First Class Baggage: New ‘X-Men’ tries to do too muchWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“X-Men: First Class” has the feeling of a single film that should have told the same story in a trilogy. Maybe this is the big problem with trying to make movies out of the X-Men franchise in the first place — there’s just too much stuff to do in only two hours. This film features two warring groups of mutants, some we’ve met before, some not, all played by new actors in new eras of their lives. That’s a lot of characters to introduce and do something interesting with and that doesn’t even include all the important NON-mutants and historical events also occupying the stage.
Added to this is the baggage that this film is a prequel, and comes with all the benefits and trappings therein. Yep, we get to see how Professor X and Magneto became the men we know them as, among other things. Too many other things. That’s the problem — it’s like the makers felt the need to answer EVERY question in the space of just this one story. How Professor X ended up in a wheelchair, how Magneto got his helmet, why they’re at odds, how Beast became a furball, why Mystique runs around naked, where Cerebro came from and on and on.
The movie wants to cram in so much information and so many character changes in such a small span of time that it feels like a Cliff’s Notes edition of Marvel Comics history. If the same tale had been spun over a longer period, or if fewer characters had been involved, maybe I could have invested a bit more emotionally in the outcome. Instead, I felt like I was watching writers who had an assignment — “This is where every character has to be by the end of this story.” Yes, Magneto eventually splits from Xavier and they end up at war. But did it ALL have to happen in the space of just this one story?
After a pre-title sequence visiting the main characters as children, the main thrust of the plot is set in the 1960′s, where a young Charles Xavier (excellently played by the wonderful James McAvoy) is just exiting university with his pseudo-sister Raven (Mystique, played by Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence). He’s approached by a government agent named Moira (Rose Byrne), who wants his help to confirm that mutants exist. Of course, as fans of the characters know, he is more than capable of this.
This sequence is intercut with the story of Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender), who was tormented as a child of the Holocaust by a man named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who hoped to train Erik to hone his gifts. Shaw’s training methods included shooting Erik’s mother in front of him, so subtlety was not his strong suit. Now as an adult, Erik, naturally, wants to kill him, but — surprise! — Shaw’s a mutant, too.
Erik and Charles eventually meet up and start working with a shadowy government agency to track down and recruit fellow agents to their cause. The morality of their conduct is debated between the two in dialogue which has foreshadowing about as understated as a car wreck. Again, if the filmmakers had been confident enough to slow down and simply lay seeds for the later break-up, instead of feeling the need to cram everything in right here, right now, this may have played better and had more impact.
The historical setting also proves problematic. Shaw’s plan is to get the United States and the Soviet Union to go to war, so he manipulates them into what becomes the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then, once humanity is wiped out, Shaw expects that he and his fellow mutants will rise to power. I guess he expects all mutants to be immune to the centuries of radiation which would blanket the Earth.
I can appreciate the effort to make the events part of history, but instead of illuminating world events with its story, it trivializes it. The best historical fiction tells a tale that helps us to understand what happened by giving us the view through the eyes of its characters. All anyone seeing this film will learn is, the Cuban Missile Crisis would never have happened if it wasn’t for those nasty mutants.
There is good stuff here — the acting is superb, the action is suitably grandiose and visually arresting, and technically the movie is very good. Director Matthew Vaughn, who last delivered the very different “Kick Ass,” has demonstrated he is more than capable of making a good “X-Men” film. I just hope that next time, he slows down and doesn’t act like he has to make three of them at once.