X-Men: First Class

Two allies and a powerful team of mutants band together to save the planet from nuclear annihilation. That’s the picture in a nutshell, but it doesn’t even begin to detail the numerous story threads and characters that make up this ambitious, but overly plotted film.

Drama concerns the honorable Professor X, leader of the X-Men and his future arch nemesis, supervillain Magneto. Here however, we delve into the details of how these mutants came to be. What drives them and how they evolved. Origin stories are endlessly fascinating because they explain details we thought we already knew. X-Men reveals remarkable nuggets that enjoyably flesh out the individual backstories. For example, before he became Magneto, he was Erik Lensherr, a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Who knew? His benevolent purpose in protecting the mutant race seems surprisingly noble when compared to the megalomaniac we know he ultimately becomes. Less unexpected, but still interesting, is Professor X’s origins as Charles Francis Xavier, an ambulatory teacher who is a champion of mutant (read civil) rights.

Much of the enjoyment will be for fans of the series in discovering how these two important figures came to be. The problem is that the screenplay attempts to take on too much. Here we are presented with an alternate reality period piece that tries to interweave Nazi’s, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, teen romance, civil rights and a dizzying number of actors. That last pitfall has always been an issue with these movies, so that’s not as surprising. Mystique, Beast, Havok, Banshee, Angel and Darwin are all addressed as well as several other mutants. However, the story could have been more emotionally engaging if the narrative was simplified to focus on just a few leads and provided more depth. As it is, a great deal of the plot is a special effects extravaganza of superpowers by characters that quickly pop up with little introduction.

Every so often the script has a brilliant flash of creativity. Actress Rebecca Romijn shows up in one scene that is truly inspired. And occasionally there are inside jokes that any casual fan will understand. It’s those touches that make the action enjoyable. It’s as if the seven(!) writers were so concerned with packing in innumerable expository details, they forgot the fun. This is a superhero adventure after all, not Schindler’s List. Tackling so many plot threads can feel somewhat unfocused. And advancing clichés like “Be Yourself” or “Mutants are People Too”, though admirable, aren’t innovative enough to require their mention more than once. Ultimately X-Men is best enjoyed as a simple tale between good and evil. Thankfully thespians James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender brings their serious acting credentials to the franchise. They imbue their characters with a substance that the script often doesn’t allow. The end result can be an articulate, verging on talky, picture that will probably most captivate the dedicated fan, and just satisfactorily entertain everyone else.

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6 Responses to “X-Men: First Class”

  1. magnolia12883 Says:

    I give it a mild recommendation – there are moments that are nice and others where I wish it’d just get on with it… Oh well… Better than I expected in some sense.

  2. Again, loving the longer reviews. Saw this on Friday but haven’t gotten to writing my own. Agree that this is an improvement but certainly not a great film. James McAvoy is incredible, but hated the CGI and makeup and thought the Cuban Missile Crisis subplot was rather unnecessary (as was the Wolverine cameo).

    • Yeah everything seemed so needlessly complicated. John F. Kennedy? Puh-leeze! But the Wolverine cameo didn’t bother me. It was rather brief and a nod to the character.

  3. Michael Fassbender, at times, reminded me of Han Solo. I like James McAvoy as an actor. Too many stories but I enjoyed.

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