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X-Men First Class: “Blue is beautiful.”

June 8th, 2011 by | Tags: ,

X-Men First Class!

It was pretty much the only comics movie I was really looking forward to this year (unless I forgot about something, but I doubt it), so I caught X-Men First Class while I was on vacation last weekend. Overall? I dug it. It’s not the best-written or best-directed Marvel flick, but it has a strong visual style all its own, and it being set in the non-swingin’ sixties apparently counts for a lot for me. I’d rank it as being better–for whatever better means, I guess “more enjoyable” at this specific point in time–than the other X-Men and Spider-Man flicks. Better than Iron Man, even. It’s less cute, and there’s no Robert Downey charmingly stumbling his way into your heart.

Anyway, I have Opinions:

-Michael Fassbender as Magneto as Simon Wiesenthal was a good look. Magneto in the comics is… I don’t want to say soft, but he’s very comic book. He’s simplified, boiled down into that superhero/supervillain dichotomy. In X-Men First Class, he’s much more human, and even more relatable.

-I hadn’t realized how much I liked the character, the idea, of Magneto before this, but yeah: I like him a lot. There are two key lines that were blown in the trailer that I think are significant. I’m copy/pasting from Wikipedia, since I saw this days ago and already forgot, but:

Professor Charles Xavier: We have it in us to be the better man.
Erik Lehnsherr: We ALREADY are.

and

Professor Charles Xavier: Listen to me very carefully, my friend: Killing will not bring you peace.
Erik Lehnsherr: Peace was never an option.

-My Magneto is probably similar to Morrison’s–he’s a mad old terrorist, but he’s not entirely wrong, either. He’s extremely powerful as a symbol, which I already knew and enjoyed, but X-Men First Class added a human component that I enjoy. The conflict in the comics comes from the fact that Magneto becomes what he despises (a Nazi) out of a desire to protect his race. Goofy comic book plotting.

-What I like about Magneto, what those lines unlocked, is that 1) he’s lost and he knows it and 2) some people deserve to die. It’s part of why crime fiction, and more specifically, Frank Miller’s The Big Fat Kill, are so appealing/interesting to me. Morality through immorality/amorality. Who puts the bullet in the head of him that deserves it?

-Magneto is convinced of his race’s superiority (and he’s technically correct), but he’s also come to accept that he is broken. He’s a martyr in his own mind, and the one person willing to do what must be done in order to protect his kin. His life doesn’t matter, so long as he spends it for his people.

-Peace isn’t an option because his peace was stolen decades ago.

-Fassbender, man. SO manly. I’d watch a sequel that was him terrorizing his way through the ’60s and ’70s. Magneto the Jackal.

-I liked James McAvoy as Xavier, too. He wasn’t as revelatory as Fassbender, but his callous, arrogant Xavier worked. The little touches, like the way he used groovy while hitting on coeds or how he didn’t really get the mutant struggle, were great, too.

-Rose Byrne as Moira, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee, and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique were all pretty okay. Good enough that I would watch them in sequels, but not standouts.

-January Jones was terrible.

-The major cameo was as great as everyone else has said, and the Cerebro sequence was pretty cool, too.

-Kevin Bacon was great. It’s like he saw Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost, one of my most favorite roles ever, and was like, “Yo, I can top that. Sebastian Shaw? Son, I got this. Watch.” Fassbender > Bacon > McAvoy > everybody else > January Jones.

-I like Zoe Kravitz. I thought she did a fine enough job with a poisoned chalice. And I mean, her mom is Lisa Bonet and her dad is Lenny Kravitz, and she looks it. Instantly made my top ten dead or alive list.

-The list changes constantly, but right now we’re looking at Rosario Dawson, Anna Karina, Scarlett Johansson, Aubrey Plaza, Rashida Jones, Salma Hayek, Josephine Baker, Aki Hoshino, Lucille Ball, Sade, and Erykah Badu. That’s eleven. Vivica Fox or Lisa Bonet might rotate onto the list soon, too.

-But yeah, let’s talk about what I didn’t like.

-It sucked to be black in the sixties, and that goes double if you’re a mutant, apparently. Edi Gathegi as Darwin died in one of the dumbest scenes in any movie anywhere and Kravitz turned evil because dot dot dot.

