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mmoa_writes ([personal profile] mmoa_writes) wrote2011-06-26 09:19 pm
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X-MEN: First Class review

Spoilers ahead!

So, now having seen this film twice, I think it's safe to say I'm pretty secure in my impression of it. For the time being at least. I must be honest that after the first viewing, I was a bit confused, not quite knowing how I felt. This was - oddly enough - actually my initial reaction to 'District 9' and though the comparison between the two films only goes that far, it's interesting they're for similar reasons: a confusion between how I actually feel and how I think I should feel.

To begin with, the film is pretty decent. The direction is excellent, the acting is superb and the score is more than adequate (so all three of my major boxes ticked). The effects don't always work well (eg. Emma Frost and Beast) but the film has enough energy that you don't really dwell on them when they get really bad. In fact, there were times I got rather caught up in the whole thing as it were. It is a film worth seeing.

As has probably been said elsewhere, Michael Fassbender came very close to stealing the movie for me. For starters, he has similar looks to a young Ian McKellen which makes him physically ideal for the role but he is also capable of generating a remarkable presence. He stands, stops short and moves like a man who knows every inch of his body, the measure of a mercenary. Apparently he was one of the actors along with Daniel Craig who was considered to be the new Bond and I can completely see why. Both he and Craig have this ability to physically inhabit the role of men who can kill up close and personal.

James McAvoy is also brilliant, though occasionally made me feel like laughing as he has a certain John Cleese manner in delivering some of his lines that reminded me of the 'How Not To Be Seen' sketch for some reason:

The chemistry between the two lead actors is terrific and the script was at its strongest when it came to their scenes. Or maybe it was just their acting. Probably the latter actually...

They were easily the best thing about the film - in fact, I could have watched a much longer character drama with a humbler plot and more subtle effects with just those two. The backstory that Magneto spends his youth hunting down Nazis would make an interesting film, though perhaps just too inappropriate. I must confess I can completely understand why people who feel the appropriation of the Shoah for what is little more than a B+ superhero flick to be outrageous. Now I tend to think about these things more deeply, it is more than a little bit uncomfortable for me as well.

Speaking of, Kevin Bacon is also good. I'd love to know if his German is at all convincing but I think he had the right tone and body language as Sebastien Schmidt though the transition between Schmidt and Shaw was a little sudden but meh. He carried it off well, I think. I also think Nicholas Hoult has to be acknowledged as the fascinating actor he is turning out to be. He was by far the best thing in Skins series 1, surprisingly awesome in a 'Single Man' and now this. He should have been Harry Potter. Anyway, I think he nails Beast - in fact, I think there should be more of his characteristics in Charles Xavier actually. For example, when they discover Shaw's plan to cause nuclear war in order to destroy humankind and leave mutants surviving, I really wanted Charles to go into pedant mode and inform everyone that that's not really how it would go down because, well, you know, genes don't actually work that way...

However, obviously the rest of the film I thought was pretty bad which led to the overall feeling of disappointment.

For starters, the plot is one of those botched AU jobs which had my younger sister - who has studied and retains a rather worrying interest in the Cold War - seething with impatience over and could have been done without. I would have been even more interested to see a film about Charles creating his school and facing a much more low key adversary - the parallels with the Red scare would have been far more subtle and interesting if it was still set in that time. The script is not as bad as it could be, but does have some flashes of genuinely funny humour that I appreciated and made it less cloying.

Now for the nitpicking!

First off let me explain that the one thing that irritates me far more than subliminal issues with gender, race, sexuality etc when it comes to movies, is the annoying trend that occurs when a writer sets up certain characters with certain back stories and pasts and characteristics and then acts as if these never existed in order to tell the story they think they should be rather than what the natural interactions would suggest. I like to think that I'm a pretty good judge of whether something is objectively good or bad so this nameless quantity is my own personal meter. There are some awful movies I enjoy because they are honest and stick to their guns, as it were, whereas I'll have no time for some objectively decent films because they fall for this particularly canard.

The worst example of this in the X-Men film is the character of Angel. She is initially depicted as a dancer working in a strip club who joins Charles and Magneto presumably because she really has nothing better to go to. However, barely a day and a half later - Movie Time is hard to interprete - she is willing to jump aboard the Shaw-train after some rather cheesy promises about becoming like 'Kings and Queens' should they join him. Later on, once Emma Frost is captured, she's depicted very much as his new moll and never once do we get any hint of her discomfort.

It's hard to imagine a woman who has probably seen all there is to see about mankind falling for an out and out slimeball like Shaw (I loved Kevin Bacon's delivery by the way, like some Texan megachurch preacher. That should have rung warning bells for starters...) and when it's clear that he's all too happy to cuddle up to her having lost his first squeeze, it's strange that we get no hint of her thinking of ditching him and his cronies.

But of course, I get it. It makes narrative sense and offers some sort of balance blah blah blah. However, it would have made more sense for her character to have come from a more sheltered background in that case, someone who has been protected either by her parents or by an institution like an orphanage or foster home or something so she would be susceptible to the sort of promises that someone like Shaw makes and mor e impressed than horrified by his show of power*.

