The Videogum Movie Club: X-Men: First Class
There is a very specific type of disappointment that you only get with big budget summer movies. It’s not crushing or anything, it barely even registers as disappointment. It’s just this vague, unsatisfying feeling that the thing you were hoping for is gone, and that in its place something simply exists. Not only do you not get what you wanted, but you are overcome with the realization that the thing you did get is just going to be around, showing on HBO2 at three in the morning for the rest of your life. You’ll probably watch it again, too, parts of it at least, drunkenly, with a bowl of poorly cooked Trader Joe’s pot stickers to sop up the booze. This doesn’t happen with Oscar Bait and it doesn’t happen with surprise indie hits and it doesn’t happen with similarly bad or underwhelming movies that you had no particular hopes for in the first place (I am thinking in particular of the new Real Steel trailer that showed before X-Men: First Class. Holy moly. That movie never looked very good, but now it looks very bad. Here’s a question: why is Hugh Jackman so reluctant to teach a fucking robot how to box? Just teach the robot, Hugh Jackman. “I can’t!” Yes you can. What is even going on here? Anyway.) It’s not that X-Men: First Class was “bad” exactly. But it wasn’t great. And it certainly didn’t live up to its exciting potential. Superheroes! Origin stories! Mad Men! Nope.
There were good parts! The bar scene in Argentina for example. Also, Kevin Bacon unleashing his powers in the C.I.A headquarters by clicking his heel against the tiles was neat. The final action sequence was pretty good (but also VERY problematic). Also James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are really good at being in movies, you guys! Holy cow. It is very hard to make a character seem thoughtful, intelligent, emotionally complex, and sophisticated when they are saying things like, “YOU NEED TO RELAX YOUR MIND BECAUSE USING YOUR MAGNET POWERS ON THE EVIL SUBMARINE IS GOING TO GET YOU MUTANT KILLED” (Paraphrasing) but those two literally made it look easy. (Until the end. More on that in a moment.) Like I said, the movie wasn’t “bad,” it was a perfectly fine way to spend six hours on a Sunday afternoon. But there were some bad things about it. Let’s discuss them:
The movie was six hours long! That is too long. A superhero movie should probably only be an hour and a half, but if you’re going to make a sweeping, revisionist history, epic origin story based around the Bay of Pigs I will give you a full hour-forty-five. But six? No. The sinking feeling that a movie is dragging its feet and that you are getting bored is always a bad sign, but it is the worst at a comic book movie. For one thing, they are supposed to be fun and exciting, but even more importantly, they are pretty formulaic. I’m not saying that in a pejorative way, I’m just saying, there are tried and true narrative/emotional buttons that need to be pushed, so push them, and then be done with it. A disappointing comic book movie–and lord knows there are plenty–is always a little extra disappointing just because there are so many safety mechanisms built into decades of pre-written material and well-worn tropes that make it seem like a no-brainer. It’s like fucking up a box of Duncan Hines brownies, possible but unfortunate.
For every cool sequence (see above) in the movie, there were three regrettable ones, most notably the three-hour long (half the movie was dedicated to this if you can believe it) scene in which all the young mutants got to know each other in a 1960s IKEA showroom and gave each other “cool” nicknames Daddy-O. Talk about the suffering caused by men just following orders! It was not necessarily the fault of any of the actors, but those were three of the most embarrassing hours ever captured on film. And as someone who loves a good training montage, I did not love this movie’s training montage! It was hilarious, though, as my friend Max pointed out, that while everyone else was trying to harness and control their powers, Mystique was just lifting weights. Hahah! She just literally needed to get into slightly better shape? And speaking of getting into better shape, what was Beast’s problem? He just so badly wanted to wear flip flops on the subway? Because his feet looked super normal when he had shoes on, so why not just wear shoes and fucking relax?
There are obviously larger logic problems than Beast’s motivation for creating a serum (that just affects the way they look but not their powers except his powers derived from the size and strength of his feet so if you were to make them normal feet wouldn’t it affect his powers and also Mystique’s powers are the ability to shape-shift so if the serum only affects the way she looks AYE-AYE-AYE my head just fell off). And I know that it is kind of silly to complain about logic problems in a superhero movie, but still, there were some very serious logic problems! Like, how come Professor X was holding Kevin Bacon still while Magneto was driving the coin through his brain, but then was screaming and crying about it? You’re the one who is holding him still, Doctor. You are largely responsible for his death. I’m also not entirely clear on why mutants, even evil mutants, would want to live in an Apocalyptic wasteland? Surely there has to be a way of destroying the human race without also choking the world in nuclear ash. Just because you have dragonfly wings doesn’t mean you don’t ever want to see the sun again. (I’m also not entirely clear how, say, supersonic whistling protects you from a nuclear warhead.)
And I know that you ladies are all still riding that gender-mandated Bridesmaids high, so I won’t even bother talking about how bad Jennifer Lawrence and January Jones were in this movie other than to say that they were both very bad in this movie. Also bad: Zoe Kravitz. (Although I will also add that I still support Jennifer Lawrence. But January Jones can go jump in a lake.)
Even Michael Fassbender, who was so good as Erik Lehnsherr from beginning to very almost the end, finally succumbed to the unbearable weight of this poorly built movie in the final scene when he had to walk into that prison and say “Call me…Doctor Magneto!” or whatever. Come ON. I mean, we know he is Magneto now, so do you really have to erase every single ounce of cool–of which he had, like, Big Gulp ounces worth the whole time–with this cheesy garbage? He even took some time off to make his anti-mind-control helmet way tackier, apparently. Great. Like I said, when this comes on at 3AM, I’ll probably end up watching it again. It’s fine. It is what it is. It exists now and forever. But for a few days, at least until Super 8 comes out, I will mourn the loss of the X-Men: First Class that coulda shoulda woulda been.