Depending on what you expect from X Men: First Class, it can either be a success or a failure. If you expect a clichéd, predictable, fireworks show with the character depth of a commercial then prepare to be pleasantly fulfilled. You know that when the bad guy says ‘Nothing can stop me now!’, the writers have spent hours meticulously designing the ambiguity over later events implied by this statement. Let me say this first, I enjoyed X Men: First Class. But I expected a better film.
In 1944, a 10 year old Erik Lehnsherr sees his mother killed before his eyes in the Holocaust by Sebastian Shaw (an ageless Kevin Bacon), tormented by his inadequacy in controlling his supernatural ability. At the same time, Charles Xavier takes in a young drifter, Raven, whom is attracted to his enthusiastic, but later overprotective, reaction to her power. Fast forward about 20 years or something; Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is on the hot pursuit of Shaw in Argentina, picking off his allies one by one. Xavier and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) are also exploiting their abilities to woo girls and live a normal life, respectively. The three are noticed by the CIA who hire them to gather other mutants. However, Shaw plans to use the Cuban Missile Crisis to launch World War 3, resulting in the survival of mutants alone. But can our heroes stop him in time?! Yes.
The dialogue is so derivative of any originality (I promise you, there is nothing you have not heard before) that it gets to the point when you’re begging the characters to either shut up or die. The acting is spot on, particularly from McAvoy and Fassbender. But the characters are too simple. They express only a few emotions, such as anger, sympathy…and anger. There was a great opportunity to dig a little deeper into Magneto (is he German? English? Jewish? What!?) and Xavier’s relationship, but in fact we learn nothing we haven’t been told in the original trilogy. January Jones provides the eye candy for dads going with their children (no kidding, she’s either half naked or made out of diamond) and Tony from Skins provides a big share of the awful one liners, although 90% of the dialogue consists of these. Fassbender’s Nazi hunting subplot and his Bear Jew performance are the high points of the film, but it brings along with it some ridiculous character changes (they fall in love for no reason) now becoming trademark of writer Jane Goldman. See also: Stardust.
A forgettable soundtrack and really bad continuity do nothing to help the predictable story that you feel you’ve already seen, because you have (that said, it should give those movie mistakes programmes something to go on for the next 2 years). An example, in an Argentine bar, Magneto just about manages to point a loaded gun in someone else’s hands towards his enemy. Two minutes later, he is in full control of an entire fucking anchorwhich he swishes around like a mutant cowboy with a metal lasso. Now imagine this level of discontinuity, but during the film’s genuinely exciting action scenes and impressive visual effects. Distracting.
Asides from Green Onions and the sleazy pre-sexploitation outfits there are no other reminders that it’s 1961 and, holy shit, World War 3 could start any second now! But no, there’s no countdown or clock which, despite being another cliché in a film stuffed so full of them it’s overflowing, would’ve been an intensifying addition to the action. The entire civil rights movement for gays & blacks seems to have been forgotten and instead replaced by the whole ‘proud to be mutant’ thing, something which only works as much as it’s petty exploration allows it to.
I hope that film schools can make use of XM:FC to see a checklist of everything that you must not do when striving for to make an original piece of entertainment which Hollywood now needs so badly. However, XM:FC isn’t trying to be anything new, nor is it trying to please any critics like Branagh’s Thor. With Kick Ass, Vaughn wittily parodied superhero films but also managed to make something cool and original. At least X Men: First Class is one of those things.
Team America: World Police (2004)