Summer Movie A-Go-Go: ‘X-Men: First Class’

Posted: June 14, 2011 in Action Movies, comic books, Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

Spoilers are in effect here, but I’ll let you know when the serious shit goes down in case you’re planning on going in totally blind.

First off, let me say that I really did like it. It’s stylish as all hell – it takes its 60’s aesthetic seriously, from the use of the Hellfire Club as the main villains, straight into the closing credits design, and man, I would like my wardrobe filled with every outfit Charles and Erik wear now, please.

And while pretty much every X-Men movie has too many cannon-fodder mutants hanging around, most of the bit players here all got a couple good moments to shine (more Banshee, please!).

But this is the Charles and Erik Show, and the film does a wonderful job of showing where these characters’ ideologies really emerged and why. And it’s been said elsewhere, but while James Macavoy is a treat as the caddish young Xavier, Michael Fassbender walks away with the whole movie in his back pocket. So on these levels, it is a complete success.

But it wouldn’t be a comic book movie if I didn’t have some concerns, so here we go. 

You know how I said I didn’t care about the movie playing loosey-goosey with characters’ personal timelines – like Alex Summers apparently being 20 years older than his older brother Cyclops, or Emma Frost being active in the 60’s?

Turns out that was really the least of my worries. On the one hand, the movie does an admirable job of tying some things to the “present-day” X-Men films, such as:

  • Why Mystique would still look young if she were active in the 60’s
  • When Xavier first met future X-Men 2 villain William Stryker
  • The circumstances that gave Hank McCoy his animalistic appearance
  • The reason there are all these underground levels in the Xavier mansion
  • Who came up with Magneto’s helmet if Erik and Charles were such good buddies that Erik making a mind-reader-blocking helmet might seem like a bit of a dick move at the time
  • Just how Xavier would know about a certain future X-Man
  • Where the idea for the durable action-uniforms came from, and
  • Who really coined the name “X-Men.”

In fact, it works so hard to throw these details in – ostensibly to make this prequel jibe with the rest of the series (and maybe quell hardcore fan complaints?) – that the last act is that much more baffling as a result.

AND NOW HERE IS WHERE THERE ARE SPOILERS

STILL A BUNCH OF SPOILERS COMING, SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’D STILL BE SCROLLING DOWN

YOU CRAZY MASOCHISTIC BASTARD I GUESS I CAN’T STOP YOU

Here we go.

The last act of the movie, as the trailers have already informed you, is the story of how the proto-X-Men stopped the Cuban Missile Crisis that Sebastian Shaw kicked off in an effort to start a catastrophic nuclear war that he thinks only mutants will survive (which is somehow even more wrong-headed than Magneto’s “We’ll turn everyone into a mutant with this special ray! No, I didn’t check how my first test subject was faring, why do you ask?” plot from the first movie).

(By the way, for some reason I find “Mutants caused the Cuban Missile Crisis” more palatable than “A three-way Wolverine/Sabretooth/Quasi-Deadpool fight caused the Three Mile Island meltdown.” I don’t know, man.)

Now, I was on board here – it’s a really exciting sequence. But being that this is already a pretty overstuffed movie, I was expecting the thing to end right after Erik takes revenge on Shaw. It’s the moment Erik chooses his future path, after all, so being that everyone knows how this story ends up, some clear foreshadowing is perfectly welcome.

So after it happened, I assumed there would simply be a couple of troubled glares between Charles and Erik, kicking off some simmering tensions that would be further explored in the likely sequels, and implying the eventual break-up that occurs between the Macavoy/Fassbender and Stewart/MacKellan iterations of the characters.

NOPE.

What ACTUALLY happens is, Erik realizes Shaw had basically the right idea with his “Let’s take the war to the humans before they round us up in camps” idea, steals Shaw’s anti-telepath helmet, and declares his Brotherhood of (Don’t Say Evil) Mutants open for business. To show he’s serious, he turns the U.S. and Soviet missiles back on their ships.

Moira MacTaggart starts shooting at Erik, and while he’s deflecting the bullets, a stray hits Charles in the spine, paralyzing him. Remorseful but determined, Erik leaves with Shaw’s crew and Mystique. And after we check in with Xavier, now rocking his familiar Patrick Stewart wheelchair and slick blue suit look (still got his hair!), we see Erik break out Emma Frost, in full costume, proclaiming himself Magneto.

“Hang on a second,” I say inside my brain. “X-Men 3 opened with Erik and Charles still working together in the early 80’s, meeting young Jean Grey. And Charles was fully mobile. And wasn’t he also walking around in his CGI cameo during Wolverine? And even if we ignore those things, does this mean the Brotherhood basically spent 30-odd years not doing much of anything, except, I guess, carving out hidden mountain strongholds? What…what?”

I mean, I was even okay with them basically saying “We’re not counting Wolverine,” but

now they weren’t even counting X-Men 3? I know it sucked, but still – it was the conclusion of that trilogy’s stories!

And then IMDB informed me that this was NOT a continuity goof – that apparently, X-Men: First Class was, in fact, a complete reboot of the series.

SO WHY DID IT SPEND ALL THAT TIME EXPLAINING HOW THIS MOVIE RELATED TO THE ORIGINAL SERIES?

And does this mean the sequels will feature teen

"I don't exist anymore? NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

versions of Cyclops, Jean, etc. in the late 60’s? Are they really willing to continue period-piece X-Men movies?

So, to conclude: taken on its own, First Class is a pretty solid X-Men movie. But if you were expecting this to be a prequel to the stuff you thought was perfectly okay and didn’t need a continuity-clearing reboot (and please note: I am not against reboots – I liked Incredible Hulk a lot, and look forward to Amazing Spider-Man), you will probably be thrown for a loop.

Also, be forewarned: apparently the next Wolverine movie will also be ignoring the events of the previous film. Even though X-Men Origins: Wolverine, BY GIVING ITS HERO AMNESIA, actually set up its own sequel that can ignore the events of the previous one without expressly saying it didn’t happen (a movie that also worked really hard to patch up some continuity issues the initial trilogy didn’t address but nobody cared about, such as “Where did Wolverine get that cool leather jacket?”).

Oh, and also that Deadpool movie Ryan Reynolds still wants to be in will actively make fun of it.

And so, we find ourselves in the age of confusing X-Men movie continuity. Which means comic book movies have finally, completely embraced their occasionally baffling origins.

I look forward to them trying to make a movie starring Cable. Good luck, 20th Century Fox!

PS: There is no post-credits sequence, so don’t worry about sticking around once they start rolling.

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  1. […] Threat Quality Press The truth is, you can electrify pretty much anything. « Summer Movie A-Go-Go: ‘X-Men: First Class’ […]

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