X-Men First Class (2011)

Review by Throwback

X-Men: First Class looked really horrible from the trailers. It didn’t help that I’m not a big fan of re-boots and such anyway, but everything looked weak, from the cast to the costumes to the effects. Then there was the PG-13 rating, which these days can mean anything. The results upon viewing? A highly-mixed bag that wound up being way, way less than what it could have been.


As is clear from the trailers, the plot is basically about how Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) met and how the School for the Gifted was founded. If you can overlook certain items, it works pretty well as a direct prequel to the original trilogy. We start with young Magneto at the gate of the concentration camp, then progress to his relationship with Charles Xavier and so forth. All in all, it’s a well-paced and occasionally even exceptional effort. Whatever you do, don’t go in prepared to nitpick over whether or not things are going to follow the comic books. The first movies didn’t, so I’m not sure why some people are expecting that here. First Class is its own story, and that’s okay.


That story consists of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) organizing his own version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to fulfill a sinister scheme that is opposed by the good mutant team led by Professor X and Magneto. Hey, I didn’t say it was original. Truthfully, while this is where the action is, the main plot is about the opposing personalities of the “good guys” and how their thinking affects those around them.


I really have to stop worrying about the casting jobs done for Marvel movies. Sure, you’ve got examples like Daredevil, but really those are the exceptions that prove the rule. Generally speaking, the starring and supporting roles are not just good; they’re exceptional. Much to my surprise, that was also the case with First Class. I initially thought that McAvoy and Fassbender were horrible choices and that Kevin Bacon as Shaw was a really bad joke. Each one proved me very, very wrong. Fassbender, especially, has come a long way from being in garbage like Jonah Hex and 300. The fact that such great performances came under the direction of the same guy (Matthew Vaughn) who brought us even worse garbage like Stardust and Kick-Ass is even more astonishing. I wish that the talent shown in shepherding the actors and keeping the tempo steady would have translated into other aspects, but more on that later.


Catholic themes? Not so much. As with most X-Men tales, there’s a heavy Pelagian theme. This is a shame because there’s room for so much more. The characters often describe their powers as being a gift or a curse. The question that is only cursorily examined is “Who is the gift/curse from?” A gift, for example, implies the presence of a giver. X-Men, in whatever medium, never really gets into this, which is a shame. Otherwise, the moral lessons here are pretty standard fare for the series (discrimination, etc.), with the only real difference being a very pointed conjunction of justice, mercy, and revenge.


The most absolutely disappointing thing about this movie was the presence of so much objectionable content. There seems to be a conscious effort to slap PG-13 ratings on films like this, but with no regard for why. Thor, as we’ve discussed before, had almost nothing objectionable at all. First Class should have been rated R. Emma Frost (January Jones) is basically half-naked for most of the movie. There are strippers galore, including a new twist on Angel that I didn’t see coming. Granted, no complete nudity was shown, but there was enough shown and in sufficient volumes to give one pause. There were several blasphemies and one very gratuitous f-bomb. The violence by itself was probably PG-13 worthy, but when you roll it in with everything else, this was a show for adults only, and definitely not adults who value wholesome content.


Such a waste. A good plot with great acting is spoiled by a writer (also Matthew Vaughn) who feels compelled to throw in blasphemies and sexual content that is completely ancillary to the story that is being told. If you can find it edited for television, it’s probably a more entertaining time since you won’t find yourself wondering “Where did that come from?” every time Vaughn feels the need to show the world how well he can write adult-oriented material. 1.5 tiaras