- Movie Rating -

X-Men: First Class (2011)

| June 3, 2011 | 0 Comments

The problem that lies under all of the X-Men movies is an issue of crowd control.  The X-Men employs a gallery of characters so large that a two and half-hour movie isn’t enough time to get to know everyone and still have a serviceable action picture.  What comes of these movies is a bit of deep drama involving the forward characters while those in the background are left with little dimension beyond their special powers.  I guess that’s to be expected, audiences go to these movies for action scenes, not a character study.

X-Men: First Class, the fifth film in this series, suffers from that problem just like the previous installments.   The one has the novelty of being a prequel, so we can focus on the two men who will be the arch-enemy elders from the other films, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbinder) – Professor X and Magneto respectively – and see how they met and how they became divided.

They have an interesting relationship.  The film takes place mostly in 1962 as these two god-like figures meet under the threat that mutant beings are not easily accepted by normal humans, especially to the United States military.  That doesn’t give our government very much comfort, seeing as how they are busy with tensions with the Soviet Union over the possibility of nuclear war.  Personally, I think that the mutant’s story might have fit better into the struggle for civil rights, but never mind.

Charles, whose power is telepathy and mind control, wants to make a pact with the humans, and establish a government-funded school to train mutants in the best use of their abilities.  Erik, whose power is manipulation of metal, wants to wage war against  normal humans.  His motivation is a little stronger because, as a boy, he was a holocaust survivor who saw his mother murdered before his eyes by an evil Nazi named Shaw (Kevin Bacon).  Shaw wanted to force to boy to demonstrate his powers so they could be use in experiments.  Years later, the grown-up Erik has become a one-man Nazi hunter, tracking Shaw’s hidden contacts until he gets to the man himself.  In his pursuit of vengeance, he catches the attention of Charles Xavier.

Before Charles and Erik split over ideals, the two are friends who team up to round up a group of mutant kids who are spread throughout the country.  They find a clever collection of kids: Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), known as Mystique, can shape-shift; Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet) can sprout wings and spit fireballs; Hank McCoy, known as Beast, can hang upside down by his deformed feet; Sean Cassidy, known as Banshee, can shatter glass with his voice.  And so on.

All of these abilities are fun to watch, but the characters don’t have time to build.  They are introduced, present their abilities, give themselves nicknames and then get their moment in the action scenes.  They aren’t really developed at all, just dropped in to join the fight.  The novelty of the prequel helps us understand the basic relationships of characters that we already know: Charles, Erik, Mystique – but it takes no time to get to know anyone new.

The best thing about the movie are the performances by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbinder and Kevin Bacon.  I especially liked McAvoy who plays Charles much the same way that Patrick Stewart previously did, as a caring individual who is smart and infectiously charming.  I did feel a little bad for McAvoy, because playing a character who can read minds means that he has to spend many scenes with his index finger pressed against his right temple.  Fassbinde, who plays Erik is a hunky actor who brings a certain level of crazed intensity to his performance.  And Kevin Bacon, one of the best actors of his generation, is very good as a slimy villain here.  He’s all evil, all the time and he’s very good.

I give X-Men: First Class credit for trying something new.  I was impressed by the way that the movie tied into The Cuban Missile Crisis and I liked its use of the early 60s as its template.  There wasn’t an immediate need for the film to be a prequel but I liked the fact that the studio wanted to try something new.  It isn’t any better or worse than any of the films that have come before.  My reservation is that the movie, even in prequel form, plays much the same way that the first three films did.  It delves into the issue of whether the mutants should befriend humans or wage war against them.  It is an interesting conundrum but, you know, having dealt with that question in three previous movies I think I’m ready now for a movie that can answer that.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.