I caught “X-Men: First Class” tonight, and honestly didn’t think much of it. The word of mouth I had read going in was overwhelmingly solid, and I thoroughly enjoyed the trailers; combined, I had relatively high expectations going in. Coming out, I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. It was just OK.
If you’ve never seen an X-Men movie before, you get a lot of introductions to a lot of different characters. This felt like the movie’s biggest flaw; there were so many characters to introduce and provide some level of background for that there wasn’t much time left for story. If you have seen the previous X-Men movies, there’s a straight repeat of the Magneto origin that was shown in the first movie, just the first in a series of events that really gives you a sense of “why are they showing me this again?” I know it’s a difficult balancing act with a two-hour movie to not alienate people who are new to your franchise while at the same time not completely boring people who have watched every other movie; that pendulum seemed to be swinging firmly in the favor of new viewers this time.
The need for such a significant amount of origin – here’s Xavier, here’s Magneto, here’s Moira McTaggart, here are the five X-Men, here’s Cerebro, here’s the first Danger Room, etc., etc., etc. – didn’t leave a whole lot of time for action. There really are only two significant action sequences: Sebastian Shaw’s assault on the X-Men’s first CIA headquarters, and the final battle that’s wrapped up around the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are some brief fight scenes here and there elsewhere in the movie, but they didn’t feel like enough to lift the movie.
The one character who probably *needed* more background – January Jones’ Emma Frost – got absolutely nothing.
* Jennifer Lawrence is pretty solid as Mystique. There were some scenes where she got to cut loose a little bit, but for the most part it seemed like director Matt Vaughan held her back, which was too bad – with the way the writers established her character, which actually was pretty interesting, she should’ve been one of the central figures in the film. But it just didn’t come off that way. Her character was begging for a bigger role, but it just seemed like she was being forced into a sidebar.
* The movie’s two principal leads do a nice job. James McAvoy does a good job as Xavier, and I thought Michael Fassbender was fantastic as Magneto. If the next couple of X-Men movies are set in this particular timeframe, those two guys will be able to carry these characters; I’d absolutely be willing to pay money to watch Fassbender play Magneto again. I felt he was the best thing about the movie. He even manages to not look absurd in the helmet.
* The Wolverine cameo is brilliant, as is the way that Rebecca Romijn got an appearance as Mystique. There’s also an amazingly brief Storm cameo if you pay attention.
* January Jones. She is so awful she almost brings the entire movie down. The pictures you have seen of Jones in the Emma Frost getup make it seem like she looks the part, and if this were a sequential picture book and she didn’t have to move, she’d be fine. She does look the part; physically, she’s a fantastic White Queen (but she needed radically different makeup; she was boring). But once she had to move and talk, everything just came crashing down around her. She’s absolutely terrible. She has no energy or emotion on screen whatsoever, and she could not have possibly had less chemistry with Kevin Bacon. They literally could have replaced her with a cardboard cutout and a voiceover, and there would’ve been absolutely no difference whatsoever. She was just awful.
* Kevin Bacon overacts basically every second he’s on the screen. And he gets a *lot* of screen time, so it gets old in a hurry.
* The origin of Magneto’s helmet is a little odd.
* The physical makeup is pretty shaky on Mystique and Beast. The Beast makeup is, in particular, not so great. I’m not even sure how to pinpoint what I didn’t like about it; it just looked weird. I think they made a mistake in not altering Nicholas Hoult’s voice after he underwent the transformation into the blue Beast. In the scenes where Lawrence was in full-on Mystique mode with no clothes, it seemed like there was significantly more Mystique parts and far less actual Jennifer Lawrence painted blue. I seem to remember it being mostly opposite when Rebecca Romijn played Mystique in the previous movies; more Romijn, less latex. It just didn’t come off as well as it could have.
* As good as Mystique was in the movie, I think the writers missed an opportunity to focus the movie around her. Making the movie about her instead of the Xavier/Magneto relationship, which we’ve seen in the other X-Men movies, might have made for a more interesting story. We know where Xavier is going in the end before the movie starts; likewise with Magneto. But Mystique was the one character with a choice to make (well, all of the X-Men did, but hers was more interesting because of her existing relationship with Xavier), and I think the movie would’ve been far better to focus on that choice than on a the dynamics of a relationship with a predetermined outcome. This would’ve allowed the movie to play up the Mystique/Beast relationship as well, which didn’t get nearly enough attention.