X-Men: First Class or as I like to call it, a lack thereof
Instead of continually bombarding my poor friends with reason after reason about why I was disappointed by X-Men: First Class, I do have to explain why I saw it in the first place. Normally I’m a bit of a loner when it comes to films, the only exceptions come across with those flashy big-budget works that generally have a very enthusiastic marketing campaign attached to it, see Thor or whatever. I was persuaded to attend to X-Men with my partner and my brother, a combination that happens rarely so we headed to the cinema.
Now, second explanation. I’m one of those pseudo-X-Men fans. Not crazy enough to be able to recite Silver Age mutants with finesse, but well versed enough in the reboot in the eighties, ESPECIALLY The Hellfire Club and Emma Frost. That bitch is my type of villain, I was somewhat skeptical to appreciate Astonishing X-Men Emma Frost for a very long time due to my years of worship at Her Royal Evilnesses high-heeled boots. So I was particularly interested and wary about seeing the portrayal which may turn into ANOTHER subsequent ret-con of a character whom I so thoroughly feared and loved, through her evilness and her eventual and always controversial redemption.
Last of all, the major relationship the film purports to showcase, the one between Erik and Charles is a tempestuous and challenging one. United by their mutant-hood, despite completely different upbringings and the eventual ethical and moral divide that is enough to pitch these great allies two against each other, and often together with each other, time and time again. It’s a major break-up, essentially, and I was worried they wouldn’t be able to give it the proper magnitude such a divide would require.
Well, obviously, I think I was right on all counts. X-Men: First Class has all the flash and dance, all the innuendos, all the catch-phrases, but none of the heart, and heart was the one thing required to pull these characters together and thrust them apart.
To prove I’m not all doom and gloom, I’m going to start with the things I thought the film did WELL, only to see fall apart by the end.
Mystique – While not even attempting to channel the sexy, sinister, self serving attitude of Rebecca Romjin of the previous X-Men films, Jennifer Lawrence once again proves she is a deft actress with more emotion in her little finger than most starlets have in their entire body. She embodies Mystique with a slight attitude, probably due to being treated like a pet sister for so many years, while also giving her perspective beyond her years. Her eventual flight is obvious from the start, but no less interesting. I found myself looking forward to her interaction with characters, particularly Erik, but the writing for her kept bringing her back to Charles and Hank (don’t get me started) so I wonder what the storyline would have been had they treated her a little more fairly, instead of as a ‘woman divided’ when her story is way more complex than that.
Erik the Assassin – I was actually GLEEFUL during the first 40 minutes of this movie, mainly because of all the scenes where Erik proves just how fucking badass he is, despite not even realizing the true extent of his power and strength. He slices through his enemies with pure attitude, hatred and contempt, his powers a mere afterthought to his rage. Even without his innate weapons, these scenes were phenomenal, from the costumes, to the score and the cinematography. It felt like an extremely successful second unit production, which makes me think a fair bit of these scenes were originally drafted for the Magneto film which was eventually killed, and that makes me very very sad.
And honestly? That’s it. Havoc is an EXTREMELY interesting kid, who got little to no play and Banshee also got to save the day, in a way, but we don’t know anything about them other than their powers. They are just special effects. Oh well.
So here’s where it gets fun, my major major issues (of the many) with this film. I’m still shocked at the rotten tomatoes rating attached to this movie (87% as of writing this post) While Karina Longworth of the Village Voice takes aim at the inanity of the political and historical themes the film plays with, very few of the top critics were able to voice any distress over this mess. Most react predictably with
‘”It’s all vastly superior to Brett Ratner’s scorched-earth X-Men: The Last Stand, of course. But new blood and swinging Sixties milieu aside, X-Men: First Class never finds a fresh way to sell the same message we’ve been hearing since the first X-Men.” Kimberly Jones – Austin Chronicle
But is that enough to give a film such a positive rating? It’s not as TERRIBLE as the previous installments? I have a feeling this film has profited from the lowered expectations of the series, expectations that were, understandably extremely low after the last film in the trilogy and the abysmal reaction to the spin-off for Wolverine. But is that all we should aspire to? So many people are attached to the X-Men as a team of misfits whom we’ve all had some sort of dalliance with, whether the comics, the hilarious tv series or various reincarnations since then. This film is a sad attempt at making money off of our shared histories with these characters, but then spits on them at the same time.
