Jun 6, 2011

A Few Thoughts on... "X:Men - First Class"

The comic book movies keep rolling out with the fifth X-Men movie. You may remember the past two as not being that high of caliber, shoddy even. What is harder for newcomers to get is the energy and impact the first two made when they were released. X-Men and X2: X-Men United were box office smashes and pushed the realm of mutants into the public's subconscious, also featuring a breakout, iconic role for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Yet somehow, as the series attempts to be the Police Academy of the superhero genre, there is still something viable amongst all of the naysayers. Despite the special effects, colorful characters, and scant corny moments, these mutants aren't trying to be cool. They're just trying to fight for a better future, for tolerance. Now that's something everyone can boogie to.
However, it seems uninspired to continue in the vein of Origin stories when X-Men Origins: Wolverine was lambasted for being a shoddy, very Hollywood production. Is there even a market for how the X-Men became the X-Men?

Whoever hired director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) seems to think so.

As stated, this is an origin story, focusing on the root of how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) met up and found a ragtag bunch of mutants to fight the evil powers of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Along the way, emotional cores are explored, superpowers are discovered, and we come slightly closer to seeing Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique naked.
While Vaughn's direction is at best an uneven hand, mixing from fast paced transitions, to scenes of clunky dialog, this may be a revelation for anyone that had to sit through X-Men: The Last Stand and wonder where the substance is. True, plenty of tropes manage to bog down this plot, but somehow the ambition is the highest the franchise has seen since X2.
Some of the better moments do not involve action, or mutant powers at all. A lot of the best moments come from watching McAvoy and Fassbender deck it out in conversations to find the personal core of Fassbender's emotionally complex lifestyle. While Fassbender eventually betrays McAvoy with a tragic ending, the relationship has that hope that maybe it will end happy.
While the main leads were created very well, I feel that giving everyone else some screen time was a little bit of a gamble that didn't pay off. With all of the mutants experiencing their power, the amount of story that begins to drag grows until it's a big target waiting to get hit. Their developments aren't anywhere near invigorating and when something goes wrong, the "Aww shucks" forced laugh moments come, and the credibility that the rest of the movie establishes kind of begins to fail.

Overall, I do not get why the X-Men are as popular as they are. I have never been amazed by mutants that can shoot lasers or control weather. Like Sucker Punch, I find that the more powers and upper hands you have, the more predictable the outcome will be. Sure, here the characters are just learning them, but I don't get any "Hey, this is cool" feeling watching Havoc (Lucas Till) blow the head off of a statue. I expect that.
That's the issue, I find the X-Men's gimmick that they are powerful to be boring. There's no real challenge to the story, and without any real strong personalities, the fatalities could rise without a single care. I'd rather see them working on finding financial basis for the school, or hiring teachers. You know, make Professor X and Magneto Make a School.
While there's a lot of boring fluff in this, I stand by the exceptional performance of Fassbender, who manages to take the tough, brute German to a mutant world and make it menacing without hamming it up. By killing off an entire bar and flipping coins, he single handedly shows what this series gets right by showing just how little attention to detail most of the rest of the movie is.

As far as X-Men movies go, this is one of the better. If you enjoyed X2 and it's ability to give you a hug and say "Baby, you were born this way," then you'll probably enjoy this movie. However, lower your expectations. There are fewer interesting characters, the dialog is even clunkier, and the direction is uneven. The initial equal rights message is even shoved down throats to a new height.
I think, however, that if this is how X-Men movies will be from now on, I'd say we're in good hands.

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