Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Weeks Too Late: X-Men-First Class

X-Men: First Class. Directed by Matthew Vaughn & Written by (deep breath) Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, With Story by Sheldon Turner & Bryan Singer.

: X-Men 3 sucked. It wasn't the glorious, spiteful 'giving in to studio pressure (to show why the things they wanted are stupid),' suckiness that was Spiderman 3. Also: no dance numbers. Nope, X-Men 3 basically had nothing going for it (except for enjoying the on the nose casting of Kelsey Grammer as Beast). I figured after the death rattle of a handful of Wolverine movies that we'd hear nothing else from the X-Men until they were inevitably re-booted.

The idea behind X-Men: First Class was ludicrous. I didn't think the charm of Professor X and Magneto could survive the loss of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. I mean really, James McAvoy? Mr. Gnomeo & Juliet? And Michael Fassbender? A TV actor until Tarantino pulled him out of obscurity. These are the replacements for a couple of the greatest actors of our time? I scoff pretty damned hard X-Men. Matthew Vaughn is alright, I (and I believe no one else in the world) rather liked Stardust and Layer Cake wasn't a bad Daniel Craig fix, but he's hardly shaken the foundation of the world with his directing. All in all, I was surprised by the positive buzz I was hearing about this flick, but I heard more than enough of it to wrest myself out of an LA Noire stupor and go to the theater.

General Review: Well shut my mouth like that of a 1940's woman (meaning with a playful slap-yeah back in that stupor). Once again, the nerd word of mouth was totally right and my gut reaction to poorly made trailers was totally wrong (well nearly). Before I go any further, I would like to officially retract any and all jokes made at McAvoy and Fassbender's expense (particularly Fassbender, because I would very much like to be friendly with him-meeeeow!).

Not only were they both individually talented, taking over roles that had been defined by other actors, but their chemistry together was perfect. Gay jokes aside (and believe me it's difficult) the bonds of friendship between the two characters came off as genuine and heartfelt. I bought every moment of the whole "friends with utterly opposing ideals" thing.

The two leads were hardly the only strong actors. I was expecting to find Jennifer Lawrence (baby Mystique) callow and utterly uninteresting when compared to Rebecca Romjin, but was pleasantly surprised. Her story of self discovery never bored me or felt too teeny-bopper. Kevin Bacon was another unexpectedly good casting choice. He looked strangely like the sharp featured, frock coat wearing Sebastian Shaw, and carried himself with the heavy menace I always associated with the character. January Jones, as I'm sure you already heard, was one of the few missteps in casting. She wasn't much of a femme fatal, and lacked in both power and waggle (bitty little hips for anyone playing Emma Frost). I prefer my Emma's English, but I could have handled the change if I didn't find her utterly tedious.

As for the directing: Yowza! We got to see spectacle and interesting gimmicks as well as having personal moments between the characters. And neither the flash or the substance was lessened by the other. I wasn't desperately waiting for the quiet debates over philosophy to end or wondering if now would be the opportune bathroom break during the action sequences. The balance and the pacing were wonderful. I dug the 1960s setting and the period costumes and sets were awfully fun. Speaking of costuming, I also liked the New X-Men-y yellow uniforms, it was a good compromise between black leather and green spandex.

There is also a lot to be said about the writing. This story could easily have been a mess. While it seems as though there are too many plot threads for one movie, they all remain clear. None of them made the movie feel jumbled, or like it was trying to do too much. Most of the characters had an arc, but they didn't seem forced. Connecting the whole mess of threads back to World War 2 and the Cold War was impressive.

Unfortunately, X-Men wasn't all cute men platonically sharing a bed and complicated weaving of cold war fear with fear of the unknown. There were some jarring moments of less talented writing. They are things I might have dismissively waived my hand at and ignored in a movie that wasn't as well executed, but because the bulk of X-Men was so skillful these stood out badly. Yes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a good allegory for Beast's arc, but having Beast and Professor X say flat out "HEY! I sure am like that Stevenson book, aren't I Professor?" was more than a bit much. Rinse and repeat with Magneto announcing that he was just like Frankenstein's monster, searching for his creator (a particularly eye rolling moment in an otherwise bad ass scene). Put together, it almost felt like one of the sixty writers of this was trying to show off that they'd read a book. Well, pat on the head writer number 49, but lets not do this again. Some of the prescient jokes ("Ha-ha! I hope that I, Professor Xavier, never lose my beautiful hair!") and giving names to thing ("Oh, Charles, you should call them the X-Men! In fact, you could say it was their first class." ...well maybe not as far as that, but nearly) fell flat. I sometimes felt choked by the bow that was being neatly tied around things. But, like I say, I only noticed these because it's easy to see small flaws in something that was so well crafted over all.

Don't let the truly awful trailer or X-Men 3 talk you out of this movie. It's a treat and the few warts and hiccups aren't nearly enough to spoil the overall good experience. Despite all common sense the 5th movie in a series is really one of the best so far. I'm sure you've heard scores of other people raving about X-Men, and I'm going to add my voice to theirs: X-Men is great, go see it.


  1. A reviewer on the movie put it best. "January Jones strips down to her underwear and she is such a charisma vacumn that I felt nothing."

  2. The thing is, I LIKE her on Madmen, she's fun to love to hate. I just straight up hated her in this. I don't think she's bad, exactly, I think she's just a bad choice.