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Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men: First Class****

This review has spoilers in it. X-Men: First class is highly entertaining and, in some places, good. Its goodness seems to me to have less to do with the actual writing, and more to do with the pathos the main actors are able to generate. Fassbender & McAvoy are saddled with some unfortunate dialogue, and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto's storyline is definitely richer and more developed than Charles Xavier's. I think Fassbender was stronger than McAvoy, but that may just be because his role is more evidently angsty, while McAvoy is often stuck giving pep talks. In substantive narrative terms, I feel like I know exactly how Lehnsherr became Magneto, and why he is the way that he is. It's less clear to me, though, how Charles Xavier, as presented in this film, actually *became* Professor X, not just in name, but in personality. Despite that, the Erik/Charles dynamic is often enthralling to watch.

The villains are more of a mixed bag. Sebastian Shaw is definitely a little cartoony, but Kevin Bacon deliciously creepy and menacing. January Jones, on the other hand, seems every bit as hollow as an actress as Emma Frost, Shaw's right-hand-woman, is as a character. Azazel and Riptide aren't really characters at all, more like mutant-power-props (I don't think we're ever even told Riptide's name).

The junior mutants are a little bit more than props, but often feel like filler, and the younger actors who take the spotlight are less talented than the older ones. This means that they do not have the skills to elevate the material (it's possible that Edi Gathegi, as Darwin, is an exception to that in his final scene). For the most part, Havoc, Banshee, and Darwin feel like plot devices -- inset here for comic relief or a bit of pathos. Beast is given a bit more to do, which is unfortunate, because Nicholas Hoult is pretty thoroughly unimpressive as an actor.

And then there's Young Mystique. Jennifer Lawrence is not bad, though I wouldn't have pegged her as an Oscar-nominated actress from this performance. And I wish Raven/Mystique could have taken a blue foot to the backside of whoever wrote at least one repeated portion of her dialogue. (I get it, already! It was corny the first time, and got worse with every repetition!) But I think the main problems there are less with her performance than with the narrative itself. We know going in what choices she will make. The movie shows us the beginning of her relationship with Magneto, which is cool (and a little creepy). The movie provides some context for the worldview we know she will later have, but Mystique's participation in Magneto's separatist/supremacist movement, as presented in the movies, already made perfect sense. Given the extremity of her visible mutation, she cannot, as her normal self, pass for normal. And we know how well that's going to go over with the general, non-mutant population. But her mutant ability is shapeshifting (win!), and she can kick your ass (win-win!). So she's got some pretty kickass powers, and she's got what must at least feel like the moral high ground (I'd argue that it is, but only up to a point somewhere before full-scale terrorism, which is basically what the Brotherhood is about). So none of this is actually new. The newness in this film is the complication that it introduces.


The relationship we see between Raven and Charles makes what we know from the earlier movies more poignant, but it also makes it more difficult to see her ending up as we know she does. This would be fine, if the move then did the work to get her there, but it doesn't. It makes sense that she would join the dark side. It does not make sense that she would leave when she does. And, given what we've now seen of her, it's harder to understand how she ends up *so* ruthless, and the movie does not give us that bridge.

You may notice that I've mostly ignored Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert. That's because the film does as well.

All of that said, the movie is highly enjoyable, and I'm quibbling over what could have made it even better. The mutant powers are fun to watch in action, there are moments with the young mutants cannot help but be compelling, and Fassbender and McAvoy mostly make up for what's lacking elsewhere.

Movie rating system:
5 *s = "WOW!"
4 *s = "Good"

3 *s = "Stupid fun, decent, or at least not bad enough to get 2 *s"

2 *s = "Bad, but not awful, or enjoyable despite its awfulness"
1 * = "The best part was the end, because then it was over."
no *s = "*Deep, pain-filled sigh*...I will never get that [insert running time here] of my life back."


  1. See, I told you... Fassbender. I should probably also note that I do like James McAvoy (he's really talented), but they keep putting him in leading man type roles and he really isn't quite leading man material. IMHO, anyway. lol

  2. Oh, and as for Jennifer Lawrence, she did seem to do an excellent job in Winter's Bone but she also had a fantastic supporting cast to work with. As time has passed, I've wondered how much of it was really her and how much was the foreboding, grim look of the movie and the excellent supporting performances.