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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Back from X-Men: First Class

No time at the moment to write a proper, considered review - but the bottom line is, ya gotta go and see this movie. I totally loved it. I give it, um, four and half stars. I can think of areas for improvement. One is that January Jones was mediocre as Emma Frost. Maybe we can discuss others if we get a thread going. Overall, though, this movie kicks human and mutant butt. Michael Fassbender totally frakking dominates as a young, angry, and badass version of Magneto, just as Sir Ian McKellen did as a more Silver Age (and badass) version of the character.

The movie, as predicted by all, is very much the story of how Erik became Magneto. But it's much better, IMHO, than the nearest equivalent story you could think of - i.e., how Anakin became Darth Vader (and I'm not especially a hater of the Star Wars prequels).

Setting it at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis turned out to be a stroke of genius, as did the general James Bond look and feel that the makers went for. Some of the sets are just gorgeous. And if you have any reservations about the radically different continuity from the comics, forget it. Go with the flow and enjoy these versions of the characters.

Unless you're totally out of sympathy with this sort of movie ... grab your popcorn and your ticket with both hands and see it soon.

19 comments:

Mirror James said...

I saw it today too and absolutely agree with what you say.

What really surprised me was just how effective the parallels between anti-mutant sentiment and homophobia and racism were. That's always been a part of the comics and movies, such as Bobby's coming out seen in X-Men 2, but the various scenes with Mystique really took that to a whole new level.

Have you read any of Mathew Vaughn's ideas for a potential sequel? I really hope we see these characters at this particular period in time again soon.

Oh, and also, that cameo!

godsbelow said...

I'm gonna trust your judgement with this one, and allow myself to get my hopes up.

It's a pity about Jones, though. Emma Frost is such an interesting character, there was a lot of cinematic/narrative potential in her.

Russell Blackford said...

The cameo that I'm sure you have in mind was great. Sooo well done in just a few seconds. lol

Yeah, I've seen a couple of interviews with Vaughan where he's floated ideas associated with the time of the Kennedy assassination .. and having in mind a new Big Bad to face Magneto (but not saying anything about who it might be).

Russell Blackford said...

Eek, such responsibility! :)

Let us all know what you think.

josefjohann said...

How does it compare to the previous X-Men movies?

Russell Blackford said...

It's something different from any of them.

DEEN said...

"i.e., how Anakin became Darth Vader"
Yup, that's totally the scene I had in mind when I mentioned "oops, guess I'm evil now" moments. X-men first class does an excellent job on this.

James Croft said...

I thought there were very interesting parallels between the Magneto / Eric relationship and the "New Atheist" / "accomodationist" debate =P.

I also enjoyed what seemed to be a strongly implied gay relationship between Havok and Darwin.

In all I thought the movie was fantastic!

peterjuul said...

Agree with the general praise for the movie. But it's not without its flaws - while it did a good job on the origin story vis-a-vis Magneto, it didn't do so well with Professor X. It's fairly clear what's driving Magneto as he goes through the movie, and it's perfectly logical that he winds up where he is at the end - and supremely ironic that he winds up holding essentially the same views as his persecutors, Shaw and the Nazis. But Xavier and his ideals - and why he holds them - aren't as fleshed out. He starts out, as James McAvoy has said in numerous interviews, as something of a cad, and it just seems like sheer optimism based on growing up in a sheltered situation is what's driving his views on human-mutant coexistence - not any deeper philosophical, moral, or experiential reasons (quite the contrary on the last score). I would say Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn dropped the ball on this aspect, but I'm thinking more that they punted on Professor X's issues for the sequel(s).

And the historical setting, while it does make for excellent costumes and sets, just had my inner historian jumping up and down too much screaming "That's not what happened!" Even granting the whole suspension of disbelief for there being mutants and all.

Both cameos were great - though if you blinked for the second, you probably missed it. But what I liked were the stream of references to the first two movies in the lines given to Xavier, Shaw, and Magneto. This was as much an homage to the first two films as it was its own film in some ways.

Ray said...

I really liked the movie, especially its potrayal of Magneto. Unfortunately, Emma Frost turned out to be Betty Draper with superpowers.

I wish they had developed Xavier a bit more, although I liked that they showed some of his flaws. He's usually such a good person that he's not all that interesting.

Russell Blackford said...

I do think there was more scope to develop Emma, who has a very distinctive personality in the comics - and one that goes beyond the simple ice-queen persona that we saw. Maybe someone should have pointed the moviemakers in the direction of Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous to get an extra layer of what the character is supposed to be like (though Emma is lot smarter and more self-aware than Patsy).

For those who've seen it, it's vermuch a Magneto movie, isn't? That's not necessarily a bad thing, but Magneto's story tends to dominate everything else. Fassbender is just so damn good that that ends up being a plus, but, yeah, even Professor X's story is overshadowed, and one weakness, I guess, is that quite a few characters don't get much development.

alexii said...

The best comics are those which lack the stereotypical evil villain or Jesus-figure good guy (*ahem* Superman). X-Men has always been my favorite in this regard. Though First Class did not develop the friendship between Charles and Erik as much as I expected, it was sufficient to get the story across.

It's is a better moral lesson--and immensely more interesting--when there's not such a bifurcation of black and white, but only grays. Each of us has a mix creativity and destructiveness, charity and scorn, forgiveness and wrath. Depending on circumstance some inclinations become activated while others go dormant.

