June 16, 2011

X-Men: First Class

A enjoyable superhero movie, stylishly set in the early 1960s, and spearheaded by hunky romantics Michael Fassbender and James McEvoy.

The story of how young Magneto and Xavier met and evolved into heroic X-Men is a powerful, romantic, emotional journey. Clever casting James McEvoy and Michael Fassbender: both proven leads in a series of female-centric romance movies (Becoming Jane, Atonement, Jane Eyre), they were a slam-dunk hit with the ladies.

I don't look like a penis, do I?
The genesis of their friendship makes a great story, and it's well told here. The best origin stories show the flaws alongside the strengths which make the characters great. Charles Xavier is patronizing and smug, but also an idealist and natural leader. Magneto is headstrong and irrational, but also charismatic and emotional.

The plot -- a global-political chess match against a Bond-style supervillain-mutant --is a strong classic James Bond style thriller. The 1960s setting offered lots of opportunities for slick Mad Men style. Kevin Bacon is good but not great as the megalomaniac who wants to trigger World War III in order to rid the world of non-mutants. I laughed out loud when his secret submarine is launched! Very old-school! All-white interior, oil paintings, wet bar, and a crew of two? That's some automation he has there.

The climactic battle scenes between the X-Men and the rival navies of the USA and USSR is terrific summer movie fare. I love watching ships getting blown up, the X-Jet swooping about, and giant holes punched in submarines. I love it when the sound is so loud I can hoot with contentment and no one else cares.

The "Muppet Babies" characters -- the "First Class" of the title - disappoint me. Except for Professor X, Magneto, Mystique, and Beast, none of the mutants featured in the first four movies are reintroduced here. They've dug up new-to-the-movies mutants, which frankly, if they were more interesting, they would have made it into a movie by now. If this is the first movie in a new series, does that mean we're stuck with these young mutants? They don't have to have awesome powers to be interesting, but these feel like the bottom of the barrel:
  • Laser shoots from his chest
  • Super-screaming ability
  • Conjures windstorms? How is this guy different from Storm (Halle Berry)?
  • Dragonfly who shoots flaming spitballs
  • Devil who can teleport (like Nightcrawler [Alan Cumming])
...and then there's Emma Frost. Frost can read minds like Xavier, turns into a diamond, which is pretty, I guess, and has super-non-acting powers. January Jones cannot act even a little bit. She spends the whole movie in her 1960s underwear, or in skintight white leather -- but it's not easy to find any sex appeal when she stares straight ahead blankly All. The. Time. The mannequins at Old Navy are sexier than this.

This is her "intense" look...and all her other looks too.
She looks especially bad next to Jennifer Lawrence. She's the blue shape-shifting Mystique -- played by Rebecca Romijn in X Men 1,2,3. She spends most of the movie in her human (non-blue) disguise, and she's all earthy sexuality and roiling emotions. Too bad her emotional journey out of the mutant closet has been told already by other mutants in previous movies.

Also a letdown is Rose Byrne's CIA agent. She discovers the mutants involved in this evil plot, and becomes a liason between the X Men and the government, but when the crisis reached the breaking point, she was as spineless as a boiled dandelion. I would have preferred her ruthless character from Bridesmaids over this one.

The triangle between Magneto, Xavier, and Mystique was richly emotional and strong, which is a fine portent for the future of this reboot. Too bad the rest of the mutants don't have much to offer.

NOTES: Great to see James Remar (48 Hrs, Pineapple Express) and Michael Ironside (Top Gun, Total Recall) as an Army general and Navy captain. Was Kurtwood Smith already booked?

With Marc and Adam at Loews Boston Common, digital projection.

Stub Hubby Sees The X-Men Movies

Great Origin Stories