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When I first heard about the new X-Men movie, I was terribly excited. Professor X and Magneto back when they were BFFs? That’s probably one of the most interesting storylines in all of the Marvelverse (Civil War aside). Sixties era setting? I appreciate go-go girls as much as the next person, and besides, this makes Magneto and Prof. X contemporaries with a certain Mr. Bond. Happens BEFORE the X-Trilogy takes place? Even better: Cyclops is still alive out there somewhere, we don’t have to deal with Rogue’s emo-tantrums, and we can all pretend that Wolverine: Origins just never happened. (And seriously, they came up with marketing stuff like this- MacGuffin). Then I saw these posters. I probably should have given up any expectations then.
Who thought this was a good idea? I get that this movie focuses on Charles and Erik’s roles as mutant forefathers, but did they have to make that point literally, by having their faces sprout from their loins? Unfortunately, these posters seemed to accurate predict the movie itself as a series of missed opportunities. I don’t know much about movie reviewing, but I do like to think I know a bit about storytelling. And I can recognize a missed opportunity when I see one.
1. Professor X and Magneto
In my opinion, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were excellent for these roles. Fassbender’s Magneto was a brutal, sexy version of James Bond, except darker and more vicious. McAvoy’s Professor X was perfect. Snarky and pretentious, I was delighted to be suppressing my urge to punch him in the face throughout the movie. Nobody can be that sanguine without having been a complete prick at some point; it was refreshing to see Professor X portrayed as something besides a saint.
Unlike some of the other characters (but more on that later), Professor X and Magneto were actually well developed. To be fair, given their detailed history in the comics, how could they have not been? What was disappointing, however, was that their relationship was not as well developed as they had been individually. Maybe the writers intended to emphasize each man as his own maverick. I’m not sure. What I do know is the main reason why I gave this movie a chance was because I was curious to see what the writers had come up with for the enigma of how Charles and Erik became friends.
The best we got was a cheap friendship montage: the young mutants get trained, Charles and Erik become best friends, and a good time is had by all until Kevin Bacon strolls by and rains on everybody’s parade. Instead of rehashing the first movie (yes, I think we can all take for granted by now that Magneto was a victim of the Holocaust–and by the way, when did that become a trope instead of a tragedy?), maybe they should have spent their efforts developing actual relationships between characters. Furthermore, the ending was a major disappointment. Rather than Erik blindly tossing bullets over his shoulder, it would have been more interesting if Erik, lost in a blind rage, intentionally shoots Charles. At the very least, it’s better character development than a mere accident. Once he has realized what has happened, he is penitent–but he also has a moment of recognition. He sees that Charles’s path of peace and reconciliation could never be his own. The moment becomes poignant because Erik sees himself for what he is: a monster. In one moment, he is horrified by what he sees and hates himself for paralyzing his best friend, but also is strangely excited and relishes in his power. The sun eclipses; the dark side wins. Charles grieves for his friend, but more importantly he grieves for himself and can’t help but resent Erik for what he has done. He knows he will spend the rest of his life confined to a wheelchair. He tries not to hold his condition against Erik, but he knows deep within him that he will never be able to rise above it. The actors were talented and certainly could have dealt with such a complex scene–its a shame that the writers couldn’t.
2. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique
I’ve heard such promising things about Jennifer Lawrence. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of it during First Class.
Mystique’s development was such a missed opportunity in the movie. Yes, we get that she is young and vulnerable. We get that she wasn’t always the vicious, savvy villainness we typically see. And I don’t argue with her initial portrayal as your standard insecure teenager–I just wish that somehow throughout the movie, she moved beyond that. For being what turns out to be one of the most powerful female characters in comicbookdom, Mystique was sadly one-dimensional. She essentially played a stock character: insecure teenage girl with body image issues who has difficulty accepting herself for who she was. For Chrissakes, that’s the plot of She’s All That.
