X-Men: First Class

Directed by Matthew Vaughan

If only Hollywood had a mutant whose special power was the ability to think up original movie ideas, brilliantly executed and guaranteed to rake in the cash, they’d keep him locked up. But wait, they do. His name is James Cameron. Only that X-Man keeps himself captive in projects that take years and country-sized budgets to produce. In lieu of these Midas directors, we have franchises, and X-Men: First Class is a zippy prequel to the entire X-Men oeuvre, which now number five.

Before Magneto donned his camp cape and Valkyrie helmet, he was Erik Lensherr (Bill Milner), a German Jew who bends metal gates when his mother is torn away by Nazis. He’s brought before Dr. Schmidt who shoots his mother to unleash his power. Years later he’s grown up to resemble actor Michael Fassbender, whose seething menace is perfect for his role as an inglorious Nazi-hunter. He teams up with telepath Charles Xavier, a genetics professor, smoothly played by James McAvoy, as they and the CIA attempt to stop Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant and Erik’s evil doctor from all those years ago.

Cleverly situating the battle between good mutants and bad mutants in the larger arena of the Cold War, Shaw’s crew try to start WW3 using the Cuban Missile Crisis of ’62 as the catalyst. The cast includes Mad Men star January Jones as Emma Frost (who can turn her body into diamonds) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) as the blue-skinned shapeshifter Mystique.

The plot speeds along straight as an arrow, leaving ‘on-screen people’, otherwise known as characters, barely time to register. The clique of young mutants, hired by the CIA, could especially have done with developing. Darwin, whose power is ‘reactive evolution’ (gills in water; turning to stone in fire) was a wasted opportunity. The action set-pieces are noisy and epic, but the audience were curiously muted. The whole thing suffers from ‘prequel-itis’, that burden of having to build the blocks of series consistency; the same numbing effect which befell the Star Wars saga.

This film doesn’t disappoint expectations. It’s an enjoyable action-romp with pretty ladies and men doing cool, superhero things. The problem is it’s too clean and economical, with its sense of narrative arc so efficiently fulfilled. There was no real danger, no moments of genuine tenderness where everything pulls back and you’re reminded that yes, mutants, and the gorgeous Jennifer Lawrence, have human emotions too.

The explosions were catastrophic but not cathartic, and tears and screams were shorn of their meaning as we moved from A to B. This is not a bad movie. It does what it sets out to do. I guess I’m bored. After all, there’s nothing more joyless and banal than being endlessly entertained and always having your expectations so readily met.



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