Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
X-Men: First Class

Title: X-Men: First Class

So It Looks Like Graham Allison Was Full Of Shit: Now, now...let's not assume the worst. It's likely Allison, like most Americans, was simply unaware of the crucial role mutants played in resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis. Otherwise I'm sure he would've added a "Genetic Actor" model.

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film:

Three Nazi coins out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr (better known as Professor X and Magneto) team up to stop a megalomaniac mutant bent on starting World War III, that is until their differing approaches to human-mutant relations puts them at odds with each other.

It's sort of like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, only with more explosions and mutant boobs.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Holocaust survivor Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) and newly minted professor/CIA recruit Xavier (James MacAvoy) cross paths in their pursuit of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant whos sees nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union as the quickest way to global mutant supremacy. Shaw also happens to be the scientist who experimented on a young Lensherr - under a different name - in a Nazi concentration camp.

What About The Other Mutants? Aside from Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), they're pretty B-team. Shaw's group consists of Azazel (teleporter), Riptide (wind guy), and Emma Frost (January Jones), a telepath who can also turn her skin into diamonds. On the other side, Xavier and Lensherr recruit Angel (winged stripper), Havok (plasma bolts), Banshee (screams really loud), Hank "Beast" McCoy (super-scientist with big feet), and "Darwin," who possesses the power of "reactive evolution," meaning he can instantly adapt to any environment.

I know, it's like reading dishwasher instructions.

"Critical" Analysis: I don't know how anyone unfamiliar with the X-Men can come away from First Class and not think Lensherr/Magneto is the protagonist of the film. Hell, I used to read the comics and I still think he's the good guy in this. It even feels like director/screenwriter Matthew Vaughn *wants* us to sympathize with Magneto, especially when compared to Charles Xavier.

Consider: as the movie opens in 1944. Lensherr is torn from his parents then forced to watch his mother murdered by a German doctor eager to exploit his mutant magnetism. This same doctor will go on to torture/experiment on the young boy. Across the Atlantic, young Xavier stumbles into his family's palatial kitchen to discover the shapeshifting Raven, and is so glad to find another "like him" he offers her a home.

Fast forward to 1962. Xavier is about to earn his doctorate (in genetics), yet mostly uses his knowledge of mutation to pick up girls. Lensherr is a man with a purpose, driven to find the man who murdered his mother and used him as a guinea pig. When the two inevitably join forces to stop Shaw, it is he who knows that Homo sapiens will eventually turn on Homo superior, while the privileged Xavier continues to believe in humanity's intrinsic goodness.

Their respective theories are put to the test when they team up to thwart Shaw's scheme to start a nuclear war (historians, please switch off your outrage meters as you sit through these scenes). Xavier continues to believe humanity will accept them when they see how willing mutants are to help. Lensherr, having seen mankind's capacity for atrocity firsthand, knows better.

Comic book philosophizing aside, First Class is at least a better film than either The Last Stand or Wolverine. The Mad Men era spin gives the leads an excuse to wear uncharacteristically groovy clothes, and there's a distinctly mod vibe to several scenes (the inevitable training montage, for one). Some of the set pieces, especially the climax as the American and Soviet fleets square off, are most impressive as well.

Even the scenes of McAvoy and Fassbender doing nothing but talking are powerful, and testimony to the strength of their performances. But Fassbender is the real find, here. Notable in films like Inglourious Basterds, every step of his character's journey is believable. Shit, at the end I was pulling for him to...well, you'll have to watch it.

As for the other mutants...meh. Mystique's inner turmoil isn't entirely authentic, but she and Nicholas Hoult (McCoy) are the best of the lot. January Jones, on the other hand, was cast for two reasons, and they're on prominent display throughout the film. Emma Frost is actually one of the more interesting antagonists the X-Men have squared off against, but Jones couldn't act her way out of a bead curtain, much less a paper bag.

My biggest problem, honestly, almost feels like a similar issue you'd have in 1962: the extremely white, white composition of the good guys. [SPOILER WARNING] The one black mutant dies first, while the only other mutants of color - Angel and Riptide - also end up bad guys. After Mystique, the only remaining minority on Xavier's team, goes over to Magneto, he's left with all white males Havok, Banshee, and Beast (though now covered in blue fur). X-Men, indeed.[/SPOILER WARNING]

And while we know the friendship between Xavier and Lensherr is doomed. The question that remains is: with whom should we sympathize? The child of privilege who's never known want in his life and is the very personification of the naive optimism of the moneyed class? Or the political realist whose worldview was forged in the crucible or World War II and who understands human nature better than humanity itself?

See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it. Whatever its other flaws, Fassbender and McAvoy are that good.

And the submarine scene is pretty bad ass.

X-Men: First Class is in theaters today. See it with the evolutionarily inferior primate of your choice.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar