X-Men First Class: Expectations vs Results
Hello, readers of T-Dot Comics. By now, many of you have probably seen the new comic book film X-Men: First Class. The movie has made a bunch of money and been generally hailed as successful, both as a film and as a translation of the X-Men story. However, you might be wondering, “what does some grumpy nerd-type guy think about this movie?” Since I find the internet lacking in nerds that talk about movies, I felt it necessary to chime in.
Before this movie came out, I had a bunch of what I like to call “preconceived notions” based on things that I had heard about the film or seen in advertisements. I decided to write a list of them before I saw the film, and this review will mostly consist of how it was the same or different, and how these elements helped or hindered the film (in my eyes anyway).
Firstly, I can say that I was excited when I heard that Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn was attached to helm the project. Between Kick-Ass, 2007’s Stardust, and his involvement in gangster movies like Snatch (which he produced) and Layer Cake, Vaughn has proven himself as a great director who can handle original material and adaptations with equal seriousness. In fact, before Brett Ratner was settled upon for the dismal X-Men 3, Vaughn was talked about as director of that film. Seeing X-Men: First Class, it is clear that not only would Vaughn have been a better choice for X3 (even though that movie suffered from many more problems than just its director) and the not-terrible-but-forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I found him more successful than Bryan Singer (director of the first two X-Men films and producer of First Class) at translating the spirit of the comics. While Singer did a great job at capturing several of the characters and themes of this mythology, he missed the point of others. At the end of the day, while X-Men is a story about persecution and internal conflict, it’s also an epic sci-fi about mutant superheroes. With Singer’s films, even the fantastic X2, you never quite see the scope of the X-Men universe. I can tell you I’d never be able to picture the Savage Land, or Apocalypse, or the Shii’ar in Bryan Singer’s X-Men universe, but without spoiling too much I can say that Vaughn wastes no time creating a vast universe of characters with a wide range of abilities, feelings, and origins.
Before the film came out, I found out that the “First Class” in the film would NOT be the exact same mutants as the original “Uncanny X-Men” (Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, and Jean Grey). This in itself doesn’t bother me. While I wish they gave Iceman a fair shake and portrayed him as something other than a kid that doesn’t get to do anything, I found the team to be a nice mix of mutants that generally don’t get to shine as much. And it was definitely nice to see an X-Men movie that isn’t really just a Wolverine movie. However, one of the changes was to re-boot Angel entirely. This did bother me because Angel is a character that has a lot of dramatic opportunity, and his internal conflict rivals that of Beast or Mystique. Instead, the character seemed fairly pointless other than to just provide another name on the checklist, not to mention being played by an actress who could clearly not keep up with the rest of the group. (EDIT: I have been told that this “angel” is not a re-boot of the classic character but a recent mutant from the comics – I still think it was a waste of a character). That being said, the rest of the young X-Men were played very well, particularly Nicholas Hoult as Beast.
Speaking of the cast, another thing that made me anticipate the film was the main cast. From their earlier work, I knew that James McAvoy (Wanted) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) would have the acting chops to play Professor Xavier and Magneto respectively. Then it was revealed that Kevin Bacon was playing villain Sebastian Shaw, and I got VERY excited. This meant that the movie was going to go in a direction other than JUST mutant-human relations (although that aspect must always be present in an X-Men film), and that Vaughn was willing to bring some of the X-Men’s more sinister villains to the screen. Anyway, even with some minor changes made to their history, Xavier and Magneto are portrayed faithfully to the spirit of the characters, much like they were by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen before. Bacon brings his all as usual and portrays an incredibly villainous and genuinely threatening Shaw. It’s a shame that January Jones as Emma Frost seems completely out of place with acting heavyweights like Bacon, Fassbender and McAvoy. Fassbender in particular really captures every side of Magneto, who is one of the more layered characters in the Marvel universe. He is equally charming and powerful, and also brings a James Bond type quality to the role. McAvoy’s Xavier is suave, energetic, and almost Austin Powers-ish as he comes to term with the great responsibility he carries as a leader in the emerging mutant culture.
One thing that has me a bit suspicious before the film came out was the appearance of the characters. The “special effects heavy” ones like Beast and Emma Frost worried me because it didn’t seem like the make-up/effects were on par with the older movies. The result is that while most of the characters and effects look great, the characters I mentioned in particular look a bit silly and it detracts (only slightly) from the experience.
All in all, X-Men: First Class, while not perfect, is a lot closer to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films than, say, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. For the most part, Matthew Vaughn seems to understand that when making a comic book movie, the “surface details” can (and in some cases should) be messed with a bit, but the SPIRIT of the story and the characters need to be intact. If you’re a long-time X-Men fan, you’ll probably notice some of these little details being out of place or rearranged, but for the most part you’ll be smiling at seeing the characters act and feel the way they should. I look forward to more from this franchise, and hope they continue to take risks and not try to “ground it in realism”. For some comics (Iron Man, Batman), the realistic approach works, but like Thor, X-Men is a universe that needs the sweeping scope and fantastic elements that separates it from every other superhero adventure. I can’t say it’s perfect, and I still think that the sheer scope of the X-Men universe lends itself better to, say, a TV series; but I can definitely say I want to see more, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of X-Men even casually.