X-Men: First Class review

Banana Rating: 3 out of 5

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Bromance

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.