Saturday, June 18, 2011

X Men: First Class Part 2

The Nitpicking

Overall, I thought the movie was fantastic, and I would happily see it again. However, there were a number of things that killed it for me, at times.

Prime example is anything to do with the actual history of the time period. Once the story shifted to the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was like being splashed with ice cold water and being forced to wake up from a pleasant dream. Up to that point, I was fully engrossed in the film and loving every second of it. But once the mutants start taking part in the Cuban insanity, I lost my connection to the movie. Maybe it is because I'm such a history nerd, but everything from that point on just screamed 'Comic Book Movie'. And it wasn't just the absurd historical revisionism (seriously, was it even necessary for them to have set it during the crisis? Why not make up your own crisis? You're already giving people superpowers for crying out loud!), it was the fact that the ensemble cast begins to fray at the edges.

Up to this point, First Class miraculously gives each and every character enough screen time to engender interest and character depth. But once the final fight begins, we are presented with dizzying battles that, while occasionally badass, simply call attention to how many characters exist and how difficult it is to give them a satisfying conclusion. Powers are zipping about like mad. People are flying around and throwing crap at each other. It was reminiscent of the absurd battles of Thor, so over the top that it made me think of smashing action figures together from when I was a kid.


The fact of the matter is that, to give a movie fight resonance, it has to be personal. This is what makes the brief fight between Magneto and Shaw intense, as was the conflict between Xavier and Magneto; it is also what made every prior fight in the film engrossing. People have to be emotionally involved in some way or another for it to be epic. Having the fights on a small scale helps with this. Unfortunately, the end fight simply involved a lot of mutants who had never really met each other duking it on the beach, a mere sideshow to the act of trying to stop Shaw from... Wait, what the hell was he doing? Suckling on a nuclear reactor for power to do... what? Blow up the world? It was weird.

Anyways, from that point, I lost track of many of the characters and lost interest in them. In the end, they become subservient to the Xavier vs Magneto clash, wherein anyone who ever showed a bit of independence went with Magneto and everyone else went with Xavier. Unfortunately, even that inevitable confrontation felt a bit silly. It was a little bit hard to believe that Magneto was going to embrace the philosophy of Sebastian Shaw, the man he'd been trying to kill for years. It didn't make any sense that Magneto was going to take out his rage on humans because of Shaw; I found this bizarre because Shaw is a mutant. If anything, Magneto should have been able to understand from this that there is nothing that makes mutants inherently better or worse than humans. They can be just as bad and just as good. But nah. That would make too much sense.

But this is why I prefer X2. Even though X2 was about a whole lot more than Magneto and Professor X's differences, it still manages to do absolute justice to the conflict between them through the events that occurred throughout the movie while still doing immense credit to an ensemble cast of mutants and their own respective character developments. I think a big part of that has to do with scale and personal involvement of characters. I don't want to go into too much detail here (I can always watch X2 and review it later), but I think X2 superior because of the impressive balance it manages to keep in being thought provoking, action-packed, and able to develop characters excellently, even minor ones, despite a large cast. I feel like First Class would have surpassed this if only it had handled its own conclusion better. But maybe I'm an insane nitpicker. Who knows?


All in all, I loved First Class, though the climactic end felt a tad cheapened by silly historical interference and gratuitously over-the-top comic book antics. As we've discovered through the success of The Dark Knight, comic book movies that keep us attached to a relative realism are the ones that stand out. But I'll stop harping about that.

Despite my criticisms, I would easily put First Class near the top of my list of favorite comic book movies ever. The acting, particularly of Professor X and Magneto, was enthralling. The villain, Sebastian Shaw (oh, Kevin Bacon...), was pretty awesome and intimidating. The action, for the most part, was epic comic book awesomeness. I definitely hope that they'll make a sequel for this soon. A sequel might give me the development I wanted for the other characters as well as a more refined approach to the theme they seemed to want to follow (Professor X's philosophy versus Magneto's). Okay, I need to stop myself. The movie was great! I'll leave it at that.


