X-Men (2011)

As an avid Mad Men fan, I had always wondered if January Jones was a terrible actress or if she was just really, really good at playing a flat, shallow character with no emotions or believable personality.

Wonder no more, everyone. In the role of Emma Frost in X-Men: First Class, Jones has proven her lack of acting skills, save her existence as a pretty, pretty princess with a fantastic figure.

In fact, January Jones‘s role in the film was reminiscent of the film itself: easy on the eyes and enjoyable to watch, but lacking depth or artistic vigor.To be fair, I did enjoy the film. In recent years, we’ve seen superhero films go two ways: dark and mature like Chris Nolan‘s Batman series, or fluffy and traditionally epic like this summer’s Thor. The main problem with X-Men: First Class was that it really wasn’t either of the above. The film instead skirted the line between a poignant and intelligent social analysis, and a special effects-laden crowd pleaser.

What I have enjoyed most from Matthew Vaughn‘s previous work is his unique rhythm and ability to mix paces–offering drama with a deep vein of comedy, for instance. However, X-Men: First Class suffers from an ailment common to some of Vaughn’s other genre work. The timing just seems off. Unimportant scenes drag on, while important narrative development is shortchanged. Explosive special effects are teased, but never deployed. The film looks like it could have easily been made ten years ago, and that’s not good news for the effect-happy science fiction audience.

The success of the film rides entirely on the capable shoulders of Michael Fassbender, whose nuanced portrayal of Magneto helped mask the film’s lack of cohesiveness. Kevin Bacon was effective, if a bit one-note, as the villain Sebastian Shaw. James McAvoy has very pretty eyes also did a stand-up job, playing a young Professor X. As a prequel, the movie took liberties with the characters, and offered interesting takes on Magneto and Professor X as young men.

The young characters were entirely forgettable, save Jennifer Lawrence‘s Mystique and, to a lesser extent, Nicholas Hoult as the future Beast. Rose Byrne‘s role as Moira MacTaggert was effectively whittled to a cameo. (The actual cameos by Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn were a wonderful treat for X-Men fans.)

The film pushed too hard to make certain points. The Nazi scenes were so maudlin I was embarrassed for everyone involved. As a general rule, there’s no easier emotional well to tap than the Holocaust, so Vaughn‘s failure is certainly disappointing. Any scene dealing with war and politics was generally overblown as well. Perhaps the film was aimed at a younger audience, but it wasn’t necessary to hit the audience over the head with every anti-war message.

While individual players may not have risen to the occasion, and the direction may not have exactly drawn the film together, X-Men: First Class was still a generally enjoyable movie. It wasn’t as cheerfully genre-satisfying as Thor, and it wasn’t as intelligently genre-defying as The Dark KnightX-Men: First Class told an interesting story, and it’s the story that audiences will remember. Everyone loves a good prequel to a popular series, and it’s always interesting seeing how fictional characters deal with moral morasses.

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4 responses to “X-Men (2011)

  1. It uses the themes of the previous movies to build an intelligent, fast-paced, and highly entertaining prequel. The performances from the whole cast, especially McAvoy and Fassbender add a lot to these great characters as well. Good review Andy, check out mine when you can!

    • Thanks! Will definitely check out yours. I thought the movie wasn’t amazing, but it was a legitimate summer blockbuster, so that’s that. McAvoy and Fassbender were definitely the highlights of the film.

  2. Wow, I’d heard Jones was bad. I think I’ll wait for the rental.

  3. Hmmmm. I like your review quite a bit, quick to dig in, bare teeth. Good points about the short comings and the tired, out of touch use of Nazi stuff to fill in otherwise light writing. Then again, I’ve noticed a recent trend for the use of historical materials to further back stories, draw parallels to our place in time, space and magma. Just recently Bay did it in Transformers – I liked the setup but then Trans resorted to tried and true carnage and action to make the action more…actionable.

    I think we actually disagree quite a lot on some key points – namely the effectiveness of prequel and what I believed to be a clear and direct effort to steer the middle ground to better effect. That’s not always engaging enough for some – we’ve gone so very far from solid story and character writing these days with the advent of CGI smiles and breast augmentation.

    If I ever get my review written it would be interesting to compare notes further. I do like the way you cover the bases – not just I like because I like. I know that it is silly to want a walking, talking blue iguana in a suit to have candor and eloquence and a back story but hey, I like my coffee with cream too.

    Btw, did you like Hell Boy?

    I think there is room for growth and intelligence in the genre and maybe that equates to boring to the hard core fans. I’d love to see more R rated superhero movies. We are not all fifteen year old boys. Not really.

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