CAPSULE: The fifth "X-Men" film is an origin story for the X-Men. It is a secret history of super-mutants becoming a powerful force from 1944 and the Holocaust to 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. That crisis, we learn, was actually orchestrated by opposing forces of mutants. The story maintains a nice 1960s sci-fi feel, very nicely envisioned with impressive SPFX, until the climactic 1962 battle which jumps (or teleports past) the shark. Still, it is the best of the "X-Men" films and even one of the best Marvel Comics films. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
A few weeks back I reviewed THOR. I had not read the comic book, so one of my deductions about Thor's strength was apparently not true of the character in the comic book. I suppose it might be said that I had not done my homework, before seeing the film. But it is my belief that a film should stand on its own. No reading should be necessary before seeing the film. Some films, like Peter Jackson's THE LORD OF THE RINGS, do a marvelous job of being self- explanatory, even with a lot of story being adapted. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, however is an origin story. Those at least usually stand on the their own. If anything the uninitiated may have something of an advantage, not knowing where the story is going. Those who know the story may have to content themselves just seeing well-known plot pieces fall into place. On the other hand, it is hard for the non-fan to keep straight all the mutants in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.
The story involves Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (later known as Magneto) creating a team of people who through mutation have superpowers. Now, beneficial mutations in nature are very rare and ones that provide special exemptions from the laws of physics are even rarer, but in this film mutants with super-powers seem about as rare as seeds in a watermelon. The organizers collect too many mutants for this non-reader of the comic to keep straight. Included is one woman who flies on dragonfly wings and who looks entirely too chunky to be held aloft on those wings. There also is one who looks like a devil complete with spiked tail. Nature was apparently in a funny mood when it altered their genes.
From the start Lehnsherr (played as an adult by Michael Fassbender) and Xavier (played as an adult by James McAvoy) are opposite types. Xavier grew up in the 1940s with a mansion above him and the lap of luxury beneath him. Lehnsherr was interned in a Polish concentration camp in 1944 when he started manifesting telekinetic powers over all things metal. His abilities are observed by one Dr. Schmidt (later changing his name to Sebastian Shaw, both played by Kevin Bacon). Schmidt forces Lehnsherr to use his powers, murdering Lehnsherr's mother in the process. In 1962 Xavier and Lehnsherr are teamed up against Shaw. The two recruit a team of super-mutants to be a potent force for good and to combat anti- mutant hatred.
The story of one mutant force against another has a nostalgic feel of 1960s science fiction by authors like Frank M. Robinson or George O. Smith. The dialog damages that feel by using phrases not popular in 1962 like "Don't ask; don't tell" and "How's that working out for you?" Still, it was easy to suspend disbelief and go with the story up until it becomes overly complex and baroque with too many superheroes. Let me say a word about the multiplicity of superheroes. The script simply is not strong enough to handle that many. The point of a team of super-mutants is that they have a synergy. Each one can do some things *of use* that the others cannot. We see very little of that in the writing. The guy who can send annoying loud noises that break things does not use that power as a weapon. Instead it is discovered that annoying sonic waves allow him to fly. Is it is a novelty to have a superhero who can fly? I simply do not remember The Beast doing anything but sitting around looking like a cross between a Teddy bear and Lawrence Talbot. In the end it does not really matter what different powers the mutants have. (I am told that most of the team of mutants were not in the X-Men at the time the story takes place. Apparently only The Beast is authentic to that time.)
This is a lot of film at 131 minutes, so there is a lot in it, but too much does not make sense. Sebastian Shaw wants to start a nuclear war (a lot like a James Bond villain might). That has the viewer rooting for the right side, since the viewer does want not a nuclear war to have occurred in 1962. Of course, none of us remembers a nuclear war taking place at that time, so it is obvious he is going to lose. But there should be some dramatic tension as to whether the forces of evil will win in the film. And it is never explained what Sebastian Shaw has to gain from starting a nuclear war. We never find out why he thinks he will survive it (beyond a piece of rhetoric). At best his life is going to be unpleasant afterward. So we never know what is going on in his mind. Of course he wants nobody to know what he is thinking so he wears (and looks ridiculous in) a telepathy-proof helmet with a big "M" on it. The "M" apparently stands for "Shaw". I will not say who inherits the helmet at the end of the film but somehow it is someone who can make a better use of a helmet with an "M".
One of the many film allusions is the representation of the War Room from which the American military plans its strategy for the missile crisis. It is not public knowledge what the real War Room looks like, so instead the film recreates the War Room from DR. STRANGELOVE.
Like all the "X-Men" films the real themes are really racism, non- conformity, and self-acceptance. There is really less here than meets the eye, but the film is fun and succeeds on several levels, if not the highest ones. I rate X-MEN: FIRST CLASS a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270798/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/x_men_first_class/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper