X-Men: First Class

poster
2011
Matthew Vaughn

5/10 (super-cheesy and way dumbed down)

I went into this with not-altogether unrealistic hopes, expecting about what I got from Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” and “X2: United”: a smarter-than-your-average superhero flick. I left disappointed because it is about exactly average, despite what should have been some provocative topics and themes.

I’ll start with the good: James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are both solid as the young Professor X and Magneto. Though Fassbender is not asked to emote much except smoldering anger, he does it well and has good charisma. From the perspective of comic book mythology it was gratifying to see their chemistry and camaraderie, in light of them later becoming enemies. Unfortunately, both of them get tripped up on dialogue bad enough that not the best actor could salvage it completely.

The action sequences are generally good as well, especially Magneto’s metallurgy and Azazel’s teleportation. It was cool seeing how badass Professor X could be as a combatant. Also, the moral/ethical/social questions (e.g., How should humans and mutants interact? What responsibility do mutants have to help a species that will forever try to destroy them due to fear and ignorance? Is violent retribution ever justifiable?) were incredibly intriguing and would have made for excellent viewing if not handled in such a heavy-handed way.

My main criticism of the film is that the direction/script did not even attempt to address any of these weightier themes in an intelligent way, which is a fancy way of saying that it lacked subtlety. Exhibit A is the incredibly intrusive score which worked well during combat but was so over-the-top sappy during poignant moments or conversations that the strings made me cringe. How about you let the actors act instead?

The script was similarly dumbed down, with everything reduced to its base cliche. Thus you have Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique who is stuck looking like an idiot for having to spew some of her dialogue (most notably her scenes with Hank McCoy/Beast when they are discussing whether or not they should have to hide their appearances). Everything is spelled out. I assume this is so that the teenyboppers will be sufficiently entertained.

The casting was off in spots unfortunately. While I was impressed with Kevin Bacon’s appearance as a Nazi officer in the opening (apparently with dubbed German unless he had an excellent language coach), his later conversion to Sebastian Shaw was disappointing. Especially odd was the fact that only 15 years later he spoke flawless American English, but more damning for the film was that Bacon just did not pull off an especially sinister or menacing villain. Maybe it was the cheesy sideburns.

January Jones was the other problem for me. While I understand that a character named Winter Queen might not be expected to show much emotion, she was so wooden as to appear robotic. And it’s not just in terms of the character, it’s that as an actress she lacks even a small amount of charisma. Sure she is a stunning beauty, but is that really all it takes these days? Besides for teen boys I mean.

Some of the special effects were less than impressive. The cartoonish Beast was just distracting after Hank McCoy made his transformation, and at no point did Emma Frost/Winter Queen’s diamond form look realistic. Sebastian Shaw’s ability to absorb energy, on the other hand, was well done.

Overall, while I am a fan of origin stories in general and this one in particular, the entire movie was so cheesy and superficial that it left me sort of annoyed. It’s the same feeling I get with all movies that could have easily been better. I suspect that it was a conscious studio decision to make sort of a Tween Film a la “Twilight” or “Harry Potter,” and I don’t really have a problem with that except that this is fucking “X-Men.” I’m guessing Bryan Singer wasn’t consulted enough.

If you really want to see it I would save the money and do it at home.

5 June 2011

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