Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer: Ashley Miller
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne
It’s been eight long years since we had a decent X-Men film. That would be Bryan Singer’s second and final contribution to the franchise: X-Men 2. Since then we’ve had the inexplicably bad X-men 3 and a shabby Wolverine: Origins spinoff. Cumulatively, these two efforts have been bad enough to universally lower the expectations of critics around the world. How else to explain the shockingly high 95% Rotten Tomatoes score for X-Men: First Class, a competent but hardly sensational film.
Well, let me take that back for a second. X-men: First Class is a mostly enjoyable film but you can draw a line at a particular juncture when all of a sudden the tone and quality takes a significant nose dive. Lets assess.
X-men: First Class is directed by Matthew Vaughn who turned heads in 2010 with his terrific satirical superhero film Kick-ass. X-Men: First Class is mostly set in the swinging Sixties and explores the origins of the mutant superhero team. By setting the film in this distinctive era and taking a chance on a younger cast, Vaughn brings back some much needed freshness to the series. The film also moves along at a breathtaking clip. One minute you’re in Paris. Then the Argentinian country side. Then Las Vegas. Then Moscow. And so on. The characters all wear groovy costumes with interesting hairstyles and this is before anyone puts on a superhero costume or reveals their mutant ability. The first half of X-Men: First Class feels less like a superhero film and more like a Connery-era Bond film with suave gentlemen, sexy femme fatales and exotic locales. There’s even a luxury cruise ship that has a getaway submarine for the villain. I was loving it!
The pacing of X-Men: First Class might be quick but the film is anchored by a fantastic leading performance from James McAvoy. As a young Charles Xavier he is cavalier, debonaire and a boundless optimist. As ever, his foil is the tortured and nihilistic Erik Lehnsherr, played by Michael Fassbender. While they have a decent chemistry together, the film moves too quickly for them to share any meaningful exchanges which is a bit of a shame. In a slower paced film, there could have been an interesting ideological exchange between the two on whether they should involve the young mutants in a retaliatory attack against Sebastian Shaw after he decimates their CIA safehouse and murders one of them. Instead, we get this delightful exchange:
Charles: We cannot allow them to fight Shaw. They are only children! Too much blood has been shed already.
Erik: No, I totally think we should.
Charles: …Okay, but lets train for at least a couple of days first.
Having said that, I think for the first hundred minutes or so, I was really happy with X-Men: First Class. It didn’t feel patronising or juvenile. It was light, fun and knowingly playful. It was enjoyable seeing Kevin Bacon traversing the world in a bicycle helmet trying to trigger World War III while the X-Men gradually mastered their powers, learnt to work together and prepared for battle. Everything was in place for a dramatic showdown in Cuba in the big climactic scene.
I’ll draw a line here for where the film’s quality suddenly goes down the crapper.
I’m not sure what happened but all of a sudden, we’re transported to a completely different film. The modest and measured use of special effects from earlier in the film suddenly goes out the window. In its place are over the top CGI effects that lack weightiness and strain credulity. The Bond inspired coolness is supplanted with Saturday morning cartoon silliness. A bunch of stuff blows up for about twenty minutes. And worst of all, the dialogue suddenly becomes stone cold retarded. The final five minutes of the film could be played with no dialogue at all and with nothing more than a low key soundtrack and the audience would understand what is happening. Erik Lensher transforms into Magneto. Charles Xavier becomes a professor and forms his School For Gifted Mutants.
Instead these scenes are ‘aided’ with the following lines:
“I have become Professor X. I am going to start a school. Perhaps I will be bald someday.”
“You’re no longer G-Men. You should call yourselves…the X-Men.”
“I am no longer Erik. My name is now Magneto. You know, because I’ve now become a villain. A bad guy if you will.”
Holy shit, it was terrible. My eyes couldn’t stop rolling into the back of my head. It became a script for babies. A shame, given how good the rest of the film was. Then the credits rolled and I was left to lament a squandered final act which spoiled an otherwise decent film.