52 Movies: Week 19
There is a good movie somewhere in here but it is continually undercut by a ham-fisted script.
X-Men:First class is set in 1962 (with some flashbacks to 1942) and it covers the origin of the titular team of super-powered mutants. I should confess that I am a huge X-Men geek and have been since I was ten so this is an origin story that I know like the back of my hand. To its credit, X-Men:First Class does a good job at capturing some of what I love about that story. In particular, the relationship between Eric Lehnsherr (the holocaust survivor who will go on to become the super-villain Magneto) and Charles Xavier (the founder and leader of the X-Men) is a fascinating and tragic story about two friends with very different views on the relationship between mutants and homo-sapiens.
Eric Lehnsherr is played by Michael Fassbender and Charles Xavier is played by James McAvoy. Both actors do a fantastic job and the scenes featuring the two of them (which comprise the bulk of the movie) are all excellent. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast turn in mostly terrible performances, perhaps hamstrung by the often terrible dialog they are given. Jennifer Lawrence, who I love, is terrible in X-Men: First Class, even while her character’s arc is mostly interesting.
Some of the script problems come from having to shoe-horn in a lot of material in a little over 2 hours. At times, however, I felt like we are being given the dumbed down version of reality that plagued comic book movies for so long until movies like Sam Raimi’s first two Spiderman movies and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies showed that you can successfully ground comic book movies in the real world. X-Men First Class certainly attempts to do just this on the fact of it — The Cuban Missle Crisis is a major plot-point. But heavy handed dialog from extras who serve only as plot devices undermines this reality and repeatedly pulls the audience out of whatever immersion they may have been feeling.
All of that having been said, the movie’s action set pieces are well done and there are moments that really scored a direct hit with my inner comic geek. (The first appearance of the team in uniform was almost worth the price of admission alone.) X-Men: First Class is better than other movies in the X-Men franchise and it is entertaining for fans of the genre. It’s still a disappointment, however, as there are the makings of a truly great movie here and it never quite comes together. Three stars out of five.