They’re a funny lot these X-Men. Their world is one where people discover that they have some sort of crazy power or strength that’s beyond that of a normal human being. They’re called mutants. And I suppose as the mutant army grows, and there’s a need to have characters with different powers to keep things interesting, some of them end up with really cool powers, and others get whatever power was left over, like the toffees that nobody wants in a three-quarters empty tin of Quality Street.
I can guarantee that if I ended up with some sort of mutant power, it would be one of the shit ones. Even if it wasn’t a shit power, there would be an unforseen problem stopping me utilising my powers to the full. Here’s a short list of powers I would maybe end up with, good or bad.
The power to…
- Bend the will of spiders, and make them do my bidding. Sounds cool, right? But nobody ever listens to anything I say, so I know this would go wrong. The spiders would ignore my commands, and just lounge around, drinking beer, and smoking tabs, and flipping me the bird, but with all eight of their legs.
- Bend and mould plastic with my mind. Because let’s face it, it’s probably more useful than the power to bend metal these days.
- Turn January Jones into an actress with more than one facial expression. This one’s at the high end of the super power scale. It would have to be amazingly powerful to work. However, it wouldn’t, as I’d be too busy staring at her massive boobs.
I’m not steeped in the lore of X-Men. There tends to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth by fans upset that the films haven’t quite followed the comic book canon. That’s fair enough. If I was a big fan, I might be a bit annoyed as well. But now, even the movies themselves don’t seem too fussed about their own continuity. Why? Well, X-Men: First Class is possibly that most dreaded of things, the “reboot”.
Reboot or refresh?
But it’s a reboot where, according to Matthew Vaughn, “anything that worked in all the other movies, and I could have some fun with nodding towards, I would.” So it feels like something halfway between a refresh, and an actual prequel to the other entries in the franchise (one of the first scenes is directly from the first film, where a young Magneto does his gate bending thing in Poland of 1944).
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty bamboozled at trying to connect the dots between what is now a vast and unwieldy roster of characters. The continuity being all over the place doesn’t help. With that in mind, it’s probably is for the best to try to enjoy the film in isolation from the rest of the franchise.
On the whole, it’s more po-faced than other superhero blockbusters, but also unsure of its tone. Sometimes it’s a cool James Bond pastiche (Fassbender does a mean turn as black clad assassin out for vengeance), and sometimes knowingly camp (Rose Byrne strips down to stockings and suspenders to infiltrate a nightclub), now and again straying towards Austin Powers territory (McAvoy says “Groovy!” a lot). When the film decides to get more serious, the campy elements sit alongside somewhat uneasily.
For a film that’s into its fourth outing, it’s also still focusing on the “best of friends, worst of enemies” bromance between Professor X and Magneto. I know they’re both major players, but for me, it’s starting to feel a bit old. As a result, certain characters fall by the wayside, sometimes despatched with cruel efficiency, and Rose Byrne’s character after a setup which suggests she’s going to play a big part, fades into the background. For a sizable stretch of the movie, she barely says a word.
The time shift to the nineteen sixties disguises the problem to a certain extent, but not completely. All those characters (probably a couple of hundred at the last count), and the bromance is still the central thrust of the movies? Admittedly, Magneto isn’t the real villain in this installment (Kevin Bacon is as the leader of the Hellfire Club), but I’d like to see an installment where Magneto is removed, and the X-Men fight a new threat on their own. The ending points to a sequel where this probably won’t be the case though.
It’s definitely an improvement over the lamentable X-Men: Last Stand — the action is always clear, and never confusing, a relief in these shaky cam times — and it’ll be interesting to see where they go from here. Just less bromance, if you can.