A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 558 – X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class – September 9th, 2011

Let me just say, this summer was pretty good for superhero movies. Or rather, it was good for Marvel superhero movies. We did go to see Green Lantern and we’ll probably buy it, but that doesn’t mean it was all that good. Poor DC. Marvel, on the other hand, had this, Captain America and Thor in theaters this summer. And we loved all three. This is the first to hit DVD, so we watched it right away. How could we not? After all, I am, first and foremost, an X-Men fan. Cap, Iron Man, they’re great and all, but I say bring on the mutants.

As I’ve said before when it comes to comic book movies, people can piss and moan all they want about continuity but it doesn’t mean a damn thing. Comic books, and Marvel in particular, have been mucking with continuity for decades. Marvel’s even numbered their various AUs and made up extra ones for kicks, like Earth-1002, where everyone’s a canine and the team is called the Rex-Dogs. I’ve mentioned before that the Summers family is a perfect example of what happens when you cross AUs, so I don’t see the big deal in changing up the specific first members of the X-Men, or having Alex Summers older than the other movie-verse versions of Scott Summers. So what you will not find in this review is a nitpick on continuity or canon. Yes, things deviate from the other movies. Emma Frost being the best example there. Yes, things deviate from the comics. No, I do not care.

I love this movie. I don’t love everything about it (and I’ll get to that) but I love a lot of it. I love seeing Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr before they became Professor X and Magneto. I love seeing the team grow and train. I love seeing little hints at the future, like General Stryker and the proto-Cerebro. I love the use of the time period for clothing styles, slang and most of all, plot. Because this movie is set in 1962, right on the cusp of the Cuban missile crisis, into which the mutants are thrown. It makes the team an integral but secret part of an event that truly happened in our own world. Really, I think the set-up for the team and the overarching plot are really nicely done, leading to a fantastic climax where not only is the team battling against what they perceive as their enemies, but also against the humans and then we get changes in loyalty too. Very nicely orchestrated.

Really though, in my heart my favorite bits of the movie are just the whole building of the team. Also, Erik and Charles. I don’t care who knows it: I honestly think this movie was Erik and Charles’ epic love story and breakup. And it’s not just me. Ian McKellan and James MacAvoy both agree, so I stand firm on this. Even if you don’t want to go with the love story aspect, they are certainly very close friends. The closest of friends. And their worldviews just aren’t compatible by the end. It’s tragic. And what I think this movie does excellently is present both sides as being potentially valid and potentially flawed. We know Magneto turns out to be “evil” later on, but the background they gave him here? It’s difficult to deny that his views are, at least in part, accurate for the world he’s lived in. Same for Charles, who has a much easier childhood and adolescence. Where this movie’s real strength is for me, is in its character arcs. Charles, Erik, Raven? They’re all given some truly good material to work with that makes what we know of their eventual futures that much more interesting.

Then too, you have the rest of the recruits. I love the recruitment montage, with Charles and Erik traveling to find mutants and make their case for joining the CIA. I love the little displays of power and quick character introductions. They’re not terribly heavy-handed but they give an idea of who’s who and who does what. And the cameo at the end of the recruitment montage? Perfect. Well played, good sirs. The recruits hanging out and goofing off together? Also fun, and a nice way to show off their powers. Training montage? Better than most montages because there are pauses for dialogue and context. I especially enjoy the interactions between Sean and Erik. They make the characters a little deeper and a little more real. And the chemistry between the various cast members is great. It seems like they had fun making the movie together, which translates well on screen.

What I find most frustrating about the movie is how piss-poorly it handles the races and genders of its characters. As ensemble casts go, it’s got a decent (but not great) assortment of genders and races. There are two women on the team, one of whom is Hispanic. One of the men is African American and while I’d love to see more diversity there I will give them credit for not having an entirely pasty white crew. The thing is, by the end? The team is Professor X and the three white recruits. Okay, one is blue by then, but he started out white. Granted, the divide between sides is made out to be very grey here and I can see how the justification might have been made for Angel switching over, I cannot for one second excuse how they handled Darwin. Okay, so you don’t want an overpowered character mucking up your main action scene. Then why introduce him in the first place? It’s not like Alex ends up being super useful (Sean’s more useful in the final battle and the poor guy gets left off every poster), so if you want to up the ante for the characters by killing off an ally, go for it. But why him?

Similarly, I totally understand Mystique’s character arc. And as an individual character, divorced from the larger cast issues, her story carries a hell of a lot of weight. To be honest, I don’t blame her one bit for leaving Charles on the beach. Charles is a privileged douche for much of the movie, spouting “mutant and proud” when it suits him but expecting his adopted sister to hide her true nature. So when she walks away, I get it and I do not question it and I think the writers gave her a wonderful arc. But taken in the larger context, when she switches sides, that makes all three female mutant characters on the “evil” side. And again, while I like the individual stories (Emma Frost being with Sebastian Shaw as part of the Hellfire Club is a wonderful little callback to the comics and Emma herself has switched sides numerous times) when put together as a whole they paint a picture full of unfortunate implications. And when you’re going to change the origin story for the team, adding in characters who weren’t there in the comics and using canon characters for new roles, you’ve really got a shitload to choose from. This particular team, with these particular issues, did not happen by accident. And it could well have been done differently.

I don’t mean to harp too much on my issues with the movie, but I feel they warrant saying. They certainly didn’t make the movie unpleasant for me to watch and I’ll gladly watch it again. And as I said, each individual choice and action makes sense on its own. They just add up to something that makes me heave a heavy sigh. But I can focus on the good and hope that future installments (or any future X-Men based movies) will handle things better. Certainly, I think this movie handled the universe better than, say, Wolverine or X3 did. I enjoy the character arcs and I like the decision to go back to the beginning and reboot the whole thing, starting a new continuity. I just wish I didn’t have anything negative to say. I wish I could applaud everything. I’ll just have to be content, for now, with applauding the majority of it.

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September 9, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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