"I was thinking that you're the most exquisite creature I've ever seen... and that this needs ice."
Following the back to back financial success/creative disasters that were X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fox decided to just go ahead and reboot the X-Men franchise. I would love to think it was because they were standing on some sort of moral ground, but they probably saw dollar signs. I will say this, they mostly got right from the casting to the director, but I can understand why some X-fans hate this film. There are a ton of poor decisions mixed in with the good ones, but at its core, First Class is a damn entertaining movie.
Taking things back to the beginning of the mutant/human conflict was an interesting way to go, though I'm not sure we needed to get the Bay of Pigs involved. Watching the seeds of unrest between the humans and mutants is by far the most interesting thing about this film, but it pushes things too far too often. It's a mixed bag because there are some genuinely great character moments here between the main trifecta of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), and Raven Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence), but then some equally baffling choices that push the film a bit too far toward the "comic book movies are supposed to be fun, dumb, and obvious" side of the equation.
All we've seen of the X-Universe on screen until this point was a world where mutants and humans are constantly at odds with one another, mostly by one attempting to wipe the other out. In this film, mutants are a bit of a dirty secret that no one speaks about in public. Seeing these great men and women before they had a strong handle on their powers is where the true joy of this film lies. Director Matthew Vaughn's camera keeps the audience engaged in a way Singer and especially Ratner's camera never did. His hard-on for rack focus not withstanding, he makes mostly solid directorial decisions that keep the film moving most of the time.
Unfortunately, by the time we get to the ridiculous third act, most of the wind is out of the sails and what should be the most exciting part of the film is undercut by overblown spectacle and base simplification of the big ideas floated throughout the whole film. Again, it's not a bad film, it just succumbs to the allure of a big, dumb action finale. This can likely be attributed to having no fewer than six credited writers working on the script. It nails the interpersonal moments, and the first act in particular is as good as the genre gets, but it feels like two separate films competing for the audience's attention. It mostly balances this well, but it does fall apart a bit in the end.
The first and most important thing that First Class got right was the cast, with one glaring exception we'll get to. McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence all imbue these familiar characters with much more nuance than the first three films—especially the scripts—gave them. All three are among the best actors of their generations, and they go a long way toward legitimizing the grandiosity of the whole endeavor. Kevin Bacon also hits another scumbag role out of the park—despite what the writers did with the character—and Nicholas Hoult is also a great addition to the team as the young Hank McCoy. Thankfully they fixed his bizarre appearance by the next film.
As for the film's biggest problem, it has to be January Jones as Emma Frost. The costume designer seemed to be the only one that knew what her best assets were and accentuated them appropriately. She's a terrible actress and doesn't quite understand that a literal ice queen doesn't have to deliver all of her lines in a droning monotone that indicates the actress would prefer to be anywhere else on planet earth at the moment. I'm glad they wrote her out between this film and the next, but she's a substantial weight dragging the rest of an otherwise stellar ensemble down.
Overall, First Class isn't a great comic book movie, but it is a pretty damn good movie. It gets far too much wrong about so many of the characters to be an unqualified success, but much like Bryan Singer's original film, it knows what good cinema looks and feels like. It moves well, hits all of the familiar beats, weaves in a number of surprises, and nicely sets the franchise up for a bright future. It's sort of the perfect movie to show someone who claims to not like comic book movies. Sometimes fan service isn't the way to go, and it doesn't always make for a good movie, so it's nice to see a multi-million dollar movie so brazenly not give a shit about the fans.
—And we're back in the Holocaust, this time with swastikas!
—I love seeing Charles Xavier as a womanizer. It makes him so much more endearing
—Bryan Singer said he would have cast Sigourney Weaver as Emma Frost. Man, would that have been a world class upgrade
—The guy playing Hendry looks like if Jim Gaffigan and John Malkovich had a son their age
—James Remar! Someone dialed 1-900-Scumbag (h/t We Hate Movies)
—That Kevin Bacon photoshop on the wall of the Argentinian bar looks like something I made, and that's not a compliment
—I think there's a formula for a good movie: Have Michael Fassbender speak German
—Man, Matthew Vaughn loves rack focus shots. This movie is filthy with them
—Who slapped that Wayne Newton wig on Azazel? He looks ridiculous with that pompadour
—Anytime Rade Serbedzija shows up in a movie, all I can think of is his brilliant cameo in Eurotrip
—Fire whatever editor cut to the black mutant right after Sebastian Shaw asks the young mutants if they want to be enslaved
—If the New Mutants movie is going to be anything like the "showing off our powers" scene, count me the fuck out
—Angel can literally spit hot fire
—Nice cameo from Rebecca Romijn-O'Connell
—"Looks pretty nasty out there" is a rather flip way of describing the Bay of Pigs incident
—Look, Sebastian Shaw is playing the gorilla shock game from Chuck E. Cheese...
What do you say, Brandy? Fans either love this movie or are infuriated by it... Which camp are you in?
BRANDY: I have a hard time appreciating the X-films, and I'll fully cop to the fact that it's probably because I'm too close to the source material. When it comes to superheroes, the X-Men are my fandom, and have been since I started buying X-comics when I was nine. That said, the film has it's moments (mostly Banshee and Magneto), but what they did to Emma breaks my heart.
I growl involuntarily every time I see January Jones woodening herself through every scene. She has all the nuance and emotion of an actress in an X-Men porn parody. An actual diamond in cheap underpants would deliver a more riveting performance. Nothing about her Emma is redeemable, and to have one of the most complicated, nuanced characters and powerful mutants in X-history reduced to a lingerie lapdog is upsetting. Every time there was a gun pointed at her head, I was mentally thinking, “Shoot her. Please shoot her. Do it, it'll be fun.” Also, the scene with her neck starting to break? Diamond does not break that easily. THAT'S NOT HOW DIAMOND WORKS.
Magneto is the best part about this film. I would watch a full film of Michael Fassbender beating the fuck outta Nazis. Marvel, please make a film of 90 minutes of JUST Michael Fassbender with superpowers fucking up shit. I'd watch that repeatedly. Also, Banshee is wonderful, and I literally cheer for him every time I watch the scene where he flies for the first time. And can we talk about how Wolverine's cameo was more a true Logan moment THAN A SINGLE SECOND IN HIS *ACTUAL* FILMS? Sigh.
I know you mentioned you liked it, but I have a hard time with Xavier as a psychic-powered fuckboy, and if James McAvoy could look less like he was in the throes of orgasm while using Cerebro, that would make me more comfortable. The costuming is much better- the yellow and black is way better than the "extras at an S&M club scene" outfits from the first two—except for Azazel, who looks like he listened to a lot of Staind in the 90s—and that sea captain's outfit on him around the end of the film is fucking ridiculous. Also, Beast's mutation looks like a reject from a Beetleborgs Halloween special or the boss villain in an early Power Rangers episode. Also, c'mon, Hank. If people can accept Megan Fox's toe thumbs, they can accept your hand-feet.
Overall, as an X-film, this was a very good porn parody.