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Rewatch: X-Men: First Class

Posted on the 29 February 2012 by Desertofreel @Kob_Monney

Rewatch: X-Men: First Class

My fellow Mutants! The real enemy is out there.

X-Men: First Class received a lot of cred from the online community upon its release last summer. Most saw it as a successful reinvigoration of a series that had lost its way with 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. My first impression was that it was good but not great. Another watch leaves me less enamoured with it, providing the sensation of being merely decent.

It starts of in a familiar fashion, recalling the beginning of Bryan Singer’s original with a frame-by-frame re-enactment of future Magneto Eric Lenshaw’s mutant capability. However this is part of the film’s problems: adhering to the original series, using previous films as a guide to fit into the X-Men canon but knocking over the furniture whenever it deviates from the established template.

Essentially the plot revolves around the politics of Fassebender’s Magneto and James Mcavoy’s Charles Xavier. Setting it in sixties America, it’s the clearest reference the series has made to their Malcom X/Martin Luther King dynamic. Kevin Bacon’s suave Sebastian Shaw is looking to start a new age of mutant dominance, starting a nuclear war that would pave the way for mutants to inherit the earth with the newly formed X-Men standing in his way.

Mixing real-life situations with fictional ones is initially an interesting choice made by screenwriter Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn. They attempt to imbue the story with a Bondian feel and a ‘what if?’ narrative but the script bottles the latter especially in its defining set-piece. The sixties setting is just a dressing: an artifice that makes it visually dissimilar from modern comic-book adaptations but the difference is surface deep. The film alludes to moments in history but does not deviate from them enough to create any substantial dramatic tension. It’s a fun ride but it feels empty at the same time.

Other problems emerge from the amount of exposition the film barrels through to set up the story (the first ½ hour is Exposition City): gender politics that borrows from James Bond, dodgy looking visual effects (basically when anyone takes flight), too many characters to service, some risible dialogue and, to top it off, some bland acting. It’s an almost Herculean feat that it feels as cohesive as it does and is as entertaining as it is despite its many faults. Vaughn keeps it going at a decent clip in the realisation that if the film pauses you’ll see its glaring seams.

Sprinkled with some decent performances here and there and a few clever action scenes, X-Men: First Class is a film that’s safer than it looks. Many of the more interesting moments (Azazel’s infiltration, Magneto and Xavier’s conversation over chess) feel like they’ve been culled from other films in the series. It’s a case of ‘X-Men: The Greatest Hits’, not adding anything particularly new to the series in thematic or dramatic terms or even expanding the mythos as such. Bonus points for the cameos but this film could have been a bit more than a re-heated version of what we’ve seen before.

6/10

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