Marvel has always irked me somewhat as a comic book imprint. Focusing largely on allegories such as segregation or simple teenage angst, its ability to offer continually inventive character evolutions has left me cold. Bar a few standout characters, I’ve never warmed to the overall style of storytelling they continually resort to. Be that as it may, I was a fan of Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men feature installments, the third never quite hitting the mark. Matthew Vaughn’s work on both “Layer Cake” and “Stardust” was equally as impressive, leading me to assume I would enjoy the amalgamation of the two.
Sadly this prequel at best offered a slight variant of “Kick Ass”, which was at least bordering on the median.
Taking place in Argentina, England, Las Vegas, Miami, New York and a litany of other locations, there was no expense spared as regards filming locations but never story. The equally bright and charismatic Michael Fassbender and James Macevoy portray Magneto and Professor Xavier respectively, navigating their new found powers and 1960’s geo-politics with the gusto of “Weekend at Bernie’s”. The same overwrought adolescent hormones that remind me of Stan Lee ex machina fill out the boundaries of the plot with a spattering of auxiliary characters reduced to muteness or general ineffectiveness for good measure.
Kevin Bacon as the piece’s villain Sebastian Shaw does his best to act menacing, yet unfortunately only manages to channel Nicholas Cage in of his more “likable” roles. Where “Kick Ass” devolved into a moral vacuum, “First Class” suffers from characters being too mechanical, fulfilling subplots and character arcs in order to bring the picture in line with those that chronologically come after it. Thus we learn both little about them and are also subjected to a cavalcade of fanboy easter eggs, setting up story-lines many of us have already engaged with.
Plot points such as personal acceptance (in the form of Mystique and Beast) or backgrounds easily explained (Xavier and Magneto) are plodded through in such leaden detail for what is now the fourth time, it’s a mystery why such things even had to be revisited.
A personal bone of contention is the character of Emma Frost, begging the question if the writers even read the biography of the character. Supremely intelligent, beautiful and merciless, the casting of January Jones was a mere capitalization on her role within “Mad Men”. What could have been and was already created was a strong, capable female lead, reduced by Vaughn into a rather dull, scantily clad anatomy lesson. Evidently the choice was made to give this strong female role to Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), but why only one such role was provided for within the script I’m not sure.
Lacking in personality or a coherent voice, in its two hour running time “X-Men: First Class” never managed to shine as brightly as it could have. Perhaps they should have asked McCoy to act as script doctor on an otherwise interesting concept; he always conveniently had a way out of every other problem.