Friday, June 3, 2011

X-Men: First Class--My Review

As I walked out of X-Men: First Class I kept saying to myself “It would’ve been great if this had been good”. I don’t say that to infer the movie is bad, it isn’t bad, it just isn’t good. With so many elements going for it, and so many things that could’ve gone for it, watching X-Men First Class fall beneath it’s own weight is more sad then upsetting. This isn’t some glorified summer comic book film that just looks for the big effects and movie tie-ins. The people here seem like they were attempting to make a great film, it just didn’t come together at all.

To use a metaphor, X-Men First Class is like a gorgeous mirror with a several cracks in it. At first they seem insignificant but combined they shatter the glass and ruin the mirror. The first crack in the film is the length. This movie is easily half an hour too long and that extra thirty minutes drags so badly by the time you get to the final battle, you just want it to be over. Making a comic book movie is a fine line between story and action. In a comic book 2/3 story and 1/3 action work fine, on screen it only does if the story is strong. The story in X-Men: First Class isn’t strong enough to withstand the long bits between action.

The length of the film is made worse by the second big crack, which is pacing. Director Matthew Vaughn does not know how to pace a film. If you’re going to cram a lot into a story, you’d better have Christopher Nolan or younger Steve Spielberg chops at storytelling. Vaughn doesn’t, and it shows in the pacing. Scenes that should be short and sweet drag on for too long, plot points turn for no reason and other parts just rush into nothing. There’s also too much set up and not enough delivery. Part of this crack splinters off into the editing, which feels like it was done with a machete. The film is constantly jumping from place to place to place; you never have time to get settled. When the editor does settle you in, it’s for entirely too long. Imagine running as fast as you can for bursts of thirty seconds and then slowly jogging for twenty minutes and then doing it again over and over. Annoying doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Another massive crack is the script, which can never decide what it wants to be. Granted part of that is how Matthew Vaughn directed the film, but this script is patchwork that it never gels. Everything is a way to get to the next thing, there’s no sense of story arc at all. When the new mutants (no pun intended) are brought into the fold by Professor X, it’s a quick jump from mutant to mutant. We never get to know anybody; thusly we don’t care about them. For instance, when Angel (not the original Angel butAngel Salvadore known also as Tempest) turns against her new mutant buddies to join up with Sebastian Shaw (played by Kevin Bacon) you don’t care. Why? Because you never got to know her, you have no idea who she is. Her turn is more of a plot device than anything else.

I think the script suffers as well from trying too hard to not be a typical comic book movie. Again it’s a fine line that not everybody can walk. In the Dark Knight, we got a good old-fashioned criminal caper flick only instead of Al Capone and Elliot Ness we had The Joker and Batman. It worked; the story was good enough to support itself. Here the attempt at political intrigue is just boring and slow. I think centering the whole of X-Men First Class on the Cuban Missile Crisis was an error in judgment. When a film tries to hard you can feel it trying to hard and that makes it difficult to watch.

The pacing problems align with the script during the third act. We’re set up for this climactic event that’s suddenly put on hold for a long-winded Rocky-style training scene for the X-Men. It comes out of nowhere and is so incredibly melodramatic it’s laughable. The final battle also feels like nothing but a trigger for Magneto. During the film Magneto is pretty much on the side of the Xavier’s team and by the end of the film there’s no reason for him to become Magneto. A great script would have left that alone, trusting that the next film could delve deeper into Magneto’s turn. This being a mediocre script suddenly the Russians and the Americans, who witnessed the mutants save the world, decide to unite and kill them. Out of nowhere, for no reason other than to piss Magneto off so he would turn into a villain.

The script also has a problem figuring out if it wants to be its own film or part of the franchise. There are cute little nods to the other three X-Men films but then the movie shreds the continuity of other parts of those same films. For example, In X-Men 3 Xavier and Magneto are still friends in their late forties, here they part ways in their twenties. I was also left wondering why the filmmakers chose the newer crop of mutants. None of them are very compelling, their powers are fairly feeble, so why not have Cyclops, Angel, Jean Gray, and Iceman join Beast instead of second stringers? I also hated the way they crippled Professor X, it was stupid and an unnecessary departure from the original story. Same with making Sebastian Shaw a Nazi sympathizer that kills Magneto’s mother. Shaw would’ve made a spectacular villain on his own merits, why weave him into something that never happened. I also don’t like when scripts force every little fan boy detail into the story and this one does it in spades, especially the final scene between Moira and Xavier.

The final crack is the acting, which is either sub-par or phoned in. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto are brilliant, they shine incredibly bright and do the same justice to the characters that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen did. The rest of the cast is just limp. The young X-Men have no personality, no charisma; they feel more like the cast of a bad teen drama. The more seasoned actors, like Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt just phone their parts in, as if they needed the check or just wanted to be associated with something young and hip.

Oddly, in the opening scene with Kevin Bacon, he’s wonderfully mean and cruel, a true villain. For the remainder of the movie he’s smarmy and flippant, like a grown up version of Ed Westwick’s character on Gossip Girls. I also have to question the casting of January Jones as Emma Frost. Jones must fuck like a demon or she’s able to suck the chrome off a bumper because outside of that I see no reason that she was cast for this role. Jones has a slamming body but is in no way pretty enough to be Emma Frost, not to mention she is now the heavy weight champion of one note acting.

I know it seems like I hated X-Men First Class, but I didn’t. There are things here that work, elements I really enjoyed. The idea of a more realistic mutant film, the muted style that really stands out against the shock and awe of something like Thor or Iron Man, the tone of the film, I liked all of those things. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to rescue the movie from the massive cracks it has, but I do give it an A for effort. One day Hollywood will understand all the aspects of the evolution of a great comic book movie. For now though, X-Men First Class is a failed mutation.

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