X-Men: First Class Review (or Well Done Marvel, No Post Credit Scene This Time)

So it’s established – Superhero films are a genre I love.

That said, even though my review of Thor has me summing up with ‘I enjoyed it’, in the month that has passed since I went, my feelings towards it have soured a bit. I just can’t help but think that it wasn’t what it could have been. A lot of the Marvel films do a great job of introducing characters and providing genesis story-lines, but that just…didn’t.

And those feelings were compounded last night when I went along to see another Marvel offering – X-Men: First Class.

What’s It About?

Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s, it tells the story of how the X-Men were formed and how the battle-lines between the factions led my Professor X and Magneto were formed.

This is a picture of the poster of X-Men: First Class. Now, you might think that's a boring caption, but that is genuinely a caption used in a newspaper review of the film I read over the weekend. They get paid to write that. Think about that for a moment.

In this film, the Americans and the Russians are used as pawns by a band of ‘mutants’ known as the Hellfire Club – led by Kevin Bacon as the nefarious Sebastian Shaw – to bring the world to the point of nuclear war. The CIA turn to Mutant expert (and of course, mutant himself) Charles Xavier to help them.

Using his powers, Xavier manages to identify and recruit a group of his own ‘advanced humans’, including the likes of Raven, Havoc, Banshee, Beast, Angel, Darwin and of course Magneto, to fight against the Hellfire Club and save the world from what seems like it’s inevitable fate.

Thoughts

So there you go, that’s the basis of the plot. Sometimes I think I give too much away when I write that part of my reviews, so I’ve been deliberately concise about it. Of course, there’s a lot more to it, but if I went scene for scene,  it would give away too much.

It does go without saying though, that like the first trilogy of X-Men films before it, First Class places a great deal of emphasis on the angle that there’s a racial divide between the normal people and the mutants, and it delves a little bit deeper into that theme by exploring the prejudice that exists between the mutants themselves, when it comes to how they look. I liked that, but I can’t help but think that it was trying to teach us the moral that it’s not all about how you look. That would be fine if this were an episode of He-Man and I was 7 years old, but I’m not.

The Good – Origins and Different Characters

The major plus point about this film that I enjoyed the most was the story of how the X-Men came to be.

Oh Look! It's Oliver Platt! You'll have seen him playing a suit wearing 'intelligent authority figure' in many things. But he's not even the most obvious case of typecasting in the film...

Going back to the first trilogy – if my memory serves me right – the X-Men are already in full swing and the story is told from the perspective of Wolverine and Rogue and how they came to join them. That made sense and it worked well, but this is better. I tend to find the best story-telling Marvel does is when they explain the origins of a character (which is one of the reasons I have come to be disappointed with Thor).

This film works in the same way as the final Star Wars film. You know where the final destination is (in this case that Professor X and Magneto would ultimately end up on opposite sides) and that’s ok, because the fun is finding out how they got to that situation. If I was to be critical, I could maybe argue that they crammed a little bit too much of ‘getting there’ into the last 10 minutes rather than a slow burn throughout the film, but that’s a minor complaint. I still enjoyed that side of it very much.

Another thing I liked was that because they used up a lot of core X-Men characters like Cyclops, Jean Grey, Ice Man, Storm, Nightcrawler, Collossus, Juggernaut, Wolverine et al in the first three films, the writers had to go off the beaten track and use some of the lesser known characters. The likes of Havoc and Banshee are ones that someone like me – who doesn’t read the comics but has an interest in the Marvel Universe – has heard of but knows very little about. So it was a bit of a learning experience for me, which is another tick in the win column.

And in line with the Superheroes, there are also good Supervillains. As much as I enjoyed the Iron Man films, I wanted to see him go up against the likes of Grey Gargoyle or Fin Fang Foom rather than the Taliban (incidentally, a trip to wikipedia to look at a list of Iron Man villains sees ‘Alcoholism’ listed as one of his enemies. I don’t know whether it’s brilliant or a pity that they mean the addiction rather than some sort of alcohol themed villain who shoots vodka from his eyes).

But I digress.

The point is this film has proper Supervillains with their own powers which they use for villainy and all round bad-eggedness. And they look like Supervillains too. It adds to the whole experience.

Finally, I like that they finally give Beast some proper development. He wasn’t used in the first film, he only had a brief cameo in the second film and he was portrayed by Kelsey Grammar in the third (and worst) film. But Beast is an important part of the X-Men so it was good to get to see his ‘origins’ too. I have to say though, the choice of casting was seemingly – to use an American expression – from way out in left field. Who would have thought the little boy from About A Boy/annoying git from Skins would be the right choice for Beast? I’ve got to be honest though, Nicholas Hoult did a good

No, that goes to The Military Guy from 24, or the West Wing, or Transformers, or Call of Duty, or Bones, or Black Hawk Down, or Dollhouse, or Law & Order, or...

job.

