Review–X-Men: First Class

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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+

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

18 responses »

  1. I definitely think 1 and 2 were better, but I’m the fence about 3 at this point, though 3 definitely had a better showdown at the end. First Class is most certainly not one of the best superhero movies – as some have said. I think one thing that hurt the movie is that the story really didn’t seem like one that needed to be told.

    Vaughn was definitely going for a Bond vibe – which worked with Fassbender, who I wouldn’t mind seeing as Bond, but, as you said, the Bond-esque villain stuff is just silly. It’s really sillier than any Bond plot that comes to mind and the way Shaw goes about it is very hard to swallow. I thought Bacon did as well as could be expected with the material, though.

    The biggest flaw was that none of the young mutants were all that interesting. Their powers seemed completely random – especially the ones with weird, nonsensical combos – and the actors themselves weren’t very good – even Lawrence, who gave one of the best female performances I’ve seen in Winter’s Bone.

    I thought McAvoy was okay, he worked best whenever he was with Fassbender.

    One thing I haven’t heard anyone mention yet is the gobsmacking break with continuity they make. SPOILER… SPOILER… SPOILER… when Magneto goes bad, McTaggert shoots at him and he deflects the bullets – sending one into Charles’ spine, crippling him. It was a nice dramatic effects, but hello – in the beginning of X3 Charles was still walking!!!!!!!!

    END SPOILER

    I certainly didn’t hate the movie – it was fun, but just not that great.

    B-

    On a side note – it was great seeing Rose Byrne back to being her usual luminous self, but that certainly wasn’t enough to take the film up another notch.

  2. It’s intersting how the reaction here differs so strongly from the general critical consensus which has ranged from positive to outright raves (although Ebert was underwhelmed). Even a noted hater of this type of film in Wells loved it. And from what I’ve seen to date the critical reaction in Australia has been similarly positive.

    For those who’ve seen it, would a reason for the critical raves be that it mixed in real word major events of the 20th century and hence appears a more substantial work than the usual film of this type?

  3. I think they liked the the relationship between Charles and Eric and that it was treated with at least as much importance as the Bond-esque Cuban missile crisis thing, probably more. I’m sure they also love the continuing mutants as a metaphor for the civil rights struggle and homosexuality and all that stuff. Other than that, you got me.

  4. Well I enjoyed the hell out of the movie. You’re right that Fassbender is the highlight and steals every scene he’s in, but the movie is far from boring and you’re nuts to say it’s worse than X3.

    No action scenes? In addition to the end battle there’s a short Argentinian bar scene, the initial attack at Shaw’s yacht, and the assault on the CIA compound. Not to mention Rose Byrne spying in her lingerie.

    The large ensemble does leave plenty of players with little to do, but most of them are just eye candy of admittedly varying degrees of success. They’re supporting roles though.

    It’s the central storyline of battling ideologies that plays out pretty damn well between Charles and Eric and adds solid emotional depth to what happens on the beach at the end. It’s their story after all.

    I do agree on Beast’s look though.

    I also think the cameo is a pretty cool surprise that shouldn’t be spoiled in reviews if at all possible.

  5. The only thing with the battle of ideologies between Charles in Erik is that we’ve seen it. I didn’t feel like it needed further fleshing out. We 100% got why Magneto saw things the way he did in the original trilogy.

    Still – reasonably fun movie. It would have worked so much better if they could have nailed the young team of mutants. They really were relatively uninteresting.

  6. I agree, this movies was boring, though I do like that it was a bit mature in the sense of not that typical campy feel like Spider Man. This film was still dull to watch. I was only interested in seeing Michael Fassbender. The acting for some seemed lifeless, examples: January Jones & zoe kravitz. I wasn’t really a fan of any of the X-Men movies, and really upset that Halle Barry was storm, but that’s another topic. Overall I say it’s a wait for dvd movie, you’re not missing anything special!

  7. Just got home after seeing this, and my initial reaction is surprise that, even in the context of a big franchise movie, the actors are given so little attention. It seems that they were all just told to do what they wanted, and are basically directing themselves. Therefore, you have an experienced old pro (Bacon) saying “screw it” and chewing scenery, and a bunch of younger actors who haven’t been around the block as many times standing around mostly looking lost. I’m including Fassbender here, by the way, who is easily more subdued here than anything else I’ve seen him in. He’d have been better off following Bacon’s lead and not trying to play it so straight.

    And McAvoy again, sheesh … when will they ever learn with this guy? They couldn’t find someone with actual screen presence to play Xavier?

    It’s still better than X3, though. But not by much.

  8. I wasn’t bothered so much by the acting as by the dopey script, which seemed like on that could be found in a seventh-grader’s spiral notebook.

  9. Far more interesting than any discussion about this movie: Vaughn is rumored to be Jones’s baby daddy.

    On a related note: Some of the reviewers are saying this could kill Jones’s chances for being a leading lady. Was she really that bad?

  10. I didn’t think she was any worse than anyone else … but I would never consider her leading lady material anyway.

  11. On a related note: Some of the reviewers are saying this could kill Jones’s chances for being a leading lady. Was she really that bad?

    She’s far worse than anybody else. I’ve never seen her in anything other than Mad Men, and it is now apparent to me that the producers of that show use her in a rather brilliant way: she plays a vacuous woman without much going on upstairs (in at least the first season, the only one I’ve watched), and her stiff quality is perfectly suited for the part.

  12. Yeah, the same reviews said: “She won’t always have the opportunity to work with the creative group [Matthew] Weiner assembled…and boy, does it show.”

  13. Was her character not supposed to be “a vacuous woman without much going on upstairs” here? She’s telepathic, sure, but she’s portrayed as clearly subservient to Shaw with little apparent ambition of her own.

    I didn’t think anyone in the film was good, exactly, but I’m puzzled as to why she’s being singled out. McAvoy was worse. The girl who played Angel was worse. The dude who played Beast was awful. Shaw’s other two goons looked like they were auditioning for a music video from the Twilight movies (not that the movie gave them anything else to do).

    Jones was the least of this film’s problems.

  14. I’d even say that Lawrence was worse, actually, as much as I hate to say it (like everyone else, I really thought she was great in Winter’s Bone).

  15. Compared to Zoë Kravitz, January Jones turned in an Oscar worthy performance. Jones was perfectly fine in the part and was the best eye candy the movie had to offer.

    Kravitz, Till and Hoult turned in performances that were embarrassingly awful.

  16. What a stupid fucking movie.

    On the other hand, great love story.

    Wrapped in such a stupid fucking movie.

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