Rental Corner: “X-Men: First Class” needs to retake a grade…or two
There is one moment in “X-Men: First Class” that greatly sums up the movie. A young Xavier is about to make a proposal to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) about joining the band of mutants he is gathering, but instead Professor X is told off. It’s probably the biggest highlight of the entire movie, but at the time seems to say something as Hugh Jackman looks away probably thinking “no way I’m being in this installment after giving me a s**tty spin-off.” And probably, it’s for the best.
“X-Men: First Class” has a premise that works well on paper which is the idea of superheros interfering with historical events; in this case, the nuclear missile clash between America and the USSR in 1962. While not a bad idea, I felt it was handled better with comic adaptations like “Watchmen,” where the grim and political tone related to film’s themes of anarchy and society against vigilantes, and “Captain America,” where the lead character dealt with the event and was the center of the plot. At the same time, “Captain America” achieved to create a realistic (while obviously digital at times) 1940s setting and have some throwbacks to the era that had its charm.
“First Class” doesn’t have that charm. I can understand it was attempting to adapt the grim and chaotic feel of the 1960s, but there were moments where I felt the movie didn’t have that 1960s feel and just felt modern. A bit of a nitpick, but one example is the musical score, as it feels like leftover cues from Thor, rather than relate to the era while having a dramatic impact. Half of the time, it felt like material that would be heard in a Tron sequel and half of the time it felt like something from an electrical opera.
Aside from that, there are some positive marks. The main center of the film is Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who is forced to perform his power for a Nazi scientist (Kevin Bacon) after seeing his mother killed. In retaliation, he wants revenge for this act. However, the scientist is now a leader of a secret society that is relied on taking over the world, with a band of three evil mutants at his side. One can really feel that this movie was more meant for Magneto’s story and it should have been. All the time, you wish to see him fulfill his plot and comes out rather decent in the end.
Then, there is Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who is a blue scaly girl who can shape-shift. The story arc she has is rather interesting as she goes back and forth between wether to hide from the human society and support it or just let her “true colors” show and be a mutant. An action that is propelled after an ill-faded romance with Hank McCoy, as he attempts to make a cure to get rid of his mutated and ape-like feet. An action that also fails as he becomes the blue Beast for the final act of the film. Needless to say, Jennifer’s performance is not bad and comes off rather sympathetic as her views of life sway back and forth. The only thing missing is that sleek and slyness Rebecca Romijn had in the other X-Men films. Here, its more the straight-up, goody-goody Mystique who feels intriguing at times but too vulnerable and innocent.
As for the rest of the crew, it’s a matter of “they were ok” or “I couldn’t have cared less about them.” One big gripe I had was with the character of Xavier. At times, he acted brainy and used his mental powers like his comic counterpart, but at times felt too cheeky. And when he has a big speech to say to his group or try to soften Magneto’s anger which controls his ability to move and bend metal, its hard to take it seriously when for the first 30 minutes the mentally powerful is seen as a constant drunk, womanizing, and very cheeky character that one would find in a local bar.
The political tone of the movie that involves themes of war and the nuclear race between American and the Soviet is a rather interesting one, but it’s not looked at enough. There are times where it gets to be brought up and has that satirical feel like something out of Dr. Strangeglove, but feels sandwiched in for a 2 hour movie about warfare and mutants trying to feel accepted.
For a majority of the time, we focus on the friendship between Xavier and Magneto and build up to the point where they become enemies. While not a bad story, it feels sandwiched between plots of which country is going to bomb who, mutants that question to be human or themselves, and Kevin Bacon trying to succeed his plan for another World War and have mutants be the more dominant species. There were even moments where five minutes of a scene to a plot played and then it would just cut to another like all the information we need is just there and go along with it. The pace is rather rushed and doesn’t know when its a good time to slow down until midway when the CIA’s facility is destroyed and Xaiver decides to teach the remaining mutants they have to fight for the humans. It’s hard to follow at times and a bit jumbled.
But it all boils down to a massive climax in the coast of Cuba where American and Russian Navy ships await the first attack as Xavier’s troop of students try to prevent another World War, Magneto attempts to get revenge, and the whole board of ships sit there and wait to know the entire outcome as opposed to playing a part in the final fight on the beach that drags on and feels tiresome. The first two X-Mens movies were quite successful with fans and critics, and I feel those are the only two that are good in the series. They are so tightly connected that they feel like one major movie cut into two parts. The third one I couldn’t stand as the first act started solid, but when the death of one major character occurs (not Cyclops), it falls apart and turns into a meandering mess as the gang gets lost in the forest trying to reassemble themselves. Fans were really furious with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” over how they missed a great opportunity to adapt a great character and present his tale while meddling with too many elements that made it more campy and less edgy like the previous three. And they have every right to be angry with it. That said, how does “First Class” hold in my book?
Well to put it in blant terms, you know what is written on a carton of coffee cream? “Half and Half.” Half of the time, it was ok with its premise, some of the characters, and its satirical, yet political view of the 1906s. But half of the time, there happened to be a few things that just didn’t work like the middle section or some moments at the end that feel somewhat “shoe-horned in” like how Xavier gets paralyzed and the true reason for Magneto turning against the gang of mutants he once helped teach. While the first two X-Men movies were strong and stayed true to its commentary on society’s view of treatment towards those of difference, this one just didn’t live up to my expectations. Some fans may welcome it with a fresh mind for starting the franchise in a new direction, but perhaps writers should take a closer look at the comic book or the previous movies to see what make it work and didn’t before jumping on to do a sequel. “First Class” was a major hit at the box office and a hit with critics, but sadly not with this one.