June 4, 2011
X-Men First Class is a prequel to the OTHER X-Men movies that manages to surpass them. It's a strong film, and it feels like a movie . . . instead of feeling like a comic book movie. Packing a lot of characters and a lot of action sequences into two hours and twenty minutes, X-Men First Class is exciting and funny and fun.
It's not perfect. The main bad guy, Sebastian Shaw, has an unexplained change in motives and, well, more. (See the spoiler notes below.) But with so many characters, there was very little time for the background characters, yet most of them still have pretty satisfying character arcs. The exceptions: Tornado-man and Azazel, who stand around in the background and look cool and kill people. (I'm sure Tornado-man has a name, I didn't catch it.)
Overall, though, it's a slick movie with emotional pay-off. The acting, for the most part, is good. I've heard complaints about Kevin Bacon -- I really liked him in the movie. A lot. And as much as I loved Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan as Professor X and Magneto, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were very likeable as the younger versions of the characters.
Overall, a good movie that, for me, is the best of the franchise.
Comic book fans: not sure how you will like it. It is a prequel to the movies, so it has very little to do with comic book continuity. However, it didn't bother me. I knew nothing about Sebastian Shaw before, but I liked what he was in the film (mostly).
I still think it would have been better if, as a complete reboot, it had featured the comic book cast of Angel, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, and Marvel Girl. As a group, that's my favorite team of X-Men. Of course, that would have meant a reboot to the movie franchise.
SO WHAT DOES IT "TEACH" ABOUT STORYTELLING?
As a writer, I appreciated a lot about this movie. With a few plotholes (a couple elements seemed to be left on the cutting room floor -- it felt like this may have been a two hour and thirty minute film originally, and if my suspicions are correct, I hope it's successful enough to get a director's cut), it still managed to give a satisfying and emotional story.
Any action sequences came directly from the plot and were driven by the characters. Unlike the later X-Men movies, this one feels like a lot of time and thought was spent on the story. In a way that resonated with me, the plot built on the relationships of the characters to push things forward. It all rises to a climax that that, because of the personal character and relationship groundwork laid earlier in the story, becomes more tense and more interesting.
Along with that, the theme of the movie gets explored from many different angles.Almost every scene is about choosing to become the person you want to become, and each character is given a chance to choose what they are going to do. Those choices all have a payoff in the climax of the movie.
I really enjoyed this movie. The 60's setting helped separate it from the other X-Men movies and gave it a different sort of vibe compared to other superhero movies. I wish there had been a bit more clothing . . . maybe it was a budget thing? Not for kids (not just because of content, it's just a more mature film), X-Men First Class is a heartfelt action film, with character development, fun, menace, and action.
How is it that Sebastian Shaw goes from being a Nazi scientist interested in mutants to being a mutant himself? Was he a mutant in the beginning, which adds an interesting level to his character but doesn't seem to be what the story is showing? Or did he make himself into a mutant, which seems to go against the whole "mutants are the next step and regular people are doomed to be overrun" thing? It feels like there was a tiny bit of exposition missing between the 40's and the 60's.