-Darwin basically served two purposes in the movie. He was there so that when someone said “slavery” when talking about mutant rights, the camera could focus on his face. He was there to die to give Shaw some cheap heat.

-Here’s a scene, paraphrased fairly faithfully:

Shaw: What’s your power?
Darwin: Evolving to survive anything.
Shaw: Survive this. *puts a fireball in Darwin’s mouth*
*Darwin dies slowly over the next minute while making a sad face*
*white people are sad*
*every black person in the audience leans over to the nearest black person like “niggas always gotta die first”*

:negativeman:

-Get outta here. Really? It wasn’t even a shin hadouken. That was a medium punch joint at best. It looked like a gadouken.

-Darwin was wasted, but that’s symptomatic of the larger problems with X-Men First Class.

-He was an extra character. The movie is too full, and pretty much just Beast, Magneto, Mystique, and Xavier get a chance to shine. Banshee gets something like seven whole lines, doesn’t he?

-So, because the cast is so full, everyone’s motivations are… thin. Angel is okay with being ogled as a stripper, but hates how the humans look at her wings. That makes a kind of sense–she’s in control in one area and not in the other. But apparently she hates the latter so much that she signs up with a genocidal mutant after less than a month of even knowing that other mutants existed, deserting her mutant friends with not a second thought.

-Oh, and right before she does that, an off-screen human is like “Take the mutants, they’re hiding in here! Just don’t kill me!” just in case you don’t get that no one likes them. Racism! (Eyerolls!)

-Nobody beyond the main characters have much of a reason to do anything until Darwin bites it.

-“Hey, do this.” “Sure, okay.”

-“Boy, being a mutant sure is cool.” “Yep, sure is. :)”

-“Man, humans sure do hate us.” “Yeah, they do :(”

-But really, the worst part is that both black mutants die or turn evil in the same scene. What part of the game is that? You make a movie out of a series that borrowed heavily from the civil rights struggle and then cut out all the negroes?

-I’m not saying I want balance, one good and one evil. I think that’s dumb, to be perfectly honest. But at least let me believe that black mutants have actual reasons to do things or have powers that aren’t lame. “I can survive anything. Oh wait, no, I’m dying!” is crap!

-It’s doubly crap because of the pro-mutant slogan that pops up a few times in the movie. Say it loud: “Mutant… and proud.”

-The pregnant pause is part of the slogan.

-It’s like the moral of the movie is “Black, er, blue is beautiful!”

-I can totally buy evil black mutants. It makes sense, it’s feasible, blah blah blah. But I didn’t buy it here because the writing team barely even tried to sell it. They just threw it out there.

-Boring. They got to do better next time.

-The Nazis got what they deserve, though, so that’s okay.

-On the flipside… there’s a bit where a Nazi quarter (did they call them quarters? it’s worth 25 Nazi Cents I assume and has a swastika on it) turns into the X-Men First Class logo. That’s probably not the best message to be sending at the beginning of your big fat civil rights metaphor. I don’t know whether that’s because Nazis barely count as people or because it sets up a really terrible unintentional comparison.

-“Mutants?! More like Nazis, am I right, fellas?”

-Next time: tighter script, better colored mutants (I’d settle for a real gully version of Bishop or uh… actually Frenzy would be kinda dope, as long as they go real raw with her), and more Fassbender. Fewer sad white people, fewer characters with no motivation, fewer scenes with January Jones stinking up the spot.

-“Magneto was right.”

-Oh yeah, better music in the new one, too. This one was forgettable. X-Men’s got to be a sexy franchise, and the ’60s were a great time for music. Throw some period joints on that fire.

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25 comments to “X-Men First Class: “Blue is beautiful.””

  1. The line that sold me on Magneto was one of his last ones, “Never again, will we be at the mercy of men following orders” I think it went something like that. It tied a good knot on his characters arc.


  2. Another bit of weak in this flick: Riptide, played by a Latino, dressed just as well as everybody in the film, had a firm grasp of his powers … but not one single like of dialogue.


