showdown between Fassbender and Bacon. But it’s a long wait to get there, with a lot of empty “be who you are” stuff. I’ve always maintained that the writers of the X-Men comic books were substituting mutants for homosexuals, and that was reinforced by hearing Hank McCoy (who becomes the Beast), say about his mutantism, “You didn’t ask, I didn’t tell.”
Some of the special effects work, but some of them are unbelievably cheesy. The Beast’s makeup is atrocious, and he looks like someone in a bad blue werewolf Halloween costume.
Fassbender is terrific, though, and I continue to be impressed by his presence. He would make a great James Bond. I did wonder, though, why a man from Eastern Europe has an Irish accent.
My grade for X-Men: First Class: D+