Paco Chaos returns with the Nigel Tufnel Rating System
By Kevin Martinez
Ok, I’m back with the review of this summer’s second big comic book movie, X-Men: First Class. This is a prequel to the four other X-Men movies that have already been released, the most recent being 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine which was a prequel that takes place after this one.
The X-Men movies have always been a mixed bag, with the first two films being decent fun. The third was a slapdash mess that suffered from not having Bryan Singer at the wheel as he had been for the first two. The Wolverine prequel was another example of how Hugh Jackman is a talented actor getting stuck with goofy schlock.
This time out, FOX enlisted Kick-Ass and Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn to take the lead. This seemed to be a step in the right direction, since FOX made the mistake of dropping him from directing X-Men 3 and used Rush Hour director Brett Ratner instead. Bryan Singer is the executive producer and co-writer of this movie, which is one of the reasons it’s an improvement over the last two films.
One of the big problems is that the X-Men movies have always played fast and loose with the continuity of the comics since it’s about the most confusing thing ever. As a longtime reader of comic books, I gave up trying to figure out the X-Men twenty years ago. Trying to shoehorn that stuff into a two hour movie is impossible. Trying to retrofit already established film continuity with these characters seems equally hard.
X-Men: First Class has the challenge of not having the already mentioned Hugh Jackman in the cast. Jackman’s Wolverine is obviously the most popular character from the previous films, but Vaughn wisely chose to not feature him. This would have caused even more continuity glitches.
Instead, the casting of this film is centered around a largely unknown group of character actors. Kevin Bacon is the only name most people recognize. I’m told January Jones (who plays Emma Frost) is from the cast of Mad Men, but I don’t watch much TV so I’ll take your word for it. Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Basterds) is Erik Lensherr/Magneto and James McAvoy (Atonement, Wanted) is Charles Xavier.
McAvoy is a fair substitute for Patrick Stewart in the role, but at times he comes off as a less goofy version of Austin Powers. In Matthew Vaughn’s own words, this movie is an attempt at making a James Bond style film. It’s set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vaughn said that he watched Sean Connery’s Bond flicks as inspiration. He cited You Only Live Twice in particular, which is also served as the inspiration for the Austin Powers films. Oddly enough, though, this movie is not really campy and pretty much downplays any humor. Well, other than a well placed and foul mouthed cameo, that I have to tell you isn’t from Stan Lee.
The plot centers around Fassbender’s Magneto on a revenge mission against Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw character. Shaw was a scientist at the concentration camp in which Magneto was imprisoned as a child. He murders Magneto’s mother in an attempt to get Magneto to use his newly discovered powers. The film flashes forward to the 1960’s where Shaw is now a behind-the-scenes manipulator during the Cold War who uses the U.S. government and the Soviet Union in an attempt to start a nuclear war. Shaw has the ability to absorb power and become more powerful himself. His plan is to destroy humanity and become the king of the new mutant regime. He would absorb the energy from the nuclear devastation and be the most powerful mutant.
Shaw surrounds himself with other mutants, like Emma Frost and Azazel (Jason Flemyng), who use their powers for personal gain. Magneto ends up crossing paths with Charles Xavier while trying to exact revenge on Shaw. The two men find themselves on opposite sides of the same fence. One wants to peacefully co-exist with humanity (Xavier) and the other wants to show mutant superiority (Magneto). The two recruit various young mutants while collaborating with the C.I.A. to train a strike force against Shaw’s mutants. While training the mutants you begin to see Magneto morph into the familiar character from the earlier films. Shaw is the villain, but Magneto has to make a decision as to whether he’s going to be another Sebastian Shaw by declaring war on humanity, or be one of Xavier’s allies working to improve mutant relations with mankind.
The main problem I have with this movie is that Magneto is obviously the character you want to see succeed. He’s wanting to kill his mother’s killer, a Nazi collaborator. Xavier’s platitudes about being the better person fall flat in the face of this. Magneto has been persecuted by the Nazis for being a jew, and now he sees that mutants are going to be persecuted by humanity for being different. You can’t really fault his logic in this story.
McAvoy’s Xavier comes off as a smug little rich kid who has the benefit of being normal looking, unlike his childhood friend Mystique. Mystique struggles with the fact that she has to hide her true appearance in order to fit in with humanity. When she meets other mutants she feels like she still doesn’t fit in, since most of the others look like normal humans. Magneto comes off as more sympathetic to this, which is ironic since Xavier is supposed to be the good guy.
The film also suffers from a lack of real big moments. The action isn’t that impressive, and you never really see anything new. I can see better action at (plug alert!) a R.O.C.K. bout (July 2nd), but that’s because I love Roller Derby.
Other than the Beast (Nicholas Hoult), I found most of the other mutants kinda dull. Though I enjoyed it, I really wanted more moments like at the end when Magneto is actually wearing the helmet from the original comics. You can’t beat a Jack Kirby design. Also, I can’t hate on a movie that has Michael Ironside in a supporting role. That’s just the geek in me, though. It does set up for a sequel, but then again it’s a prequel, so I guess that’s the idea. Oh, and all you True Believer Marvel Fans, I know it’s become tradition to stay after the credits for some big teaser, but it ain’t there on this one. I guess the cosmic cube is strictly an Avengers thing.
On the Nigel Tufnel scale of 1to 11, I’m gonna give X-Men: First Class a 7. It didn’t wow me, but it didn’t bore me either. It’s kind of a let down after seeing Thor, but it’s definitely an improvement in the X-Men series of films after the last two.