Monday, March 26, 2012

DVD Review of X-Men First Class

X-Men: First Class (2011) is the classic example of how Hollywood gets its greedy little hands on a vast body of work and canon and completely screws it up. Really, the film wasn't totally horrible, but it was so muddled and overworked that I couldn't like it, and I really, really, wanted to like it.

No, I'm not bitching about how the film makers took excessive liberties with canon. I expect that films aren't going to stick lockstep with how the comic books portray a hero or group and that's to be expected. What works in a comic book almost never works the same way on TV or in film. But the X-Men have been around since Lee and Kirby introduced the original team (Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Marvel Girl, Iceman, and Professor X) to the world in 1963 and a lot of material has been accumulating.

The film's writers, director, and producers tried to cram damn near almost 50 years of history in to 132 minutes of running time. It's like they felt they have to jam pack the movie with all of the back story on the Professor and Magneto, plus many of the team members, starting with childhood and, even though set in 1962 (a year before the comic book team came together), also had to drag in material from the 1970s (the human-looking Hank McCoy turning into a real, furry Beast) and 1980s (the Hellfire club including Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost).

They needed to scale back. If this is to be the first of many X-Men films based on the prequel/reboot, then they could have saved some story for later.

I have to admit, I liked the way McAvoy portrayed Charles Xavier (in real life, the "X" in "Xavier" is pronounced like the "X" in "Xylophone"). You just know that a young, male telepath would probably act like an asshole if he knew every thought of every mind around him. He certainly f*cked up "outing" McCoy as a mutant right in front of his CIA boss. Also, his telepathy sense must have stunted his common sense if he couldn't tell that Raven was head over heels for him right from jump street. He payed for that one dearly in the end.

I also liked the Xavier/Lehnsherr chemistry (I think everyone did). Erik (Magneto) Lehnsherr isn't power hungry and evil. He's a holocaust survivor who can see the world treating mutants the way they treated the Jews. This time, he plans to strike first and not wait for the humans to build the death camps. I don't blame him.

That's the part about Erik that Charles could never understand. As far as the movie presents, Charles was raised (although we never see his parents) in a safe and secure environment. Nothing ever threatened his world so he can afford to see the possibilities of a human/mutant friendship. Erik, on the other hand, learned from Shaw in the camps that anyone who claims to be your friend just wants to use your mutant powers for their own gain, and they'll even blow your mother away right in front of you if that's what it takes (I can't imagine why Erik killed the soldiers who murdered his mother, but didn't drive every sharp metal object in that chamber of horrors right through Shaw's black heart).

It's the billion inconsistencies in the film like the one I just cited that makes "First Class" feel like "low class" to me.

Other stuff.

They could have let Hank McCoy be like the Beast in the 1960s comic books. He didn't tragically cause his metamorphosis into the furry Beast for over a decade, after he joined the team, graduated, and left to pursue his own career (he eventually joined the Avengers).

OK, no Cyke, Angel, Iceman, or Marvel Girl. The original team is out. So we have Sean (Banshee) Cassidy, who in the comic books, was more Xavier's age and an ex-cop. Raven (Mystique) Darkholme, who really didn't make the scene until the early 1980s (same time frame as the Hellfire Club) as opposed to growing up with Charles in his huge Westchester mansion.

Um, wait!

Charles doesn't have any other X-Men by the end of the film except Sean, Alex (Havok) Summers, and Hank. Everybody else either dies (Darwin) or deserts him (Erik, Raven, Angel Salvador). Oh, and never mind that Alex is supposed to be Scott Summers' (Cyclops) younger brother.

Now that I read what I'm writing, maybe I am complaining about lack of adherence to at least some canon.

However, I do think it's more "realistic" for Charles to end up in a wheelchair due to a bullet (a la "Ironside") rather than having his legs crushed by a giant block of concrete by an alien being called Lucifer (see X-Men #20). But Charles lost his hair before he even got into high school as part of his mutation (see X-Men #12). I'm not even sure James McAvoy will look good with a shaved head (Patrick Stewart nailed it, however).

One interesting thing that I don't find in any of the other reviews of this film is the subtle comparison between mutants and the LGBT community. At least twice in the film, one of the mutants (Raven says it for the last time in the movie) says "mutant and proud." It referred to the struggle (especially in Raven's case) of feeling that you always had to hide who you really were because the world wouldn't accept you (blue, scaly skin and all) as you really were. That, coupled with the inadvertent "outting" of McCoy by Charles which I mentioned earlier, gave a whole new meaning to Lady Gaga's Born This Way sentiment.

What could have saved this film? A much less "everything and the kitchen sink" philosophy as far as details were concerned. I know that films go through a lot of rewrites, often while being actively filmed, but this movie really showed it. It was like a patchwork quilt of this bit of X-Men history or that. It's as if no one could make the hard decisions necessary to keep the movie on track, internally consistent, and able to tell a "clean" story that the audience doesn't need a scorecard to follow.

I've read every one of the original 1960s through 1980s X-Men comic books and there was a great deal of good history to draw from. Rather than carefully picking and choosing what to put in and leaving the rest for another day, someone randomly loaded a bunch of X-Men comic books into a cannon and blasted them at a movie screen.

The early X-Men stories are among my favorites. X-Men: First Class pretty much crapped on them.

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