Although X-Men: First Class should be considered on its own with having some freedom from its sequels, one can’t help but remember Wolverine and his broken mind – his deep character fault that drives so much of what he does and which locks him into a dynamic love and hate for Striker, his part-creator and his abuser, who stands there on the other side of a wall of ice. These kind of emotional through lines are what engage the audience and garner their sympathies and are what is so absent in this latest X-Men instalment.
We are first introduced to Charles Xavier (to become Professor X), who is a charming and brilliant Englishman who receives his doctorate in genetics, and who happens to have met Raven (to become Mystique). His unique understanding of genetic mutations connects him with a befuddled CIA operative, Moira, who sees a woman’s skin change into an exoskeleton of glassy diamond and subsequently seeks out a geneticist such as Dr. Charles Xavier. Erik (to become Magneto), of course, starts his journey in a Nazi concentration camp where his mutation is deliberately drawn out by the wily mutant Sebastian Shaw. As a grown man, Erik hunts Shaw and other Nazis, globetrotting as he does so.
This is only the very outset of the plot of First Class, and it thickens considerably and burdensomely for much of the film. In addition to weaving so many threads together into the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film gluts us with mutant characters, making them very thin, even for an X-Men film. Magneto and Professor X are equally narrow in their rage and overweening sagacity, respectively. Magneto seems especially unfairly done, lacking all of his sinister charm, composure, and intelligence offered in the sequels. The rest of the characters manage to be even more deprived of content. The one exception is Kevin Bacon’s superb portrayal of Sebastian Shaw. Bacon manages to inject Shaw with menace and playfulness, and heaps of gravitas.
It is a wonder how none of the four writers of the screenplay – Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn – whose joint editing power must be considerable, did not think the script overwrought in these ways, or how they failed to pick up on other tokens of sloppiness. Of several examples, perhaps the least excusable is Professor X’s refrain to Magneto to find “the point between rage and serenity” in order for Magneto to fully harness his abilities. The line bears no thinking. If not lost in ambiguity, we would have to guess that the point between rage and peace would be some kind of mild irritation. It is totally empty of meaning.
In this way, the phrase suits the movie as a whole: it has a nice ring to it, a dazzling appearance, but lacks even the content of a fully fleshed out character.
2.5 / 5