Charles Xavier is probably the character I had the biggest problem with in this film. He’s inherently unlikeable and while all the other characters go through a forced montage of training and character development (particularly egregious is the mind-touching of Erik to make him CRY about his mother, POOF, enlightenment!) his only scene with any sort of transition is the loss of his legs. He becomes defined by his disability the same way the mutants are defined by their powers. It’s really insulting to insinuate that a womanizing, sexist playboy who essentially mind-rapes Moira after kissing her (he’s like Rohypnol!) when he could have just touched her head to gain the same effect. He’s a very creepy character and McAvoy has no idea how to play this for any sort of benefit. I’m convinced McAvoy’s only truly great role has been Mr. Tumnus in Narnia, as he never quite reaches any sort of connection with his roles otherwise. (See, The Conspirator, ugh)
Now for the big one. Charles vs Erik. We get, what, a few minutes of these characters interacting in the film before their big ethical divide? For a film supposedly all about the brotherhood of the two original badasses of the series, we see barely any footage of them interacting in any sort of indepth manner. If this film is supposed to chronicle their friendship and bitter split, it does so extremely poorly. We see nothing of the alleged fraternity between them and are forced to watch Charles manipulate Erik into realizing he’s extremely powerful but removing an emotional block from his mind, WHOOPS. Charles’s first mistake, pride. It takes more than forcing yourself into somebody’s mind to connect to them, but it’s acceptable in this film because there’s not enough time between special effect shots to do much else.
The way in which this film takes and treats characters of colour is also very suspect and unnerving. Angel has barely any line before she jumps ship, very much playing up the stereotype of a loose woman willing to hedge her bets on a win. Why introduce a much later version of Angel to this series, only to turn her bad? I don’t really understand that characterization. THEN they waste Darwin to prove that nobody is safe? What? A cruel predictable joke it seems, I was assured of his fate the moment he joined the film, it seems for a film about thinly veiled civil liberties, the black man has to die and the white men get to
avenge his death COMPLETELY FORGET ABOUT HIM.
I’m not going to say too much about Emma Frost as I’m confused about a few things. HOW January Jones got this role for the first part, Emma Frost is a character all about icy-cold wit and attitude, her bite is as bad as her bark, but her bark is fucking fierce. She has massive disdain for everybody who isn’t on her team, and doesn’t even approve of her own co-villains, but here she’s a glorified second in command. The writing for her was as poor as the acting, the closest they get to the real Emma Frost is when she creates a spectre of herself for the Russian. Her disgust is visible in every inch of her, but that’s it. Nothing more. It’s less a bad portrayal but a total lack of one. Very disappointing on all counts. There was no way somebody saw her characterization and thought it was brilliant. Oddly enough, she’s the only thing getting slammed by critics, when her character appears as an afterthought anyway. Taking her out of the film entirely would have changed nothing, yet they left her in, it’s curious.
Anyway, ‘Mutant and Proud’ Mystique eventually sings at the end of the film. It smells of Lady Gaga-esque ‘love thyself, misfit’ sentiment while making fun of all humans along the way. While Erik does the old ‘if you aren’t with us, you are against us’ the film makes humans look like a sack of shit. The only two redeeming ones, Moira and Man in Black Suit played by Oliver Platt (seriously, check the credits, he has NO NAME) are rather bumbling and stuttering, not very impressive partners in crime for these obviously advanced mutants. Considering what we know from the previous franchise, they stay hidden until the nineties so I’m interested to see what secret missions they have planned for these mutants in the next installment. Except this time I won’t be convinced to pay $12 for it.
Final analysis? I’d rather see Thor 3x than this again. And Thor had it’s own problems..(coughcoughNataliePortmancoughcough)