He showed sometimes that casting people who aren’t the obvious candidates can work.

On the other hand…

The Tiresome – Typecasting

This isn’t having a go at the film, because their involvement didn’t in any way ruin anything, but there are certain things in TV and Film that annoy me. For example, in a lot of shows – especially sitcoms – they just press the reset switch at the end of every episode.

Similarly, I find it bugging that everyone in TV land uses a Macbook when in reality most of us use PCs.

And then there’s typecasting. You just know that for certain types of character, casting directors will just get the same guy to come in and play the part. That doesn’t just happen once in this film, it happens twice.

But then they go completely in the other direction by casting Nicholas 'I have face you know you want to slap' Hoult as Beast to try and redress the balance. And it's so stunning that it works. Him?! Really?!

Ever heard of Oliver Platt? Probably you’ve heard the name, but you’ll definitely have seen him. He always plays ‘Knowledgeable Man In A Suit’ roles, like government officials, doctors, journalists lawyers and CIA agents. Look at the picture, you’ll know his face. Think you’ve seen him? Try The West Wing, 2012, Frost/Nixon, the American attempt at The Thick of It, and many more.

A name you might be less familiar with is Glenn Morchower, but you’ve definitely seen him playing a military/CIA man in something. In 27 of the 35 films he’s appeared in, he’s played a role like that, and that’s not even counting his TV work like the West Wing or most famously 24. Hell, he’s even typecast in video games. You just get to the point where you let out an ironic cheer and get closer to winning one of life’s Achievement Awards – Xbox 360 style.

Random Observations

  • Overall, the acting was of a good standard. James McAvoy (who is in far fewer films than I realised) plays Professor X in a way that makes the character far more interesting than if he just tried to be a young Patrick Stewart. Similarly, I thought two of the other ‘leads’ – Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and Jennifer Lawrence (Raven) played their parts well too.
  • One thing I wasn’t so sure of was Kevin Bacon’s character. Was he was a Nazi pretending to be an American or an American pretending to be a Nazi? Considering he never even slipped back into a German accent once beyond his initial appearance as a Nazi Doctor, I just wasn’t sure.
  • I’ve read some people consider setting the film against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis to be lazy, but I thought it was clever. It had to be set in the early 60s for the events of the first three films to make chronological sense, and it gave the scriptwriters something to work with, and the viewer something to identify with. So no problems as far as I’m concerned.
  • The special effects were great. They weren’t ‘Oh My God! That Looks Stunning’ effects like they set out to use in Thor, but the way the mutations were used was effective and believable, especially Angel’s wings and Raven’s ability to shape-shift seamlessly.
  • And of course, this film showed that you don’t need the gimmick of 3D. There were certain aspects that could have been done in 3D, but ‘could have been’ and ‘needed to be’ are two different things. I’m yet to see a film that ‘needed to be’ in the 3D.
  • Finally, I checked before I left the house and I found that there was no post credit scene. Much like 3D, the post credit scene is unnecessary. Unfortunately, you could tell that some people in the film – most likely having been burned by hearing about the Thor scene – were staying behind to watch the credits. That’s 7 minutes of their lives they’re not getting back.

Should You Watch X-Men: First Class

When the dominant issue I have with this film is hiring a couple of typecast actors, I think it’s fair to say this is a good film. It’s well written, well paced, keeps your attention and is set against an identifiable backdrop.

It gets to where you expect it to get to, and it’s fun to find out how that happened.

It’s far better than Thor

And you don’t need to waste the extra few quid for 3D.

Highly Recommended

But then, I love Superhero movies.

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2 Responses to X-Men: First Class Review (or Well Done Marvel, No Post Credit Scene This Time)

  1. FToepoke says:

    I completely echo your “highly recommended” Stuart!

    Finally saw the movie on holiday and was absolutely blown away. Loved it. IMO – One of the best superhero movies of them all. Seemed more mature, more adult (and not just because of the suggestive sexual content) but because of the characterisation, relationships and narrative. Setting it around the Missile Crisis was a stroke of genius. Not a dull moment in the entire movie.

    My only ONLY gripe was this: With the whole canon of X-men second-string characters to choose from, why create a new hero as naff as Darwin? DARWIN!? I ask you. The name simply leaps out at you as a superhero handle, doesn’t it? And “Angel” with name and powers and overall look that are just ripped-off from other better characters.

    Those two aside, X-Men First Class is just that. First class!

    Great review, Stu.

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