Saturday, August 6, 2011

X-Men: First Class (Revisited)

Written by Joe the Revelator

I wrote this after watching the new X-Men installment on opening night at the theater, and sincerely meant to post it the next day. I was, however, delayed long enough to see a more in-depth and fulfilling review pop up on the Inquisitive Loon. So here a second look, as well as my own gut reactions.

In a mutated nutshell:

If you're unfamiliar with the X-Men series, here's the gist: Human beings spontaneously begin to evolve new survival traits all across the globe. Nothing so benign as webbed toes or darker skin pigments, but things like laser eyes and invincibility, things that would make the real Darwin groan in disbelief. One such mutant, a telepath named Charles Xavier, opens a school dedicated to educating and disciplining the fire-starting whipper-snappers, and thus we have the X-Men.

The most striking part of X-Men First Class when comparing it to the prior X-Men movies, is how underpowered the characters seem. The term "First Class" strictly refers to the sequential order of Professor X's student body, and not the classification or rank of mutants. The powers of the "First Class" students consist of the abilities to spit acid, bounce energy hula-hoops from their bodies, grow blue fur, and scream really loud. It seems Magnito got all the powers.

The villains, on the other hand, are on steroids. Kevin Bacon's character has the ability to absorb energy and spit it back out at people, including but not limited to explosions, radiation, and heat. He's teamed up with Azazel, a ruthless, demonic version of Nightcrawler, and Emma Frost, the telepath with diamond skin. To my disappointment none of the villains are explained in any depth.

Nazi's did it.

Much of the movie rides on Magnito's (Erik Lencher's) shoulders for the emotional driving points. We see the birth of a supervillain as an SS psychiatrist questions the Jewish boy Erik about his abilities to twist metal, and when he can't supply an adequate answer, his mother is shot with a Luger. It's here that Erik reenacts a more compelling version of Darth Vader's awakening (NOOooooo!), crushing everything in the office made of metal, including the SS guard's helmets while they're still attached to the heads.

The rest of First Class is watching the young professor Xavier try to convince the now-adult Magnito not to be so angry all the time, and shooting disapproving looks at the other child mutants. The ham-fisted theme of accepting who you are crops up again and again, and although this attitude is practically the soul of X-Men comics, it's unnaturally injected into every corner of the movie, frequently breaking the stride.

One bullet to sum it up:

First Class is a fabulous introduction to the series, and it strikes a chord of nostalgia for the cold war era and comicbook revisionist history. As far as prequels are concerned, First Class achieves what it sets out to accomplish. It's lighter and more friendly than the X-Men trilogy, which focused on the brooding Wolverine and boiling racial tensions.

If I had the ability to melt plastic with my mind, I'd rid the world of X-Men III (aka; I'm the Juggernaut, bitch) and shoehorn X-Men First Class in as the start of the series, with a heavily modified Wolverine movie for an end-cap, a version wherein Deadpool isn't thrown into a blender with the powers of every other mutant on earth.

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