Homo superior, Bromo superior.
How annoyed am I? Pretty damn annoyed! Annoyed that this is such a fantastic movie. Based on such a fantastic lie!
To have the brass balls to call your movie X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (implying the team featured in Marvel Comics X-Men #1, published 1963) and then to cram your movie with second class X-Men is the height of Hollywood arrogance. Everyone this side of the dinosaurs knows the very first X-Men were Professor X, Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl.
Instead, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is populated by a clutch of neophytes created a few years after the original crimefighting clan donned flamboyant x-themed duds and clobbered supervillains. (Who said THAT was okay?) Professor X is here, as is Beast, but then there’s Mystique, Havok, Banshee, Token Black Guy, and Angel reimagined as an annoying ugly black woman.
Of the villains, Magneto is here (as he should be, but only because he was fleshed out so archly by Ian McKellen), with a cast of second-stringers who came into existence sometimes decades after the actual first class of X-Men: Azazel, Emma Frost, Riptide and Sebastian Shaw.
And slap me on the pedantic bone for saying so, but the movie treads that dangerous mire of messing with X-Men canon at such a grassroots level that X-fans less equable than myself might find cause to psionically heart-spike all the filmmakers and Marvel Corp who conspired to annoy them this much.So X-MEN: FIRST CLASS has no right to be so damn good!
Remove the movie from its source material and FIRST CLASS is a very enjoyable origin tale, smartly depicting how the – snigger – “first” X-Men came to wear such flamboyant matching blouses. But being an origin tale, we must necessarily put up with scene after scene of discovering, honing and training ultra-human powers, and specious explanations on how these wunderkinds came to possess them (the word “mutant” thrown around like cheap wine at a bachelor party, with no comprehension of what molecular mutation really is, the word merely a McGuffin that denotes “super powers” that regular homo sapiens don’t possess). They are Nietzsche’s Übermensch writ large. In canary yellow magic marker.
Though FIRST CLASS is epic in scope, with creamy chicks and dreamy guys glutting the colorful foreground blamfest, the heart of the tale is the deep friendship and fragile alliance between homo superiors, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Bound in brotherhood by mutant blood, yet on different moral trajectories, their relationship is not childish good-vs-evil, hero-vs-villain, it is gray complexity; their compelling tête à tête is a nuanced power struggle over two conflicting ideas – that of homo sapiens being passive allies or active foes.
We meet them as young boys in 1944, Xavier as a rich kid with telepathic prowess, and Lehnsherr in a German prison camp with the mental power over metal, whose mother is killed by none other than Nazi Kevin Bacon (less than six degrees to Hitler at the time).
Jump cut to 1962, where we catch up with both young men, now with powers beyond imagining. And using them in diametrically opposing ways: Lehnsherr scouring the globe, torturing old war criminals hiding in society, in the quest to find his Nazi mother-killer Sebastian Shaw (Bacon, whose mutant power keeps him looking young and footloose); while Xavier uses his mind powers to become a professor of genetics and to pick up chicks.
Lehnsherr and Xavier meet in a spectacular action sequence, which leads to their employment by the CIA as unofficial helper bears. Lehnsherr accedes to the uneasy alliance because Shaw is the CIA’s target, plotting to pit Russia against the USA (Rade Sherbedgia naturally making an appearance as a furry-faced Russkie), which cutely intertwines the Cuban Missile Crisis with the fates of our mutants. Xavier wants to turn Shaw to the Good Side of the X-Force, while Lehnsherr just wants revenge.
Xavier and Lehnsherr recruit mutants to aid their quest: Xavier’s adopted sister is blue-skinned shapeshifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, whom we suspect craves some kind of foursome with Xavier, Lehnsherr, Beast and herself – now that’s deviant); they find powerhouse nerd Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), ginger screamer Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), boy band blaster blondie Havok (Lucas Till), retcon* adaptationist Darwin (Edi Gathegi, playing the Black Dude Who Dies First), and stripper Angel (Zoë Kravitz, who will flap her little fairy wings over to the Dark X-Side, because no one really cares about this made-up character anyway).
Firstly, unless I missed some world-shaking event in the Marvel Universe that turned all white guys with eagle wings into black girls with fairy wings, this reimagining of one of the coolest-looking X-Men is unconscionable! (We even saw an excellent filmic incarnation of Angel in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND! Whose eyes are they trying to pull the wool over?!) Secondly, what’s this ‘spitting acid’ crap? They’ve given Angel an offensive weapon because, let’s face it, being able to fly is cool, but that’s about it.