Her mutant power is a physical manifestation of a woman’s body image issues. Rather than using it to objectify herself in pathetic attempt to win attention by playing up male fantasies, we should have seen her using her power arbitrarily, recklessly, for the mere reason that she could. It would have established Mystique as a loose cannon and shown that she was more dangerous than the men had estimated her to be. Yes, appealing to male fantasies by shifting into female forms would have been a nice way to have her start the movie, but it would have been interesting if Mystique recognized her potential wasn’t limited to her feminine form. If she had shifted into the shape of a man, it would have been symbolic of her liberation and allowed her to evolve into Mystique, as I know her: an uncontrollable, unpredictable force to be reckoned with. She’s completely unrecognizable as Charles’s docile lapdog, cowering in the corner when any fighting occurs. And by the way, if Emma Frost remained the ditzy companion of Sebastian Shaw, this version of Mystique would have been a great foil to contrast the docile housewife to the independent, self-realized woman.
3. The Rag-tag Gang of Mutants
Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but I was under the impression that the reason comic book movies are made and funded is because they promise epic action scenes. X-Men boils down to the promise that the audience will see a handful of impressively powered mutants fight an all out battle with another group of somewhat less sympathetic mutants with equally impressive but slightly different mutant powers.
Somehow in First Class we ended up with Banshee. Banshee? Really? We also managed to snag butterfly girl and toanrdo man, too. The only person who could have been lamer than these sorry mutants would be Jubilee (sparkles!). I get that the first trilogy exhausted many of the more interesting and better known characters, but were these mutants really the best in show? There must have been lesser known mutants with cooler powers. Hell, they could have made up mutants with cooler powers.
In addition to having really, really lame powers, none of the auxiliary mutants were developed. At all. If the excuse for having less cool mutants was to introduce new characters to the franchise, then I don’t know, actually create real characters that are interesting and have some depth to them. We get it. Angel has daddy issues. (I’m still not sure why she defected. Was it because she saw some sort of acceptance from Shaw that she couldn’t get from the X-Men? Was that ever made clear?) Havok can’t control his powers. (But why? Could he maybe be trying to prove something/steal attention from his saint of a older/younger brother Cyclops?) Banshee… pretty much has no personality. Darwin is black. (Seriously–that was the extent of his character development. When did basing entire character profiles off race become okay?) I wasn’t compelled by any of these characters.
Instead of having the the ragtag team of no-name mutants, they should have just started off with the classic lineup. I get that we’ve seen Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman and Angel (Warren Worthington III) in the later films. It doesn’t matter. Cast them as their younger selves. We’re already tossing chronological consistency out the window by having Havok (who must have fallen into some sort of wormhole in order to be a teenager in the 60s if he’s Cyclops younger brother) and Emma Frost (who must have added backwards aging in addition to diamond form and telepathy to her powers since she’s about 12 in Wolverine) in the movie.
The classic lineup is good. And who cares that we’ve seen them before; we could have gotten a different spin on the characters. I would have loved to see a younger version of Jean Grey that foreshadows her development as Dark Phoenix. Wouldn’t it have been great if she were this rebellious, Beatles-crazed teenage terrified and fascinated by her power and throwing herself at poor Cyclops much to Charles’s dismay and Erik’s interest? She could have been what Rogue should have been in the first movie. I know we’ve seen this group of mutants before, but let’s be honest, their substitutes in this movie weren’t good enough to justify eliminating the classics. Jean could have been a rival for Charles’s affections with Mystique. Clearly, Jean Grey would ultimately win–which would provide more impetus for Mystique to leave and go rogue. All in all, the movie wasn’t terrible…but there were many things that could have made it great. For seeing all of its lost potential, it seems somehow a little more disappointing than if it had no promise at all to begin with.
MacGuffin here: as far as I’m concerned, this was the only good moment in the whole film. Click to see the animation, because apparently WordPress doesn’t like Gifs.