X-Men: First Class Review
by Bret Dorman
I will go on record as saying I am not a big X-Men Fan. I don’t think any of the movies are really good. There are just too many character’s to fully develop them all and the action is usually decent at best. Then with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Marvel took the opportunity to expand on Wolverine’s awesomeness by… including a bunch of other mutants that were lame.
So when I heard that X-Men Origins: Magneto was turned into First Class, I was severely disappointed. Great, instead of getting a cool in depth look at how someone becomes a villain, we are just going to get Magneto and Professor X and a bunch of other idiots running around acting like idiots. Well… that may be kind of true, but luckily this is still the ‘Magneto is a freaking Badass’ movie that most people want to see.
The Story: Michael Fassbender (Erik/Magneto) and James McAvoy (‘Professor’ Charles Xavier) have to put a team of super people (aka Mutants!) together to battle really mean super person Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw). Also, America and Russia hate each other.
One of the cool things about First Class, is despite being an ‘Ensemble Mutant’ movie, it manages to actually focus on just a couple of main characters and tell an intriguing war/spy story, while having it also be about a bunch of other idiots who do things too (more on them later).
What First Class doesn’t do is fall into just normal ‘Origin’ territory. Its not just telling you things you already know, but rather making a complete, comprehensible, and engaging story that stands on its own. There are some moments that are cool to see and you go “Oh! so THAT’s where that came from!” but mostly all those touches are minor and for fun or major and actually serve the story (as opposed to ‘driving’ the story). The only big reveal I didn’t like was the name of Magneto, when one of the character’s says to him “Oh, btw… you’re name is Magneto now.”
And that’s also where the movie lacks. There is a moment where Charles and Erik run around ‘gathering a team’ but its so lame and most the character introductions are stupid, especially Banshee’s. Darwin’s intro is kind of cool because he is driving a taxi which has nothing to do with his character but MAY be a reference to Edi Gathegi’s small but awesome role in Crank. Ditto for the lameness that is each person ‘controlling and embracing’ their mutation… I mean gift.
Having the movie start off with young versions of Erik, Charles, and Raven was a sort of bad idea. These child actors could not pull off what was needed of them. Its tricky, but luckily doesn’t last very long. And while some of the action is cool, mostly the mutants absolutely pwning the humans, some of the action just does NOT translate onto the big screen. I’m talking about Banshee being able to fly by… screaming… Or some guy who doesn’t talk and is supposed to look menacing by twirling air around (I know… Tornadoes… Scary!). Or some girl named Angel who has fairy wings and spits fire (Her name should have been Pixie, I don’t care what the comics say. Last time I checked, girly wings and spitting fire was a Pixie). These may look cool in drawings, but on screen they look laughable. Solution? Pick cooler mutants.
The execution of the action might be awkward at times, yet most of the action actually has a point in the movie and the characters actually respond emotionally. I’m thinking mostly of in the trailer, that ends with Magneto pulling a giant sub out of the water. In the trailer, this is stupid. Just a reason to show off the special effects and make no sense. Really though, in context, its quite a good scene.
While the movie is about the relationship Charles and Erik form (and yes, will eventually break), I think it’s clear this is really Erik’s movie. He is driving most the story and shakes things up the most. I love how we all know he is a badguy and how he interacts with the others is clearly him testing them/trying to see if they’ll join him later.
To make matters cooler, First Class is set in the Cold War Era and uses real life events to ground its fantasy world. I actually think this is a great, underused technique. There’s something about telling a prequel/beginning story while also throwing in historical names and events that makes this movie much more monumental than it really is.
The movie doesn’t dwell on being stuck in the past and actually plays more like a semi-sci-fi-spy flick complete with espionage missions, multiple countries, secret motivations, and cool hidden villain lairs. It almost would have been nice to see them embrace this idea a little bit more and go even cheesier, while having its characters keep the same somber tone. But Director Matthew Vaughn’s vision of telling a character driven super hero drama comes through loud and clear. And you know he can do it because unlike hiring someone kind of lacking in this experince for Thor, Marvel did good by hiring Vaughn, who did Kick-Ass.
The ‘love’ rectangle between the Big 4 (the… Fantastic 4.. eh? eh?) that is Erik, Raven, Charles, and Hank is handled quite well. Also, I have no idea if some of these relationships/’origin’ bits are pure to the comics, but like I have always said, Fuck staying true to the comics. I am not a purist. At all. In Spider-Man 3 I would have been MORE than okay with Harry getting the symbiote because he actually hated Peter Parker way more than Brock. It would have been cool, it fit the story. That’s what’s cool about First Class. They make small little touches matter. Especially like how Magneto gets his helmet.
Erik(/Michael Fassbender) is a badass. At first, his kid scene and tooth extraction scene had me VERY worried. But then he got to use the knife at the Argentinean Bar. Also, he has some great villain lines like “We could be the better men.” “We already are.”
Its great to know that his intent is always ‘evil’. He uses Charles and his weakness of compassion to get his revenge and start as the main bad guy. In fact, if it weren’t for Charles, he probably wouldn’t be as strong. Which is why its also great to see him show such compassion after the devastating ‘Bullet hit’ that Magneto deflects onto him. I’m glad they didn’t have Charles do something corny like jump in front of Magento to save him, but rather make the future bad guy do the bad thing and show regret/compassion.
Its also interesting that he knows his path is going to be villainous, because he knows that by going after Shaw he needs to join the yet to be named X-Men and show the government what they are capable of. Which in turn makes the government aware of them and want to kill them. And yet, if he hadn’t gone after Shaw, Shaw would have killed all the humans (Something Magneto actually wants). But the only reason why Magneto stops Shaw is not to save anyone or to do it himself… but for Revenge. That’s a pretty cool badguy thing to do.
Obviously there are two cameos in this movie everyone will love. Rebecca Romijn as ‘Older Seductive Raven’, which is nice. But also the super crowd pleasing moment (and much needed laugh in the terrible ’round up scene’) of Logan getting the PG13 movie’s one and only and impeccably appropriate ‘Fuck’ of the movie. This is how you do a cameo.
Another just REALLY minor nitpicky thing is that it seems like all the mutants are either Professor X Good Guys or Shaw/Magneto Bad Guys. I know that both sides of the Cold War, U.S. and Russia, actually spent a lot of money on telepaths and trying to gain ‘supernatural’ advantages over the other. It would be nice to see other groups of mutants, like an all Russian one. I know that would have convoluted this film, but something to think about for future stories. I think that’s what makes Wolverine so intriguing as an X-Men character, is that he really is just out for himself, but occasionally joins the X-Men to show them that they are all pussies and get the tough jobs done.
In Conclusion, I was more entertained by some of the talking parts than the action parts in X-Men: First Class. The big thing that sets this from other ‘Super Hero’ movies is that I never really felt cheated of any potential in the movie… I just didn’t think they used all of it. This was made by people who like what they are doing and want to be entertaining, which most Super Hero flicks seem to be lacking lately.
I’m going to be interested to see where they take this franchise, because X-Men stands apart from the Avengers sort of Universe Marvel is also building. I think making a straight up sequel to this movie would be terrible, but I also wouldn’t mind another X-Men movie after seeing this. In fact… I would love to see a Gambit movie… hint, hint, Marvel…
Final Grade: B