Movie Review - X-Men: First Class
This movie would have us think that it's a prequel in the vein of what George Lucas did for his Star Wars movies rather than a reboot in the vein of what Christopher Nolan did for the Batman movies. The movie starts out like it's going to go the way of Nolan but by the end veers into Lucas territory and is not the better for it.
What actually should have been my first clue that this was a prequel and not a reboot was the very opening. It's an exact replay of the scene from the first X-Men movie. It's the scene that shows a young boy being ripped away from his mother in 1944. His mother is being put into a Polish concentration camp by Nazis. After his mother is put behind large metal gates, the boy reaches out his hand and is able to bend the bars of those metal gates without actually touching anything.
That boy was the very young version of the character known as Magneto. Magneto is of course the mutant that can generate electromagnetic fields and ostensibly move metal with his mind. In the first X-Men movie, we see this initial scene and then the next time we see Magneto is when he's an old man, played by Sir Ian McKellan. Here, we're given that introduction and then the next time we see Magneto is just a few seconds later, while he's still a teenage boy, still freshly upset about being ripped away from his mother.
What follows is an explanation of why Magneto becomes the way that he is. Magneto believes that mutants will never be accepted by humans and that mutants will forever be seen and treated the way Jews were seen and treated by the Nazis. Except, we don't really get that from this movie. What we get is something that completely undermines the explanation of why Magneto becomes the way that he is.
What we see after young Magneto is ripped away from his mother is the boy meeting Sebastian Shaw, the man who ultimately kills her. Prior to this, I assumed that Magneto's mom was killed by the Nazis, which would make sense as to why Magneto hates humans. Except, Shaw is the one who kills her. Now, Shaw is a mutant too, so it makes no sense as to why Magneto hates humans by the end of this movie. I suppose you could say that Magneto saw what happened to the Jews or how blacks were treated, and just decides to write all of humanity off, but we don't really get that from this movie either. All we get is Magneto on a revenge trip against Shaw.
So, Magneto spends the whole movie going after Shaw who is a fellow mutant and then at the end we're simply supposed to accept that Magneto now all of a sudden hates humans. Wouldn't the fact that it was a mutant who killed his mother make him think that maybe not everything is so black-and-white? I think having Shaw kill Magneto's mom and have that be the drive of this movie ultimately undermines Magneto's character in the grand scheme.
After Shaw kills her, the filmmakers jump ahead almost twenty years, and Michael Fassbender plays the adult Magneto in revenge mode. I like Fassbender. His performances in Hunger and Fish Tank prove him to be a great actor, but, in many ways, Fassbender is the Hugh Jackman of this movie. Yet, it's difficult to go with his character here because it's obvious that they're angling for him to be a bad guy but for a chunk of this movie they play him as a good guy, so it's just off-putting.
James McAvoy plays Charles Xavier, a mutant who is telepathic, and McAvoy is very good. He has the gravitas, charisma and somehow wisdom that Patrick Stewart naturally has. He was a perfect choice in Stewart's wake.
The person, however, who steals this movie is Kevin Bacon who plays Sebastian Shaw. He's like a James Bond villain, except he has super powers. Bacon is just crazy and wicked. He kills the one and only black guy in the movie, which is kind of lame, but I forgive him.
The rest of the younger actors who round out the cast of young mutants, each with different abilities, are very good actors. Magneto and Xavier recruit and train these young mutants so that they can better control their super powers. Aside from one of these young mutants, none of them are part of what was known in the comics as the original and first five members of the X-Men team.
The most interesting is the character of Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence who was recently nominated for an Oscar for Winter's Bone. Mystique is a shape-shifter whose natural form is a blue, scaly creature. Moreso in this film than in previous movies is the issue of beauty and body image and acceptance based on outward appearances.
I liked how this movie handled the relationship between Magneto and Xavier. The two actors do a good job of making the audience feel that friendship. They play off each other very well, whether it's doing something literally playful or something serious. I also liked how each handled the body image issue.
That being said, I don't see these two as action stars. McAvoy did an action film with Angelina Jolie called Wanted, in which I didn't buy him either. I'm sorry, but I just don't think McAvoy and Fassbender have the physicality for the big action set pieces, not in the way Hugh Jackman did, and the action scenes in this movie weren't all that exciting or interesting any way. The end action scene, for example, just wasn't edited all that great to me. It wasn't staged in an appealing way either. The best fight for example was between the characters of Beast, played by Nicholas Hoult, and Azazel, played by Jason Flemyng, but it was edited to give us hardly any of it.
I felt the film ran way too long. The movie includes a couple of cameos that weren't necessary. One of which it could have totally done without. There's a training montage that builds up the ability of a character named Havoc, played by Lucas Till, but then short changes him in the end and makes all the time dedicated to him practically pointless.
Strangely, the filmmakers wanted to change things up. They made Mystique into Xavier's sister. They made Moira MacTaggert, played by Rose Byrne, a CIA agent. They made Beast the inventor of Cerebro not Xavier and Magneto. They also craft this story around the Cuban Missile Crisis. All this would be in line with the reboot theory where it could be assumed that the characters could go anywhere.
Except, the very end of this movie is a rush to set things up, specifically relationships, so that it delivers you right at the doorstep of the first act of the first X-Men movie. It's as if they were doing Revenge of the Sith and were only trying to get to the point where Darth Vader puts his helmet on.
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence.
Running Time: 2hrs. and 12 mins.