I initially rallied against X-Men: First Class. Its reason for existing was far from pure -rights retention- and the director was quoted as saying some pretty moronic stuff. However I began to grow attached to the idea of a period piece superhero movie, and I liked the costume designs, and it was getting good reviews. It all came to a head when I found myself bored and in time for a matinee viewing.
Having finally watched the movie I must say it’s pretty good. I have some problems, but I’ve decided to express myself on this as a movie and then the last bit of this review will be a spoiler heavy nerd rant. This way I can attempt to gauge the quality of the movie, but also complain about things the layman doesn’t care about.
Most importantly the story felt pretty tight. This is an accomplishment considering it has to establish two separate plotlines, a third interacting character, a supporting cast, handle a new race introduced to mankind, a traitorous plot, and the Cuban missile crisis all in one film. A lot could go wrong but they kept things pretty solid and it worked pretty well. Personally I loved the interweaving of a real historical event into a superhero film, it made the heroes feel more real somehow. There were some clunky bits, one of the more glaring is the notion that Beast built cerebro…a computer meant to locate mutants but requiring Professor X to use. Beast built this before he knew of Xavier, and the machine is lost to the team before the end of the movie. Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s minor, trust me. All this bit served was a dramatic way for X and Magneto to find mutants, something they could have simply shown in a more mundane fashion.
I found myself wishing the movie was longer, a rarity, so I could have more character moments. Each of the characters gets a shining moment or two, but most of the supporting cast is left a bit bare. The worst was a mutant who never even ranked to appear in the previews and thus suffered a fate that I will not spoil but you will probably have guessed upon seeing him. Mostly the supporting cast does an admirable job, with bonus points going to Lucas Till as Havoc. I wasn’t happy that Havoc replaced his brother, but the casting choice was really good and I think Till nailed Alex’s rough nature. On the opposite end of the coin was January Jones who stood still and moved her mouth in unconvincing speech. The White Queen is supposed to be a powerful bitch, and that’s to her friends. Jones brought nothing to this role; seeing her in a scene with Xavier and Magneto is like watching two great men stare at a vacuum of talent.
But that was the supporting plot. For the main plot we get Magneto and Professor X bonding and training a band of kids to become heroes. And it’s a good relationship, both actors play off each other well and I fully bought the friendship. To hire actors to step into the shoes of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen is a terrifying thing, but these new guys pulled it off admirably. I fear though that with this film focusing so strongly on their bond that a sequel will have to feature the two mutants once again. This feels problematic to me since Magneto was a serious force in each of the three previous movies and here he is an essential aspect to the film. Fans of this film will expect him to return for another go should a sequel happen, whereas I am a bit tired of Magneto and would like to see a new force for the X-men to face. Unfortunately, again, the supporting cast was not strongly built up enough to support a whole movie.
Overall X-men: First Class was a fun ride, with some decent action and a tight plot. There was a lot of emphasis placed on character building, even if it fell a bit thin in a few places. If you don’t mind your X-men universe being meddled with a bit this movie provides a good time, with a nice bit of depth.
Now. On to nerd things and spoilers!
This film missed the mark on quite a few characters. Most annoyingly, Banshee and Beast. I’ll get to Beast, but first I must talk about Banshee and Moira.
Despite Penny Arcade’s mockery I actually quite like Banshee and have always found him to be an entertaining character. In the movie he…is useful. Banshee is sort of a world weary X-man, who takes life with a grain and along with Wolverine is one of the older members of the team. A friend recently asked why they needed to kiddify the X-men, I told him it was to make the movie accurate. Banshee is meant to be a man who has been in Interpol and the police force before assisting Xavier with his work. In the film he’s a little punk, vaguely Irish, whose introductory scene is that of him being a jerk.
Moira MacTaggert is a Scottish geneticist who helped Xavier in the early years. I can see why she would be a good fit for this movie. However, she has now become an American woman working for the CIA. The character has three traits: Scottish, geneticist, friends with Xavier. They changed two of those and muddled the third. So why is Moira even here? In the movie she stumbles upon the Hellfire club, sees that they are mutants, and thus introduced the CIA to Xavier. So sure she gets the ball rolling, but perhaps they could have used Banshee as an older character, working for Interpol and have him discover the Hellfire club. Sure he wouldn’t be surprised at the mutants, but he would likely be worried about a large group of evil mutants. He could have found Xavier, and they could have contacted American officials, and blah blah blah it all makes sense.
Speaking of the Hellfire club they seemed to have missed the mark in interesting ways. I have heard that the demon guy was misrepresented, but having no knowledge of him in the comics I can’t say myself. I can speak for Shaw who seemed to have “The plot needs this” powers. In the comics it’s a simple thing, he absorbs kinetic force and uses it to become stronger. With this he is a credible foe with an easily depicted power. In the movie he absorbs all energy and then can displace it…however. There seem to be no real rules, he just has immunity to heroic actions and then does whatever the script says has to happen. I realize that part of this is necessary for the ending of the film, but a competent writer could have fixed up an ending that didn’t rely on hazy, poorly established abilities.
Also to pick on the White Queen again, her power level seemed to waver a bit, being unable to detect Moira hiding behind a door. Also they gave her the damned Diamond form. In the comics it was a secondary mutation that came about many years past her initial encounters with the X-men. It’s an unnecessary ability and in the film was used to attack Magneto once (Which could have been done by any of the other evil mutants standing in the same spot) and also to avoid having her mind read (which could have been avoided by simply stating that she has undergone training). It’s not a major problem, and props for the movie showing diamond as brittle which is a nice and realistic change, just unnecessary. If Jones had been a better actress this might not have bothered me at all.
My biggest complaint is Beast. Comic book Beast is this awesome character, who is physically very adept. He is athletic, nimble, and strong. But because of how massive he looks he studied very hard to be more than just a lug, he has brains too. The true pathos to his character is that he may very well be the perfect man but cannot see anything but his large size. He tries to combat this by using humor as a weapon and eventually by trying to cure his deformities and suffering a backlash. In the movie they write his intelligence off as simply a mutant power, and he has ugly feet. He is depicted as agile, but his bulk, strength, and humor are absent. He’s a bumbling man responsible for all of the X-men’s tech. They missed the mark for Beast, by leaps and bounds. Giving him his trademark wit would have helped matters, or even allowing him an ‘Oh my stars and garters’ but instead he simply bumbles and stutters his way through he film. Having an actor who looks like a big guy would have been better. I did enjoy the scenes with him and Mystique, it added much to the film and did follow Beast’s trend of having women problems.
Also I think they crammed too many X-men elements into the movie. By the end they pretty much have arrived at status quo except that Xavier still has hair. The introduction of Cerebro seemed necessary from the onset since Xavier and Magneto built it together, but here it was created at whim by beast and later gets destroyed. Also Xavier’s crippling could have been included in a separate movie. It would have provided a little bit of balance.
Again, as a movie it’s a good film, but to an X-men fan it fell short. It almost felt like the plan was to do a Xavier/Magneto standalone film but was changed to X-men at the last minute.