by Neil Morris
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Opens everywhere Friday
See showtimes below
There is also an surplus of subplots, principally revolving around the collection of junior X-Men, including Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Havok (Lucas Till), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) and Angel (Zoë Kravitz). They’re all written as though they were characters in a Nick at Night sitcom. January Jones channels Shaw’s Hellfire Club henchwoman Emma Frost as a Stepford villain and Rose Byrne, as Moira MacTaggert, the most unconvincing cinematic CIA agent ever, suggests a human with the mutant ability to not be able to act.
On the surface, director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass and Layer Cake) seems an inspired choice to revive the Marvel film series. While his special effects scenes possess pop, the campy dialogue, choppy editing and silly set design come uncomfortable close at times to, dare I say, Joel Schumacher territory.
Whole lines of script are predictable before uttered. Location captions feel the need to twice inform us that the obvious image of Red Square is in “Moscow, Russia,” and that an isolated office building is a “Covert CIA Research Base.” When Shaw urges the newbie X-Men to reject a life of “enslavement” to humans, Vaughn cuts directly to a shot of the lone black mutant … just before he becomes the first named character to die. And, it’s hard to take matters seriously when the situation area for U.S. military officials is designed to resemble—perhaps intentionally—the War Room in Dr. Strangelove.
Two relationships salvage X-Men: First Class. First is Charles’ childhood friendship with Raven / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the blue shape-shifter who battles self-esteem issues over her appearance. More central, however, is the one between Charles and Erik, framed here as X-Men’s version of Isaac and Ishmael. Charles supports peaceful coexistence and understanding with normal humans, while Erik endorses survival of the fittest and casts a wise and wary eye towards man’s inherent violent nature.
Strong performances by McAvoy and Fassbender lend credible emotion to Charles and Erik’s complicated kinship and essentially save X-Men: First Class. Nevertheless, you know a film has problems when a 10-second cameo (you’ll know it when you see it) is its unquestioned highpoint.