Similarly with Emma Frost, one gets the impression from the movie that she is an extraordinarily powerful mutant and yet it's never made clear why she is Shaw's lackey rather than, say, an ally. For all Jones' limitations, she did manage to portray Frost as someone not entirely happy with her position as Shaw's moll, someone who is much more cynical and shrewd beneath the pretty blonde exterior. I would have accepted anything, any reason, any hint as to what Shaw had on her, but we were given nothing. Shame.

I'm not even going to get started on Darwin.

Actually, yes, yes I am.

Talk about dead bro walking!! You have a mutant with one of the most interesting powers, who could have really come in handy in the last battle and he gets killed in the most ridiculous way possible five minutes after we meet him? Why bother having him at all? To show us that Schmidt/Shaw is evil? We got that - the man is a Nazi, for heaven's sake! He shot Magneto's mother! He tortured Magneto! Seriously, we the audience are not so morally vacuous as to not know what that says about someone's character. You don't need to have him start killing the only black dude in generic-60's America for us to understand.

One of these days, in my dream superhero movie, some people are going to try and recruit some incredibly powerful genius from Accra or Harlem or Peckham* and they're just going to say "I have kids to feed and experiments to run. Besides, your plan is stupid," and close the door in their faces.

Please. Please.

There were quite a few holes in the plotting too and some decisions seemed a bit odd, like having all the mutant 'G-Men' be so young. Again, if they were students at Charles' new school we could have had an interesting moral dilemma with respect to his motives in pitting these children who have no one and nothing else against whatever terror Charles deems worth fighting, but instead we get the most retro looking montage I have ever seen and a weeks' worth of training and that's it. We have no idea if they have family or are abandoned; we have no real idea why Charles even wants to recruit them and what for aside from just seeing if Cerebrum worked and/or for the out and out heck of it. Seeing how things turned out, he, Magneto and the CIA could have easily solved not just the Cuban Missile Crisis but also the Two State Solution and put an end to the Berlin Wall and the Cultural Revolution between them, with plenty of time for tea and chocolate digestives afterwards. It made everything else seem entirely superfluous and whatever triumph the hapless younglings experienced in their achievements seem a cynical emotional blackmail of a plot device.

Sorry. I just have a lot of feelings.

Mystique was a missed opportunity too as was Moira McTaggert. The latter tended to the hysterical and ridiculous which the writers seemed to think was okay because she was a strong independent female (TM) character, presumably because she's a member of the CIA and can use a gun. w00t. With the former, I'm somehow expected to believe she tagged along with Charles to England to one of the best Universities in the world and became a waitress? Hum. Really now, if her mutation is so risky, she's only allowed to drink Cokes, then why on earth would she have such a job where she comes into daily contact with humans? Alright I'll admit - I'm miffed that the blue girl didn't become an AU Rosalind Franklin but it would have fitted in perfectly with her profile! Shy, wary of humans with a tendency to turn her eyes golden if she's nervous - there's a girl geek in the making!

I'm just sad that all the women are either rather 2-D crumpets, moral/ideological whores or waitresses. Or just plain clueless. And the black dude dies first. And the plot overreaches itself. And the effects aren't even that good.

EDIT: (this was actually an initial response to [ profile] apiphile 's comment but then turned way to long) What also irritated me about Charles being such a privileged eejit was not so much him being a privileged eejit (that's to be expected, and I thought they trod the line between charming and arrogant quite nicely) but that no one really called him out of it. That was just unbelievable when you have a character like Magneto around. Even later on, when Raven confronts him it would have been better to have her say exactly that he is dismissing her and refusing to empathise or acknowledge her right to her own understandings and feelings. Sure, he could have ignored it, that would have been in character, but then he couldn't say he wasn't warned when she abandons him. It would have been important though for the audience to get an unambiguous clue that he has his own issues to sort out - he cannot save the day.

It frustrates me that it's Charles, this sheltered, privileged young man who is little more than an adolescent by the reckonings of his time and culture, who is the one who has everything to teach and nothing to learn. Without him, none of the others would find meaning in their lives, or learn the extent of their powers but what about him? It strikes me he had some serious growing up to do himself.

It also irks me that ultimately, the status quo is established and all is right with the world: the women and ethnics are on the dark side and the one 'good' female character is brainwashed. w00t.

EDIT II: Asking the Wrong Questions does it again. I should really just shut up - there's always someone who'll say it better.

Neo-Prodigy brings up a perspective I didn't realise and is worth bearing in mind at Ars Marginal.

Still like I said, the score is amazing and the acting is all around fine, though January Jones is way outclassed by her colleagues, I'll admit. I might even see it again, just to get even more annoyed!

*Actually no. That's something I never got. Seeing people dropping from the sky and breaking apart upon impact with concrete is disgusting, not impressive. It would be the most horrifying thing a young civilian would see. Unless you're Lord Voldemort or something.

**Mini-Lagos to others.