Monday, June 13, 2011

Mini-Review of X-Men: First Class



I had to wait a week, but I've finally caught up. I saw X-Men: First Class yesterday, the prequel to the X-Men film trilogy and the second Marvel Comics movie of this summer. I'll get the good points out of the way first: the direction is great, the globe-spanning plot moves along at an steady pace, and the casting was spot-on. In particular, Kevin Bacon gives a memorable performance as the film's main villain Sebastian Shaw, and the filmmakers chose very wisely when they cast James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender to step in for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the respective roles of Charles Xavier (a.k.a. Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (a.k.a. Magneto). In short, if you enjoy the X-Men comics and the previous X-Men movies, then you'll enjoy X-Men: First Class.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem that First Class has is one that's reflected in the other X-Men movies: too many characters. First Class populates its cast with characters from all over the X-Men universe but only has time to focus on a handful of them, leaving the rest to do little more than add color to the background. Much like Storm, Colossus and Kitty Pryde in the previous X-Men movies, the mutants who make up the X-Men roster in First Class don't do much to differentiate themselves as individual characters aside from their specific powers. (Say what you will about other superhero films, but at least they don't have to juggle a story that features over a dozen superheroes and super villains.) It's also worth noting the female and non-white mutant characters in this film fare much worse than their white male mutant counterparts--a rather counter-productive creative decision for a franchise that's supposed to be a metaphor for equality and civil rights.

First Class spends much of its time detailing the early friendship between Charles and Erik, and this is one of the film's strong points. However, the movie also changes the background of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) to being an adopted sister of Charles, which creates an uneven subplot within the movie. By setting up Mystique and Charles as adoptive siblings, it would be logical to conclude that they would turn to each other for emotional support when dealing with their mutant heritage during their formative teenage years and thus develop a deep emotional bond. However, as young adults, Charles' attitude towards Mystique is dismissive and patronizing, which stands in sharp contrast to Charles' empathetic and peaceful pursuit of mutant rights. Such a selective sense of compassion makes Charles look like an arrogant jerk at certain points in First Class; furthermore, Charles' willingness to regard his new male mutant friend Erik as an equal while regarding his mutant sister of similar age as a subordinate further emphasizes the film's sexist subtext. For as much as Lawrence brings to the role of Mystique, it would've been better if the character had been written with greater consistency to better fit her new background in the X-Men universe.

X-Men: First Class is a good comic book film that’s worth seeing in spite of its shortcomings. However, if this is to be the first in a new series of X-Men films, then I can only hope that the next installment will learn from the mistakes made in First Class to deliver more fulfilling superhero movie.

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