A Discussion of X-men: First Class

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.

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2 thoughts on “A Discussion of X-men: First Class

  1. I was wondering to your thoughts in particular on this movie. I do agree that it turned out much better than could be expected, and I agree on most of your points as well as to what went wrong with.

    It’s my opinion that we haven’t seen a true X-Men film yet. The first two were good and accomplished certain ideas, the third one was a godawful train wreck that lifted ideas from Whedon’s comic run (presumably ’cause it was popular at the time) and then did them badly. I liked Wolverine better than most people, but I would agree if asked that it still wasn’t up to snuff.

    That said, I feel that First Class is good in the way the first two films are good. Half the mutants are skewed in some way, but the plot is solid and for once it didn’t feel like The Wolverine Show (though Jackman’s cameo was a cool bonus, since it made sense).

    My knowledge of the comics isn’t as comprehensive as yours, so forgive me if something I say is in fact substantiated by the texts.

    That said, I wish this film had just been treated as a true reboot of the film franchise. It’s not perfect, but it aspires to be better, with something resembling costumes and a sort of fresh start. The chronology with the “later” films is full of minute errors to the point that I wish they hadn’t bothered (example: Xavier is shown older and standing when he and Magneto recruit Jean in the opening of X-Men 3. The ending contradicts this).

    I’d actually expected/hoped they would put off the divide between Magneto and Xavier until later, and sort of let it fester over several films. Part of the reason is that even if it’s so far removed from the comics it’s not even funny, I actually kind of adored this new, younger Mystique. I loved how Charles was there for her, saw her more as a sister as she became a woman, and in her frustration she was taken in by the charms of Magneto, who accepted her for who she was. It could not be more removed, but it was honestly really well executed.

    At the same time though, it created an inadequacy in the “later” films, where this relationship is neither mentioned, nor dwelt upon. Mystique seldom speaks for herself and the idea of attacking Charles Xavier, her surrogate brother, doesn’t even phase her.

    As for Sebastion Shaw, set me straight if I’m wrong, but otherwise I felt like co-mingling his past with Magneto’s by making him a Nazi scientist felt forced and unnecessary. I do agree as well as that his power was oddly handled, and while I get why they used it they way they did I was unclear, for example, as to how Magneto was able to kill him. Does his body not absorb slow application of force? Because force is still, and I’d argue that to push a coin through a man’s head still has a bit of kick to it. I could guess, but it would’ve been better if the film was clearer.

    January Jones sucked. Absolutely no presence and I really hate to be superficial, but she doesn’t quite look right for the part. I would normally never say this, and I feel bad for saying this now, but I’ve seen White Queen always shown as being physically flawless and while Jones had the body for it, her face had more definition than it should have. The fact that the character was blandly written didn’t help, but Jones did nothing to make up for it.

    Moira’s placement made no sense and felt like an unnecessary namedrop. I like the actress who plays her (mainly having seen her on Damages) but dropping Moira’s (and so many other characters) backgrounds just didn’t make sense. I suspect they made the character into Moira in order to justify her moment with Charles near the end, which was rather annoyingly negated and then hammered with a sexist joke in the last scenes of the movie. I know a share of people have complained about Rachel Dawes in the recent Batman films, but the advantage of putting her in was that they could fill a gap were needed, and kill her when the plot demanded without invoking some form of well-founded nerd outrage.

    I wasn’t as bothered with Beast, but I see where you’re coming from and felt like they were afraid to put his more intellectual dialogue into the script, ala quoting Shakespeare and such. I fondly look at the 90’s X-Men cartoon for that. I would agree the others worked to some point, and while I’m not going to fault the actor who played Havoc I do still miss Cyclops. However, they never made Havoc the leader, so I can still hope they’ll abandon this prequel nonsense, lets these movies play out in their own right, and then bring on Cyclops to challenge his brother’s seniority.

  2. This is only a prequel in the sense that it takes place before the other films, and as much a reboot as they can get away with without confusing or annoying casual fans. As you guys mention, and to anyone that’s been paying attention, this trods in the toes of so many details as to wonder why they bothered.

    While I like that they made bold strides to make an array of interpersonal relationships that make some kind of sense, especially of Mystique and Charles, I am remiss that the legendary figure of Raven Darkholme seems to have been reduced to a simpering little girl with body image issues. Obviously perfect for the Twilight crowd, but something I grew bored with almost instantly. It was similarly unbelievable that Charles — something of a “unnatural talent” in psychology — couldn’t effectively convince her of her own worth or trust in him. I also don’t really see Mystique going from the wide-eyed girl to Magneto’s right hand, but, as they say, there’s a movie in that.

    Emma seemed an bizarre plot device to shut down the Charles Win Switch, something every X-Men plot, movie or no, has had to deal with. For this, they took an approach similar to Moira: used the nearest popular character’s name on a character that’s nothing like the comics (White QUEEN, not White Simpering Sycophant). What was jarring was that she seemed to be irked at being disregarded so, but outside of one facial expression this was never referenced again.

    Beast was… well, what are you gonna do when you can’t have Kelsey Grammer. “Smart” means “can invent a number of things with no understanding of the underlying theories to support them.” So, Cerebro despite no psychics, shockwave stabilizer despite not studying Havok’s powers, sonic reverberating flying jacket despite everything in the world being wrong with that. Not to mention fucking up the gene treatment on his feet. His romance with Mystique, however, was a nice touch and well handled.

    My brother actually felt the movie failed to properly justify the deep friendship referenced throughout as being so strong that they remain friends despite their being on different sides of the “war.” I don’t disagree, and while I do feel that what is there is awesome, they should have waited until another movie came out to separate them.

    All in all I actually thought it was a very well done, very excellent movie that somehow managed to pack everything in without overcrowding.

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