This post is the unedited, lightly updated copy of X-Men: First Class’s film review published Sunday June 12, 2011 in our film review column Animadversion (iMAGES on Sunday, Dawn Newspaper). The link to the published version can be found at the end of the post.
I Can Read Minds and Bend Steel… So What?!
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
Flashing back, briefly to a Nazi prison camp in 1944, a few years before pulp sci-fi labeled mutants as latex-skinned monsters or deformed aliens from B-movies, a young Erik Lehnsherr (Bill Milner) insentiently triggers his embryonic superhuman-genome and yanks open a barbed iron gate with his power of magnetism.
A brief beat later Erik’s world, directed with barebones shrewdness by Matthew Vaughn, is thrown into a tumult by the sadistically smiling, tea-sipping form of Kevin Bacon – named first as Mr. Schmidt and later as Sebastian Shaw – a mutant with the power to absorb and throw-back energy.
Shaw wants Erik to perform a simple magic trick: To move a coin without using his hands. Being a young mutant and not a magician, when Erik fails, Shaw decides on a catalyst and kills his mother. With his arms opened as wide as his gaping, unpersuasive scream, an angry out of control Erik demolishes the conveniently designed hack-saw torture room in a bland, unmotivated visual effect stunt and cries a puddle. Shaw, now ecstatic, mumbo-jumbo’s a line about “opening (his) gift with anger and pain”, pats the boy’s back, slips the coin into his hand and leaves the room and the film until 1962.
Now, this is where the scene’s logic slips me. Why torture a young lad into triggering his mutant ability and leave him standing, unless one has no intention of utilizing him as a member of his world-dominating mutant army (one which includes a sexily dressed January Jones as the mind-reader/future X-Woman Emma Frost nonetheless)? Doesn’t Shaw know that like all traumatized characters with parents killed by a sociopathic villain, young Erik will turn into a masculine-hunk (Michael Fassbender, “Inglourious Basterds”) who tracks down and kills on-the-run Nazi’s by the 1960’s (an early section perhaps worthy enough to star in their own feature)?
Anyhow, back to 1944 and a world of hurt away: a young Charles Xavier finds a young shape-shifting Raven (aka. the blue-skinned Mystique later played by Jennifer Lawrence) raiding his kitchen in the guise of his hard-hearted mother. He adopts the girl as a pseudo-sister (we don’t see how his family reacts when a young girl suddenly starts living in the house), and they live what I presume to be, happy, non-turbulent lives up until 1962. As the main plot-point (and a loose one at that), we now know that the Cuban missile crisis to be a work of mutant persuasion.
It’s not that the screenplay (by a handful of writers, including series instigator Bryan Singer and Mr. Vaughn) is uninteresting or uneventful. Mr. Vaughn’s scenes follow a strict-line of connecting the dots and is often too laid back to be spectacular. The pumped-up drama about racial – and facial – prejudice injected throughout the last three movies is tactfully (and statutory) pinned to Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), whose only discrimination is by the high-school bully attitude he gets from fellow mutant Alex Summers (Lucas Till).
For a good while (and perhaps the film’s best unevenly laid moments) “First Class” pivots on a country-hopping vengeance bound Mr. Fassbender – a grown-up Erik, who is yet to acquire the name Magneto or his sharply designed mask. Then there’s his to-be antagonist Charles Xavier – the always dependable James McAvoy. Mr. McAvoy plays Charles with the likability factor dialed all the way up. With his legs still very much alive, Charles is a captivating college guy with a neat and nerdy pick-up line where he labels any eye-catching beauty as a by-product of mutation. One would think he has mutation for a brain, and even that wouldn’t be wrong (Charles connects and controls people via telepathy).
Charles and Erik eventually (and conveniently) team-up to help find mutants for the government thanks to Rose Bryne – Moira MacTaggert (formerly played by actress Olivia Williams). In the comics MacTaggert is a geneticist and one of Charles one-too-many love affairs; here, she’s a CIA operative whose only big scene is to strip off into a Victoria’s Secret lingerie and slip into the “Hellfire Club” owned by Shaw, who, like all James Bond-ish villains, plans world domination from a secret room in the back.
Despite Mr. McAvoy and Mr. Fassbender’s above-the-line sincerity as fraternal brothers with opposing views on the looming mutant crisis, “First Class” valiantly hobbles through Mr. Vaughn’s un-kinetic, 60-ish James Bond inspired take. Nonetheless, juggling submarines (and plot holes) aside, this is one ok movie.
Released by 20th Century Fox, “X-Men: First Class” is rated PG-13. Even with laid back, less urgent direction, thrown-together situations and pseudo-dimensional stock characters, “First Class” is way better than its horrid trailer/poster campaign. And it features intelligent cameos by Rebecca Ramojin and Hugh Jackman. You gotta give it points for that!
By Farheen Jawaid
As the new part of an old franchise, “X-Men: First Class” does not take the viewers to the future; rather it takes them to the past. And not just one past. To establish the origins better, it takes everyone way back to the crisis torn Second World War and them brings them back to a more recent crisis in 1962 – the Cuban missile standoff between America and the U.S.S.R. Apparently Marvel Comics, the producers of “First Class” (Bryan Singer, Laura Shuler Donner and Richard Donner) and director Matthew Vaughn want us to believe that evil mutants and their agenda of world domination was the force that propelled the crisis. Ok, that’s stretching the reality a little too far, but I’ll go along for the ride; assuming that we do not take Mr. Vaughn along.
Now don’t get me wrong – “First Class” is a stalwart, lightly paced and less urgent addition to the franchise, with intelligently performed characters that are still in the need of slight retouching on the screenplay’s page. Michael Fassbender over-shines, James McAvoy goes cute-to-cute with whatever he was fed as an actor and Jennifer Lawrence was shunted in an awkwardly written part with little else to do but look stoic, while being sincere. Kevin Bacon, was all smiles as the villain Sebastian Shaw, while the remaining cast did what they were told by Mr. Vaughn whose indulgence in just barebones direction limited “First Class” to just an above average showcase. Well, at least it’s better than “Wolverine”.