June 4, 2011

REVIEW: X-Men First Class


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.


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.


Jeff and Katie said...

I appreciate your assessment of the movie. In many ways, I also felt that first class surpassed the previous films in many ways. I also appreciated your assessment that the action sequences came from the plot. I think this is more necessary for any good storytelling media than people realize. I would consider myself a novice in storytelling, but it seems to me that any good action sequence should involve two plots: the plot of the broader story at large and the plot-line of the action sequence itself. I think First Class succeeded on both these points. As you mentioned, every action sequence was fueled by the story and motivations of the characters. In regards to the second, many of the action sequences had deeper consequences and tensions thereby creating their own plot-lines--upsetting the equilibrium, escalation/complication of conflict, clue to resolution, and so on.

Second, it seemed to me that the character of Sebastian Shaw was fragmented at times and a bit slippery, because he was not necessarily where the story was focused. The physical exterior tension of the plot was created by Shaw and the Hellfire Club, who wanted to cause revolution on a political and social level (sidenote: this aspect is exquisitely couched within the setting of the Cold War which was itself saturated with the same senses of foreboding, social oppression, classicism, and threatening revolution). The real plot tension, however, is created in the minds of the audience who see the disparate backgrounds of Xavier and Eric. The real show is getting to see their characters develop, synchronized paradoxically with each other. This is what I believe made the movie so exciting in many ways. It was a perfect study in literary foil. Both characters were developed in deep ways, interacting with each other throughout. This robust use of foil generated the tension, and thereby generated a much larger, more interesting plot-line. This is why, I believe, Shaw was not all that developed or well-explained. Over-developing Shaw could steal the stage from the characters we came to see and their relationship.

Finally, thanks for writing the blog. This is my first time commenting, but know that as a story-teller, I have all of your entries thus far, enlightening.

Ben said...

Yes, the main conflict was absolutely Erik and Charles -- Sebastion Shaw was there as a major part of Erik's story: the choices Erik made directly related to the problems Shaw presented. And this was also the biggest irony of Magneto's story: his mother was killed for being an "inferior" race . . . causing Erik/Magneto to chose his path as the leader of a new superior race.

This was another "flaw" for me as I've thought about it. Charles did not have a similar "mentor" character. He was THE mentor to everyone else, but it would have been nice to see a "Shaw" type character in his past.

It's not really a flaw, I guess, because even with that complaint in mind, I was very, very happy with the movie. Unlike X3 and Wolverine, I want to see it again.

Thanks for the kind words!