Thoughts on Film
by Max Bowen
Over the last several years, it seems Marvel is bound and determined to take every one of its 3,267 titles and bring it to the silver screen. From Ant-Man to X-Men, we’ve seen plenty of films come out, and they’ve been pretty hit or miss. Some, like Spider-Man 2, are among the possessions I’d try like hell to save in the event of a fire. Others, like Fantastic Four, are the first to go into the incinerator.
X-Men: First Class definitely falls into the first category. This prequel to the world’s favorite team of mutants takes place in 1962. The world’s holding its breath amidst the threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Ironic that while everyone else is so worried about the nukes, we’ve got teens that can give us aneurysms and drop buildings on our heads.
However, it’s just that kind of war that the film’s antagonist, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), along with his crew of posh mutant misfits, are trying to cause. Their plan is that after humanity is through chucking nukes at each other, they’ll waltz in and pick up the pieces. Not a bad idea if you ignore things like fallout, radiation poisoning, and oh yeah, nuclear warheads blowing the ever-loving shit out of everything. I guess Shaw’s not a big-picture guy.
All these paltry concerns seem to be beneath the notice of our two heroes, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender). For those of us who didn’t spend their formative years nestled in basements reading comics and avoiding girls, these two grow up to become Professor X and Magneto. But a young Xavier is too busy charming college co-eds with his amazing mind powers (and quite possibly giving them tumors), while Lehnsherr’s got a full schedule hunting down Nazis for what they did to him and his family during the Holocaust. One of these Nazis just happens to be Shaw. Coincidence? Not a chance in hell, but let’s just go with it for now.
CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) asks for Xavier’s help when it becomes clear she’s completely out of her depth after witnessing Shaw cohorts Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Emma Frost (January Jones) in action. Although frankly, she’d be outgunned by a hibernating convent, but she tries her best…..kinda….OK, she’s a pretty face and that’s about it. Xavier later meets up with Lehnsherr after the young vigilante’s botched attempt to cave in Shaw’s skull with an anchor, and the two set out to recruit their own mutant team to kick the villain’s well-tailored ass.
With most of Marvel’s movies, you can tell these are based on comics. From the costumes to the storylines, they’re paced very much like the writers just grabbed a back issue and told the actors to go to town. In the case of X-Men: First Class, it seems the writers tried a new tactic, actually crafting a decent story and inputting the comic characters afterwards. While the dialogue gets a little cheesy now and then (hey, it’s a Marvel film), I found the story and characters to have decent depth to them. The settings and scenery seemed toned down a shade or two, an improvement to most Marvel films, where everything’s bright and colorful and good for inducing epileptic seizures.
Many of the cast follow the rest of the film’s elements in setting a new standard for superhero stories. While some of the characters were clearly meant to be either window dressing or cannon fodder, Fassbender and McAvoy both deliver strong performances, while supporting characters like Byrne add their skill to the mix. Bacon does an admirable job as Shaw, giving his character a quiet menace, rather than the standard villain melodrama.
Like most Marvel flicks, no expense is spared on special effects, but rather than being a film’s sole saving grace, they contribute to what’s overall an enjoyable story, one worth seeing again.