  3. @A Boy Named Art: Yeah, I thought that cat was real cool. I forget if they even said his name, to be honest. Azazel didn’t talk much, either. Both are good examples of how a lot of characters got short shrift.

    @luis: Yeah, that set him up explicitly as protector and victim turned aggressor, which I thought was real interesting.


  4. @A Boy Named Art:

    Haha I actually liked him all the more for that. He had an immense amount of charisma, and never said a word. I don’t think his suit even got messed up after getting messed up by the X-men. Definitely one of my favorite characters.


  5. I got the impression that there were some parts missing in the story in the second half that would have made everything make a little more sense. For instance, it seemed obvious to me that Darwin was going to return – until the movie ended and he hadn’t.


  6. Yeah, I was really expecting Darwin to return. I had basically the same reaction when he died. But god, I hope they recast Emma. I think it would be a tough role for a good actress, and Jones isn’t.


  7. I had the same reaction you did to the Nazi coin transforming to the X-Men logo — but doesn’t it transform by flipping to the other side? The idea, not perfectly executed, being “There are Nazis, but the X-Men are the other side of the coin.”


  8. Yeah, totally thought Darwin was coming back. I don’t know Shaw killing him for cheap heat was necessary — the dude offed Magneto’s mom!

    Definitely could watch a whole Magneto film now. I was a little skeptical when they were talking XMen Origins: Magneto. Then again, they probably would have shown him grow up and practice his powers instead of travelling the world kicking ass.


  9. Add my name to the list of people wanting to see a Magneto: Nazi Hunter project, in whatever form it took.

    As for the 5-schilling coin/X-logo flip, the point of that seemed to me to point out how important shaw was in causing the team to exist.


  10. “Magneto the Jackel”

    I gotta rewatch Carlos now with Magneto & The Brotherhood subbed in.


  11. Maybe I’m just not very good at picking up on hidden messages, but I didn’t get anything out of the coin flip to X-Men logo. I thought it was just there because it made for a cool transition from scene to title.


  12. I liked how Shaw’s skull was made of only the softest of Jell-O when Magneto penetrated it with the Nazi coin. Would it had to have been R if he had just sort of whipped it through there?

    Kind of disappointed that we never got to hear Fassbender say “YOU would bring weapons made of steel…against the MASTER of MAGNETISM?!” but that sentence would extremely silly out loud.

    I could really use more of him traveling the world in various leather jackets committing acts of terrorism if we get a sequel.


  13. great write-up! on point. Fassbender was the star but i liked Mystique a lot myself, i think she was my favorite part even though she didn’t get to do any fighting despite pumping iron with a humongous barbell (none of the ladies really got to get into the fray, total boys club!). i liked the part where they had Mystique brushing her teeth, you don’t really get to see that kind of thing much in superhero stuff. and i liked her relationship with Xavier a lot.

    i knew Darwin was doomed the minute i saw him in the trailer. :( and i didn’t like that Angel got so shoved to the side (and she spit fireballs instead of acid fly vomit??), she’s one of my favorite characters in the Morrison run. my other favorite was the Jason Flemyng red teleporting guy, he was pretty sharp and had awesome shoes.


  14. I agree with everything you’ve said, David, except that I’d specify that Emma Frost was written so poorly, with so little purpose, that I don’t think any actress could have played her much better. Recast her? Okay, but reWRITE her first.

    And my favorite thing, surprisingly, was Mystique. We knew the Xavier/Magneto conflict was a foregone conclusion, and at least to fans (and even to those who’d only heard it laid out in the “later” X-movies), it was all familiar. Mystique got real character evolution, and it didn’t center around being anyone’s girlfriend or sex object. What they did with her really elevated the movie, for me, and made the missteps with the less-central characters a little easier to tolerate, in the balance.


  15. Agree with the Darwin point, which occurred to me in the theatre. I did wonder if they were making a nod to the comics and that he’ll return in a sequel, but honestly it’s unlikely in my opinion.

    Still enjoyed the movie though!


  16. Damn, now I wish someone would have covered that James Brown song and changed the lyrics to “mutant” to play over the end credits…

    I was really surprised by Darwin’s death in that scene, because it was such a clear demonstration of his power NOT being to survive anything. I guess I wasn’t clear how his powers worked (I don’t know him from comics), but I thought it was reflexive, like his body automatically did it, not that he had to do it himself…?

