MOVIE REVIEW: X-Men: First Class

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Still a few days away, but Major Spoilerite Antonio Sanciolo, who runs a movie theater, took a look at X-Men: First Class, and had this to say.

The best thing possible that I can point out at the beginning of this review, is that this film is not as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand, which I posit as the actual worst superhero film ever made( in light of its huge budget and the pedigree of many of its actors). How much better is First Class than X3? Ghost-Rider better? Daredevil better? Batman Begins better? Read on to find out…

X-Men: First Class strives to tell how telepath, Charles Xavier, and anguished spoon-bender, Erik Lehnsherr, collaborate with the American government and form a team of similarly powerful youths to help prevent the inevitable onset of a thermonuclear war as brought about by the evil energy absorbing mutant, Sebastian Shaw, who was once a Nazi scientist named Klaus Schmidt.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that in attempting to tell the above story, director Matthew Vaughn rides heavily on the coat-tails of the previous x-men film, but this comes at the cost of his film’s own portrayal. From the opening scene which has been completely lifted from the first X-Men film, to several throwaway lines and cameos; these moments quickly emerge as the highlights of the piece, making the regular narrative shallow and monotonous.

Similarly greyscale is the films setting within the mid 1950’s through to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Whilst the colour grading is drab and desaturated, one of the biggest problems is the roundabout way in which historical accuracy is addressed: Millionaires and decorated officers in their forties and fifties meet in a cabalistic high-rollers lounge and yet they are listening to jangling mod guitar rock; the good guys fly around in a modified SR-71 Blackbird (one that inexplicably hovers) despite still being in a conceptual phase at the time of the film’s setting; and the fashion depicted ranges from anywhere between the 1940’s through to the late 1970’s. Whilst the whole film has a 60’s feel it is as though it is depicted by a 13 year old weaving a tale out of 50 years of pop culture references.

When it comes to the characters within the field, it is very important to point out the Americanization of the film. This is not Len Wein’s Giant Size X-Men, with colourful characters hailing from every corner of the globe. Instead every character, Charles and Erik notwithstanding, talks with the General American accent, even British actors like Nicholas Hoult in his portrayal of Hank McCoy, gives a very neutral depiction of what could be a challenging, fun and outrageous character. Every direction taken seems to have been the safe one, and with a film of this background and tradition, it needs anything but “safety” to lift it above the mass media saturation that precedes it.

The acting itself is not poor but fails to truly position the viewer behind any particular character’s plight. Michael Fassbender certainly suits the part of Erik, a plaything of the Nazis seeking retribution for his mother’s murder, but his rage is not palpable enough for the correct pathos and contrast to James McAvoy as Charles. McAvoy probably fits his role the best, playing the smugness and assuredness of a naively intelligent telepathic man to a tee. His bluster and confidence as he recruits his team is indicative of the inevitable pride before the fall and the payout is rewarding to an extent. Of the team itself, there is no sufficient background to the characters. We are given Banshee played by a Texan with an indecipherable accent, Mystique-by-numbers, a very bland Havok, the aforementioned Beast who is characterized best in his human form as, once transformed, looks like an extra from a supernatural TV production like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The only team-members who show the diversity and alternate appeal that one would expect from a film about genetic mutation are Edi Gathegi as Darwin and Zoe Kravitz as Angel. One of which is redshirted early in the piece whilst the other defects to campy villain Sebastian Shaw’s camp.

Kevin Bacon’s Shaw is the moustache-less moustache-twirler of the piece, bringing about a nuclear war that he sees only mutants surviving. His secret Hellfire Club is really only an opportunity for the director Matthew Vaughn to get Rose Byrne and January Jones onscreen in lingerie and like many story elements in the film was wasted on the superficial. Instead he spends most of the film cavorting around in his fancy submarine with his three sole henchmen; January Jones as the diamantine telepath Emma Frost, Jason Flemyng as the demonic teleporter Nightcrawler Azazel, and Alex Gonzalez as the tornado wielding Riptide. They make an entirely unintimidating and uncaptivating threat. Accordingly, the film draws more entertainment from the Mystique-centric love subplot and the x-men training regime montage than anything else.

X-Men: First Class offers a product that ticks all the boxes as far as superhero film elements and tropes go, yet leaves the viewer unfulfilled. Whilst it admirably tries to establish a world within which the modern-day x-men operate, it is undermined but that very same reality that exists today in comic-books, Saturday morning cartoons, feature movies and derivative television content like Heroes and No Ordinary Family. Ultimately even the uninitiated know what they’re in for when they see the word “X-Men”, and there’s far too many examples of the job done better to hold this up against. This film is worth seeing if not only for the sake that this is trying to do something different with its setting and dynamic, but that it has some fun special effects and a terrific franchise-redeeming cameo at the beginning of the second act.

I give X-Men: First Class 2.5 stars out of 5.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Antonio Sancilo is from Australia.