The worst of humanity seems to arise when evil is believed to be some force external to us, having nothing to do with ourselves. Certainly George Bush could have benefited from a little X-Men in his childhood, as he appears to have not learned this important lesson.

And that's particularly why First Class is great. Seeing the genesis of Magneto, we understand him not as an irredeemable villain but as a person who made decisions that we could have made in the same circumstances. Evil is complicated, contrary to what George Bush thinks.

The cons: I thought Kevin Bacon was miscast. There needed to be a more interesting and charismatic figure in that role. Indeed Bacon's fame has always perplexed to me -- he's got an upturned pig nose.

Also, some scenes were a little too teeny-bopper, if you know what I mean.

[**Spoiler, sort of**]

Remember Nightcrawler's White House scene in the opening of X2? I watched that with a bit of frustration because I kept thinking, "Why is he making this so difficult?"

First Class is gratifying because it corrects Nightcrawler's mistake. Azazel demonstrated the "right" technique when he attacked the compound where the teeny-boppers were partying.

Using a variation of Azazel's technique, Nightcrawler wouldn't even have to kill--he could just teleport the security guards to a locked room or simply far away.

Russell Blackford said...

There was one moment in the movie that threw me right out of it, and I still can't believe thst it slipped through the whole process. For me, the effect only lasted for a minute, but I can completely sympathise if it spoilt the whole movie for some people.

Can any of y'all guess what I'm talking about? I'm not wanting to incorporate too many spoilers at this stage, but I guess that won't matter so much by the time I approve your comments.

Russell Blackford said...

And really, I could have lived with minor flaws in the supporting cast - I deduct half a star mainly for this one thing.

peterjuul said...

As a big fan of Emma Frost in the comics, the mediocre acting and lack of characterization of her was hugely disappointing. But thems the breaks, I guess, when translating to the big screen. You win some and you lose some.

And as alexii pointed out, X-Men does do a good job of giving its villains explicable and rational motives. The movie version of Stryker parallels Magneto in some ways. Both suffered personal traumas at the hands humans or mutants - the Nazis in Magneto's case, his own mutant son in Stryker's case. I don't think that this necessarily makes either character redeemable in any sense - both tried to commit genocide in X2 via Professor X and Cerebro, and I agree with Grant Morrison's opinion that in the final analysis Magneto is "a mad old terrorist twat" - but it does make them more interesting than other villains that are just the embodiment of pure evil.

Russell Blackford said...

Ha! I hate that "mad old terrorist twat" line - not so much because it's technically wrong as because it's so reductive of a complex character who asks all sorts of questions.

Yes, he's gone through periods of being portrayed as mad, but also through periods of being much more sane and self-aware (and there's even an in-world explanation for this mental instability). Technically he's old, as he was born around 1926 according to Magneto Testament, but he's had that rejuvenation so he's physically only about 40 and not at all frail or senile (and Marvel will eventually write a story to explain why he wasn't all that old even before the rejuvenation story). Yeah, technically he's a terrorist. "Twat" is just an expression of dislike or contempt. So the description has some truth in it ... but it ruins the character.

I don't think Grant Morrison "got" Marvel's major villains. He approached them with a DC-ish mentality.

Ray said...

@alexii: Oh, I think Kevin Bacon's Shaw was one of the best characters of the film. Bacon plays villains very well, as he did this time.

Re Nightcrawler's attack on the president in X2: it was just meant to frighten the president to make him recognise the "mutant threat", and so it was supposed to fail. (Or that's how I took it.) If all the security guys had been taken away, there would have been no one to thwart the "assassination".

Bao Pu said...

I saw the movie yesterday, and really liked it. Although I collected the comics alot in the 80's, I seem to have forgotten Emma Frost completely.
I liked HJ's cameo.
I liked Kevin Bacon's character.
Being set in the 60's was neat.
Seeing Michael Ironside made me chuckle.
And the professor's encouragement to Erik to "be the better man" reminded me of something I've been working on lately: Laozi's advice to "repay ill will with goodwill" (Bao Yuan Yi De 報怨以德).

March Hare said...

@peterjuul, Xavier has a lot of affection for regular people, he is shown as some sort of James Bond, suave sophisticated and (we assume) bedding them regularly. Maybe he views them as pets, maybe as children to be protected or simply as equals - not a big enough fan of the comics to say, maybe someone can enlighten me?

Russell, don't know if the thing that lost it half a star is the same as what I'm thinking of, but it played fast and loose with science - e.g. lifting the sub out of the water while hanging on to the plane.

When Erik wants to stop the sub, why not crush the propellers?

Why are the X's referred to as a new species? There is no biological reason they can't interbreed with regular people.

Why is there a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution? e.g. Xavier talks of one species being more evolved than another which is simply not the case - evolution doesn't have a direction or a greater than sign.

Why does atomic power get the blame for the rise of the X-men? In places like Poland circa 1930's background radiation would be much higher than any man-made radiation.

Removing my lab coat, it wasa very enjoyable movie. I don't think Jan Jones was as bad as all that, albeit the character was a bit lightweight.

Interesting that Shaw doesn't (want to) harm the mutants yet his method of bringing the powers to the fore seems particularly harsh in the beginning. Yet another thing Magneto learns from him.