  1. Xavier and Erik's brief conversation at the end set up the dichotomy (paraphrasing):
    Erik: Your problem is that you think they're all like Moira.
    Xavier: And yours is that you think they're all like Shaw.

    It seems a bit convoluted because Xavier is comparing a mutant to the general human population. But what they're saying is that Xavier believes in a world where mutants and humans can coexist and help each other, while Shaw believes that it is a zero-sum game, where there can be only one winner, and Erik wants that winner to be the mutants. Erik is not necessarily making a grab for power, like Shaw. (It's not made explicit in the film, but knowing more about Shaw's history I'd say he is likely not as altruistic as Erik about the human-mutant struggle. Shaw's always after personal gain.) He doesn't embrace Shaw's philosophy, but he does come to share Shaw's worldview--it's us against them. His own personal history reinforces that, a fact which is frankly hammered into us throughout the movie. And of course the moment of his decision is only reinforced by the actions which happen immediately at the time, as the Soviet and American fleets unite to destroy the mutants. At that moment, Erik ignores any argument of who is the better man, human or mutant. He simply sees it as a case of survival.

    I agree, the final battle really lost me. The mutants survival in the crashes of the plane and sub are absurd, the ensuing battle between Banshee and Angel are clumsily-handled extensions of screen time, and it just lacked the proper feel. Still, it held together well up until the final ending.

    As for the Bond feel, I think a lot of that comes from the classic Bond setting. You can't set something in the midst of the major Soviet-American struggles without some of that bleeding into it. I don't think it was intentionally made to be like a Bond film, just a result of the subject matter. I didn't have a problem with the "historical interference" because I feel like X-men has always existed in a universe parallel-but-not-identical-to our own. I was willing to suspend belief enough for that. The part where it actually got weird was when they used historical audio of JFK addressing the nation on Thanksgiving. It may have been intentional, but either A) he makes no mention of mutants, which makes the film feel disjointed at this point (if you're going to set up an alternate timeline that splits from ours, why not go the whole nine yards?), or B) he is inferring, vaguely, that the US and USSR have reached some sort of permanent accord in response to the existence of mutants, which felt like it took things too far.

    Final note: in part one, you call Magneto "Magento" at one point. :)

  2. I wanted to switch all the names from Magneto to Magento because I thought it hilarious, but then decided not to at the last moment. :P

    I understand the minute difference between Shaw and Magneto's viewpoint, but I still don't understand why Magneto had any incentive to blow up the humans' fleets. Up to that point, Magneto has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way, but it was pretty clear that killing all those people would have been something Shaw would've done. Blowing them up would have provided humans an immense incentive to try to pursue and kill all mutants; NOT in Magneto's interest whatsoever. I don't know... It just felt like a contrived reason for Xavier and Magneto to come to blows, which them made their whole competing-philosophies-story-arc seem like a waste.

    Watchmen was set in the Cold War and V for Vendetta was set in a VERY Cold War-esque fictional time period. But neither of those made me once think of Bond, James Bond. I'm beginning to think that the overall 'masculine' feel of the movie was what did it. Prof X being a womanizer. The surprising amount of scenes with scantily clad ladies. The almost complete lack of strong female characters (Emma Frost doesn't count because she has no character/personality in the movie! Mystique also doesn't count because she flip flops from one man to another.). Yup.

    But, as my constantly repeated final note, I did enjoy the movie despite my constant nitpicking. :P

  3. This is gonna sound like a poor excuse for Magneto Magento, but what about age? If I pretend I've never read a comic, couldn't his level of power and intelligence be in direct relation to his age? In this movie he's younger, stronger (moving satellites and submarines), yet far more hasty with his decisions. The Magento Magneto we saw in X1 and X2 was wiser by far, but didn't flaunt his powers nearly so much. The older Magento would have understood the consequences of throwing missiles back at boats, instead of doing it out of anger.