The x-youngsters give each other “code names” (being CIA operatives, after all), which is a reasonable retroactive justification for their “superhero” monikers. “Professor X” and “Magneto” don’t care too much for theirs.
Oliver Platt is a nameless CIA guy; Rose Byrne is CIA agent and Xavier’s latent love interest Moira MacTaggert; Matt Craven is CIA Director; rugged Michael Ironside is a Naval Captain.
When I heard this X-Men prequel was being made, my first thought was, ‘They can still use Hugh Jackman because Wolverine doesn’t age!’ Sure enough, Xavier and Lehnsherr try to solicit a gruff Logan (Hugh Jackman, still the best there is at what he does – and what he does best is play Wolverine), belly up to a bar, who tells them in his inimitable curt manner to “Fuck off!” before they can introduce themselves. Ageless. And priceless.
FIRST CLASS seems to be two different movies running congruently, both of them enjoyable in their own way – the tone of one, campy and blandly kinetic, the tone of the other, philosophical, powerfully emotional and morally ambiguous. Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn (KICK-ASS) and writers Bryan Singer, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman artfully allow the sober tone to inform the camp. Like Batman beating up the Joker if he gets outta line.
In the sober camp are McAvoy and Fassbender. Their intense, exotic drama/bromance is tempered by everyone else funning it up in that other, more conventional blamfest with The Bacon leading the pack as Hellfire Club honcho, Shaw. He is clearly the most experienced actor in the ‘camp’ camp and he’s gonna add as much ham and cheese to his Bacon as he damn well pleases. He does have the support of excellent Jason Flemyng (as devil-red teleporter Azazel, who doesn’t get to do much besides disappear and appear in tasty burgundy bamfs, like his future blue-skinned spawn, Nightcrawler).
Shaw’s other henchies include Riptide (Álex González, with the power to create tornadoes, but apparently with an agent powerless to haggle for even one line of dialogue), and Emma Frost (January Jones, with the power to turn to diamond, read minds, and distract men with her giant jugaloos).
Though every actor commits to their comicbook roles, Fassbender brings a conviction to his metal-bending madboy that is awe-inspiring. His power over everything ferrous is ferociously cool, and the climactic scene with a submarine and hundreds of missiles is an exhilarating display of man-sexiness that ensures he will be neck deep in puss for the rest of his life. Of all the muties, his is the power that we most wish we had. Dare I say he is a ‘magnetic’ presence? Ha! Onward…
Amongst the tiresome, mildly humorous scenes of the x-naifs honing their chops, Lehnsherr and Xavier share the film’s mightiest and most poignant moment: when Lehnsherr fails to mentally move a giant radio telescope dish, Xavier asks permission to aid Lehnsherr by probing his mind, whereupon he unlocks a memory of Lehnsherr’s dead mother. A single tear from Fassbender’s closed eyes, a single tear from McAvoy’s. And a single tear from mine. Oh, X-God! Where do these people go to find these emotions?! Sharing such a moment illustrates how deep would run the scar when their friendship is ultimately riven. (Bromantically, the camera stays tight above their waistlines; lucky they were both wearing tracksuit pants, or the strain would have been unbearable…)
While the CIA holds Emma Frost without charging her, disregarding her rights to a lawyer and fair trial, their credo is: “Security is more important than liberty.” When a rational person views this abuse of power, they realize it’s a satire on American “values,” but unfortunately, Republicans think it merely corroborates their criminal ideology.
Speaking of criminal ideology: the American and Russian navies. After the Cuban Missile Crisis is averted through mutant intervention (and all this time we thought it was Kennedy’s tactful politicking), both the Soviets and U.S. warships turn their attention to the common enemy – the mutants who intervened. Thus does Lehnsherr, now embracing his code name Magneto, displace his hatred of “people just taking orders” – from WWII Nazis to the modern military.
I sympathize with and commend the writers who were commissioned to plug in all the canon and arrive at a point prior to the first X-MEN film (2000): very satisfying depictions of how Professor X ends up in a wheelchair, of his arc from using his talents as a roaring puker to finding a nobler purpose, how Mystique (“Mutant and Proud”) chooses Magneto over Xavier, how Xavier’s and Lehnsherr’s dissolution birthed internecine x-struggles, and how Magneto came to wear such a snazzy helmet.
But come on, guys: with 33 subsidiary directors (second directors, assistants to the seconds, second directors to the second assistant directors, etc.) no one thought to make Beast say at least once, “Oh, my stars and garters!”
I’ve never known what that means, but boy, it sure sounds deviant.