    And speaking of not knowing stuff from the comics, was the evil tornado guy–Riptide? Sounds like a G.I. Joe or Gatorade flavor–in the comics? I have no memory of ever hearing of him before.


  17. I honestly thought “Riptide” was Whirlwind myself since Riptide in the comics has a totally different power execution….

    Minorities and Women got the short shrift in this movie… and like others I thought there would be a scene after the credits showing Darwin pulling himself together…

    Since no one else is going to say it and it is required in every X based column, I’ll do it…. “Professor X is a jerk!”

    This movie was all Bacon and Fassbender with a touch of Mystique… This was the X-Men Origins Magneto movie…

    For the record, Shaw can’t die like that btw. He doesn’t have a conscious control on his power… and when a telepath is in the mind of someone who dies, there are some dire effects. (see Jean Grey)

    To paraphrase Public Enemy: “X-Men were no heroes of mine…m.f them and Magneto”


  18. @david brothers:

    You probably already caught it, but Ta-Nehisi Coates has a boss op-ed on taking his kid to see the movie.

    He’s right where you are:

    But as “First Class” roars to its final climatic scene, it appeals to an insidious suspension of disbelief; the heroic mutants of America, bravely opposing bigotry and fear, are revealed as not so much a spectrum of humankind, but as Eagle Scouts from Mayfield.


  19. @ Daryll B. I thought that was Whirlwind also. It seemed neat but odd considering that despite being a mutant, he’s never been ghettoized into the X-Books.

    I too thought the coin turning to the X logo was the opposite of what they wanted it to be.


  20. I have to say, the two things that surprised me the most were McAvoy really selling Xavier as being basically nice but coming off as a callous jerk due to just not quite paying attention hard enough, and Mystique being actually an interesting character. I do wish she’d been punching people at the end there, though. I like the idea that she’d just straight pump iron because well, what else do you do when you’ve got that power?

    I do think an expanded timetable would have fit the movie better, put a year between recruiting and being attacked by Shaw, with training in the middle. That way those relationships and opinions have a bit of time to grow into something less offhand.


  21. Nice, David. I fell out of my chair for the hadouken bit. I’m a white-skinned Cuban and even I was like “Wtf? Straight for the black dude’s throat? Really?” and then when it devolved into the W-Men vs the Brotherhood of Evil Minorities, I was just dumbfounded. Normally, I think commentators tend to be on the touchy side when it comes to race, but complaints about this one are right on the money. Cmon, this is the fucking X-Men, a civil rights allegory in almost every incarnation. How you can have hundreds of people working on the film and nobody notices that all the minority characters are dead or evil for no reason blows my mind.


  22. Lucille Ball? Really? There’s not enough Vitameatavegamin in the world…


  23. “The conflict in the comics comes from the fact that Magneto becomes what he despises (a Nazi) out of a desire to protect his race. Goofy comic book plotting.”

    Isn’t this where he ends up in the movie, though? He picks up where exactly Shaw left off (hat and all!), because apparently there are only two possible moral stances in this universe.

    “I don’t give a fuck about a Nazi – you killed my mom!”


  24. I thought that the guy with the whirlwinds was Monsoon, not Riptide or Whirlwind. The attachment to WWII-era Europe (as evinced by a Nazi Shaw and Russian Azazel) seemed to be the clincher (India was revolting against the British Empire as the war raged, plus the Nazis saw Hindu people as being “honorary” Aryans; it would have been easy for a German mutant supremacist to have found a light-skinned Hindi guy with powers to co-opt, in the same way that Shaw rejected the anti-Semitic viewpoints to embrace Eric.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsoon_%28comics%29

    And as far as Angel was concerned, I thought that they picked her up from the Hellfire Club! Her reversion to her initial allegiance made sense in that context if you turn her into the “mole” and consider that the HC in and of itself wasn’t considered a haven for mutants.


  25. […] is the remix: I took this post about X-Men First Class and turned it into this post, inviting dozens of comments from idiots about race. That sorta thing […]