A Dreamer Walking

X-Men: First Class-Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 3, 2011

 X-Men: First Class starts exactly where the original X-Men (2000) movie started, in a 1944 German concentration camp, where we see a young Jewish boy being forcefully taken away from his father and mother. After being taken away the boy reaches out and begins to miraculously bend the fence blocking him from his parents. After a bit of a struggle the kid ends up getting knocked out by one of the guards. The scene is basically shot by shot the way the original X-Men director Bryan Singer shot it, with different characters portraying the roles. However, the re-shoot seemed void of the tension and emotion that made the original Bryan Singer scene so great. The wight of the piece seemed absent. The sounds and visuals did not put me in the middle of a concentration camp, but rather on a set where people were trying to act. I thought maybe the new X-Men director Matthew Vaughn had a few bad days of shooting. I was fine as long as he got better the farther along we went. However, this was not the case. The new X-Men movie ended up being a mediocre superhero film. It was a film full of thought provoking ideas and interesting characters, but all of which were executed with a middling flair. The film, like so many superhero movies these days, was built on action scene after actions scene all of which seemed more interested in showing off effects then trying to express the true essence of the characters.

To be fair we were given a few scenes with character development, but almost all of it felt forced and passed far too quickly. I did not feel like we had enough time with the main characters Charles Xaiver (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), let alone the team they recruit. The movie did not really give us much more of an origin story, on how both Charles and Erik were raised and built their ideals, then the first film. We had one scene with Charles as a kid in his luxurious home being kind to a mutant he meets for the first time called Raven. This scene does not tell us anything about how Charles built his ideals on being kind to those around him. We are just shown he is a kind rich kid for some reason. We also had one extra scene with Erik as a child where an evil man, working for the Nazi’s, Sabastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) tells Erik to use his mutant power to move a metal coin or he will kill his mother. Erik can not move the coin, Sabastian kills Erik’s mother, and then Erik pulls a Darth Vador and destroys the room around him out of anger. None of this caught me emotionally. The acting by Kevin was easily forgettable and the boy did not seem to show any more physical emotions then screaming loudly and getting really tense. The music didn’t take a hold of me and the surroundings felt disconcertingly fake.

What happened to the mud and darkness in the first film? For this film everything was too clean. Most of the sets felt too obviously like sets, not locations where the characters really lived. I felt like the expensive budget allowed the film crew to be too free with their set pieces and special effects. Peter Weir once talked about shooting film as though you were always on location and could not remove the walls or scenery. Shooting in a cramped environment often allows for a more realistic scene where the sets feel lived in and the cameras have limits. There were huge shots in the Arctic and during the big ship fight scene at the end of the film that felt too extreme and showy, taking us out of the movie.

The costumes were always perfect, no dirt and no stains. There was a lot of fighting and a lot of killing but we were not allowed to see the consequences to most of the action. We were not allowed to see the blood and the brutality of it all. The only injury they concentrated on was Charles Xavier’s at the end of the film, where he is hit in the back by a reflecting bullet from Erik. Yet, in this scene the acting did not impact me. These characters were supposed to be best friends at this time. The fact that Erik was the cause of Charles injury was supposed to be shocking and deeply emotional to us. I however, through out most of the film and even at the end, did not feel the chemistry between the actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. There were tears but little connection.

Everything relied on us connecting to the X-Men characters. We needed to feel the pain of Erik if we wanted to understand his need for revenge. We needed to understand the belief Charles had in the best of mankind if we were going to care about his convictions not to make war on the human race. The X-Men recruits and the villains of the movie felt completely one dimensional. We are introduced to Emma Frost (January Jones) and see her follow Sabastian Shaw with no explanation to what connects her to this evil man. Shaw just treats Emma like dirt and apparently she is okay with it for some reason. There were glimpses of hope with characters like Hank McCoy (Nicholas Holt) and Raven (Jennifer Lawerance), two of the first X-Men recruits, but there characters were not explored very effectively. We knew Hank hated his ape like feet and Raven was uncomfortable with showing here true form, but there were few examples of how society abused these characters so much they began to hate part of themselves. The closest we get are a few stupid jokes a few of the other X-Men recruits make on Hank.

Superhero movies can have such a powerful impact on our society. Superhero’s like The X-Men, Spiderman, and Superman are the Greek and Roman gods of the 21st century. They also represent part of who we are. They are full of flaws and insecurities. A great superhero is not someone who is all powerful and perfect. A great superhero is a character who has the power to make a difference and fails again and again, but somehow finds the strength to get back up. We must know the flaws and insecurities of these characters before we start rooting for them to get up and fight. The emotional connection created between the audience and superhero is far more important then the scale of their task.

First connect me to the characters and world they live in before embarking on a mission for them to save the world. All the powers of cinema need to be directed toward bringing these superheros down to earth so we can relate to them as human beings. X-Men: First Class is not a bad movie. However it falls victim to a lot of mediocrity because the filmmakers vision could not go much farther then a visual feast of visual effects and action sequences.

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