Fox // 2011 // 132 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // September 5th, 2011
Mutant and proud! Upon hearing this insert finger in mouth and pantomime gagging.
A strange occurrence happened when I watched the film X-Men: First Class, after the first viewing I gave it the nod of approval; I didn't jump out of my seat with excitement but I enjoyed it -- or so I thought. I watched it again, just to solidify events that took place in the plot and something strange happened; there was no nod of approval this time, only a perplexed look of confusion as I realized the second time through that I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I had. Hmm, what did it all mean? Granted, both times I did enjoy the fact that there was no Halle Berry floundering around as Storm, or Patrick Stewart chewing up the scenery in a convoluted, overly dramatic plot line with a soap opera twist. Still, something was missing from this origins movie that, although better than previous installments, didn't necessarily mean that it was a movie worth watching.
When the world is threatened by a rogue mutant named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, Super), bent on ridding the planet of every human inhabitant, CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, Insidious) enlists the help of a gene mutation expert and mutant telepath, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Atonement) to thwart Shaw before he can achieve his goal. Using the aid of Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender, Inglourious Basterds), the mutant who would eventually become the powerful Magneto, the two friends get a rag-tag group of young Mutants to help them save a human race who want nothing at all to do with them.
I was interested in X-Men: First Class because James McAvoy is one of my favorite actors, yet even with his presence the movie was a bit of a disappointment. Don't get me wrong, I liked it more than I hated it but that is hardly a ringing endorsement. The film was at its strongest when it focused on Erik Lehnsherr's desire for revenge on Shaw, the man who tortured him as a child in a Nazi prison camp, along with Erik's friendship with Charles Xavier. The film did a great job of contrasting the lives of Charles, who had a privileged upbringing, with Erik's tortured, orphaned childhood -- which left him with an anger that fueled both his life and his mutant abilities.
As the human population was growing increasingly leery of the mutants, Charles believed they could still live side by side in perfect harmony but Erik felt the humans wanted to rid themselves of the mutant population altogether. Through McAvoy and Fassbender you could see the beginnings of who those characters would become in later years. Both did a great job of making us believe they were truly the younger versions of Professor Xavier and Magneto without photocopying the performances of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.
Theirs was an intriguing character study that was far more engaging than the anxiety ridden younger mutants who became a larger part of the story midway through the film. One scene in particular that took valuable time away from the Xavier and Lehnsherr friendship was the mutant training Montage. We witnessed the youngins come to terms with their abilities and preparing to take on the evil Shaw. It was probably a moment meant to create a bond between the viewer and the younger mutants, however, it came off as a bit cheesy and clichéd and the film never quite recovered. McAvoy and Fassbender were reduced to babysitting mutants far less interesting than Charles X and the future Magneto.
Rose Byrne was completely unmemorable as Agent MacTaggart, a CIA opperative working with the mutants to stop Shaw. There was a hint of a romantic connection between her and Charles but it just wasn't developed at all. No offense to Byrne, it wasn't her fault, but rather the fault of writers who made her character a one dimensional empty suit. This is a problem with most superhero movies, they always have a prominent female character but often they do little with her, as was the case with Byrne.
The most annoying aspect of First Class was its 'mutant and proud' meme that was proclaimed throughout the film, turning the action movie into something of a public service announcement. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone) was the main culprit of this annoyance but it was also used to a lesser extent by Erik, who was trying to get the insecure Mystique to proudly walk around with her scaly blue skin and dare anyone to say something about it. It was all too clumsy and heavy handed.
I think First Class made the cardinal error of taking itself too seriously and trying to be something more than just a good guy versus bad guy comic book adaptation. Not having read any of the X-Men comics, I don't know if this was also a trait of those stories as well. I read that the poor treatment of the mutants was an allegory for homophobia and racism in the world. I don't know about you, but I don't want political allegories in my superhero movies, I just want to watch good triumph over evil without having to provide my politically correct credentials at the door.
X-Men:First Class was shot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and the audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. Extras included two featurettes, one highlighting the genesis of how the film was made and the other a look at the relationships of the characters and the actors who portrayed them.
Kudos to Kevin Bacon who makes quite the motion picture villain, his performance in First Class was just the right touch of evil, cheese and humor; he is the only person who didn't seem to be taking himself too seriously. Watching as he worked his cold charm on everyone from Erik to Miss Emma Frost (January Jones, Mad Men) were some of the more entertaining scenes in the movie.
I'm still torn as to how I feel about X-Men: First Class. It has the actors, and the intriguing story of Xavier and Magneto's beginnings, but it couldn't fit all the pieces together to create a great movie. Maybe it tried too hard to make a statement instead of tell a story. Still, there are some positives to take away from the film. Michael Fassbender was wonderful as Erik 'Magneto' Lehnsherr, his storyline at the beginning of the film looked like a harbinger of great things to come but unfortunately it wasn't. Kevin Bacon as Shaw was a blast to watch, and of course my man James McAvoy did an admiral job of making me forget that Patrick Stewart had anything to do with the X-Men movies. All in all it is one of those films I have a soft spot for and can't quite bring myself to say I dislike, even with all of its faults.
Hung Jury; I didn't hate it but I didn't quite like it either.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site
* Cinema Verdict Review