Film Review: X-Men First Class
X-Men has always been one of the more interesting franchises in the Marvel universe. The idea of mutants with varying powers is interesting in and of itself, but the ostracization that the characters in the film face lends itself to some serious social commentary. The first two movies, X-Men I and X-Men II, were both well done films that played to the strengths of the franchise. The second movie in particular was excellent, with great action scenes, terrific acting performances from a well-rounded cast, and a great storyline involving mutant registration. The third film was a bland retread of the first two that didn’t offer much, whereas X-Men Origins: Wolverine was even worse. With the state of most of Marvels comic book franchises in disarray, whether or not X-Men: First Class could be successful is pretty important for the future of Marvel Comic book movies.
The film mainly takes place in 1960’s America as two bright young mutants—Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr—come together to form the “first class” of X-Men, mutant warriors fighting against the forces of evil, or something. Given that we all know the two end up becoming mortal enemies, it’s pretty fascinating to see them interact as young men. Even when ostensibly allies, one can see the fissures in the relationship, as Xavier is concentrated on creating a peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans while the Magneto—a concentration camp survivor whose mother was murdered by Nazis—is rightfully cynical about the idea of humans ever accepting people so different from themselves.
The primary villain is Sebastian Shaw, a powerful mutant who attempts to create war between theUnited States and the Soviet Union so the mutants can assume leadership of the world. Shaw is played by Kevin Bacon in a performance that easily could have been an outtake from an Austin Powers movie. It’s like someone told him “Be as cartoonishly villainous as possible, people love that.” The rest of the cast—January Jones as Emma Frost, Rose Byrne as Dr. Moira MacTaggert, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique—are serviceable in their roles, but the real standout for me was the performance by Michael Fassbender as Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr. He brings real intensity and depth to a role that could easily have been cartoonish.
There is a lot to like in this movie. For one, there’s nothing quite like a good origin story. Since we already know a number of these characters, it’s quite a bit of fun to see how it is actually executed. There’s also a refreshing lack of big action scenes. Comic book movies seem to want to stuff as many superfluous action scenes into each film as humanly possible, so it was a relief to see this film kept the natural inclinations of the genre to a minimum. Instead, we see a lot of character development and a lot of talking, which I was totally fine with. Action scenes when the audience doesn’t know the characters that well don’t have much weight to them; a movie where you spend a good portion of time developing each character means that the audience will actually care whether or not Person A lives or dies.
Unfortunately, the movie is littered with cheesy lines, many of them delivered by the incompetent Kevin Bacon, a guy who seems to get roles thrown his way simply because the producers want to enliven that “9 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game that everyone thought was cool in 2001. Other members of the cast aren’t hesitant to follow Bacon’s lead, taking lines that are already ridiculous and adding dramatic pauses for no apparent reason.
Probably the line that comes to mind the most occurs during a stakeout inLas Vegaswith Moira MacTaggert and another CIA Agent. A group of scantily clad woman are heading into a club as the “entertainment” for someU.S.general. MacTaggert rips off her clothes to blend in with these ladies, declaring that she is using “the assets the CIA didn’t issue me.” Later in the film, Xavier and Magneto are discussing whether the young group of mutants they’ve recruited are ready to fight. “They’re just kids,” Xavier says. “No (dramatic pause)…they were kids!” Magneto responds.
Final Analysis: Nothing earth shattering here, but this is an entertaining summer blockbuster that is a huge step up for the X-Men franchise over its last two offerings. The Dark Knight this isn’t, but it has well-done action scenes, a few strong performances, and it even makes you think a little bit.
Final Grade: 7.5/10