Friday, June 03, 2011

MEANWHILE AT THE MOVIES... more like 2nd class.

Saw X-Men: First Class today... here's a review.

So, after first hearing about this reboot origin story to the X-Men film franchise, and learning of the characters (and cast) in place, I had mixed feelings. But, in the buildup to it's release, I'd begun to get genuinely enthused about the movie. The early 60's era setting look and vibe was really appealing, and the mish-mash character line-up of mutants, not adhering to really any kind of X-Men continuity (I'm a huge long time X-fan), and the use of truly lower tier characters (and even some that were either made up, or just so obscure I have no idea) looked to work in the samples and snipets I'd seen. Then as release came even closer, a strong positive buzz began to build. Having seen the film, I'm very much back in the mixed feelings category.

I did really like the majority of the film taking place in 1962, and I thought they brought that to life and used it in the story quite well, but the pure Hollywood fabrication of the X-Men origin story was as big a mess as the cast appeared. There was a good story in there somewhere, perhaps, but it never came together in any way that worked for me. I'm not sure if it was just a flawed movie in setup, or in execution, or both.

What worked. Like I said, the 1960's asthetic fit the story and concept well, and was brought to the screen nicely too. The core story of the budding friendship and rivalry of the x-universe's two father figures, Xavier and Magneto. There's a genuine good story there, and both actors worked well, I'm just not sure enough was done with that, or that enough drama was focused on them to make it worthwhile. Of the cast and characters, only Emma Frost and Havoc (and maybe Banshee to an extent) truly worked, both on screen in general as a concept and in this story.

What didn't work. There are some really bad effects at play a couple times, but primarily they're tied into the odd cast of characters and the lameness of some of their abilities. Or, conversely, when you take a character like Magneto, who has some pretty massive omega-level magnetism powers, it's one thing to bring them to life in printed art, or even in fluid animation, but quite another to have him manipulate freight ship anchors, or levitate submarines on screen in shoddy CG... And then to a lesser degree, the actors attempting to bring the eclectic cast to life. Jennifer Lawrence shined in Winter's Bone (and got an Oscar nom), so her turn as (the young) Mystique will be particularly scrutinized, and I'm not sure she didn't take a major step back here. She's got a fairly big role and doesn't really make much of it, being competent at best, to mostly odd and lifeless, but that could be more to do with the directing as much as it was acting, because the same could be said of most of the cast, particularly the young mutants. Most all of them, outside of Beast, who's okay, aren't given much to do and come across pretty flat and generic. Of course, as I keep coming back to, they're also saddled with the task of making their B to D list mutants believable as real life characters. I mean, the bug winged Angel is pretty lame even in the comics, what with her insect wings and acidic flem wads, so what made the creators (which includes the original X-movie honcho Bryan Singer, who scripted and produced here) of this film gravitate to such goofy choices. Seems pretty simple, with the bazillion characters to choose from, stick to those that are cool or can work well on film... Instead of a character like "Riptide" (who I only know the name thanks to IMDB), ie the nameless, line-less mutant who's mutant power seems to be to generate miniature table-top sized twisters from thin air. Really??

Aside from the boatload of issues with the cast/characters, and the film's half-assed attempts at humor, ultimately the whole thing is bogged down by it's focus on origin and putting all this made-up x-stuff together. Besides Sebastian Shaw and his push to force world war III by escalating the US/Russian arms race, there's not much else being offered here. And when your origin backstory consists of things like a young Mystique, just, I guess, going from well-to-do home to affluent home raiding refrigerators disguised as the tenants, and that she just happens to do so at a young Charlie Xavier's Westchester mansion, of all the places on Stan Lee's Earth... yeah, it's pretty contrived. Or that Sebastian Shaw, in the books, leader of the arch rival Hellfire club of mutants, in the movie was apparently a high ranking German officer that crossed paths with and then glommed onto Magneto in World War II era, but then also somehow, was a mutant too (with one of the few affective looking powers at play in the movie), that later got his own submarine and mutant sidekicks to plot his mutant takeover of the world... the only relation to the Hellfire club being that he, for some reason, most likely just to get at a crooked general/high ranking US official, has an elaborate club in Las Vegas of that name... all to essentially force the official to do his bidding... uh, couldn't he have accomplished that much more easily through force and skipped the massive subterfuge efforts?? Why is he the same man that crossed paths with young Eric/Magneto? Just to add to this story of course, consequently making the Hellfire Club pointless (like they did with the days of future past storyline in X3 by turning it into a lame 30 second danger room exercise), and making the Magneto backstory, or linchpin of the film, all that more contrived! That's the kind of logic at play here. It's as if a bunch of various producers, screenwriters, and directors, who have nothing to do with comics, just got together, smoked some medical marijuana, and made up their own half-baked X-Men origin story. Thanks Hollywood.

Like I said early on, I'm a big x-fan, so yes I bring my own baggage here, and it may seem like that's at the crux of most my problems, but while that may be true to an extent, I'm perfectly willing to accept other takes on anything I may know and like in one way, if it offers me quality and/or enjoyment in a different way or form... Burn it all, abuse everything, if you can make a great movie or story, and this is not.

X-Men: First Class looks pretty, when it's not doing anything (which is also most the film), and flirts with some great ideas, but that's about it.



Boo said...

i'm soooo waiting for the DVD :)

Jason Martin said...

Yeah mate, (good to see you over here on my blog!) ...many people just love this, or think it's the best x-movie yet, I find it to be a big mess like Wolverine, only whereas that film had nothing going but a mess, this one had some good stuff too ;)