X-Men First Class

What a great year it’s been so far for films I wanted to see!  I can’t remember another year like it.  But perhaps I’m getting jaded as a result, because I went into X-Men: First Class with high hopes and found it very … meh.

Part of this may be that I’m still obsessing over my newly kindled Thor fannishness.  It’s funny, I could see that First Class was a better film than Thor – it had character arcs and important issues and slicker special effects and better fight scenes.  But, deary me, it was so very worthy with its earnest examination of social and self-acceptance issues that it seemed to forget to have any fun.

In that, I’m sure it’s quite realistic for a super-hero film, and maybe the realism is why I didn’t like it very much. 

It was nice to see some new mutants, and Banshee’s appearance caused me to lose a 5p bet I’d had with my daughter a couple of years ago.  (I maintained that you will never see any red-headed heroes, red hair usually being reserved for villains.)  Banshee wasn’t exactly the hero of the film, and his hair was more auburn than ginger, but it was close enough.  It still doesn’t count as a great step forward for inclusivity, though, when set beside the fact that the one black character was there to be canon-fodder, and all the female mutants were on the ‘wrong’ side.  (You can see why they would be, mind you.  That’s the side I’d have chosen too in the circumstances.)

The scene with Magneto pulling the submarine out of the water would have been awesome if it had come before the scenes of Magneto doing even more awesome things in the last two pictures.  I did enjoy the final showdown, and thought it was cool that Xavier got to share in that death (nice to see his telepathy has its downsides too.)  I also thought “you killed my mother!” made a nice change – so many heroes are fixated on their fathers to the point where you wonder if they had a second parent at all.

But setting it in the 60s and being faithful to a certain amount of the skeevy sexism of the period meant that quite a lot of it left a bad taste in my mouth.  I remember what that was like, and it was no fun the first time.

Magneto pretty much stole the show, and Xavier came across as such a self-centred dimbo that I wasn’t really able to feel the central ethical tug of the story at all.  Someone more eloquent and likeable should have been on the “humans are not necessarily our enemies” side, particularly if all the evidence of the film was going to be weighed against them.  Perhaps the film makers thought that was obvious, but it wasn’t obvious enough for me, given that every character on the other side had perfectly good reasons to be there.  Someone who was slightly less oblivious of society’s dark side than Charles would have been a better choice for the mouthpiece of the ‘right’ side.  As it was, he failed to convince me to cheer for him – which meant I didn’t enjoy his victory as much as I should have.

So yeah, this is not much of a review because I can’t find much enthusiasm for the film.  I don’t really want realistic politics from my gosh-wow, “isn’t it fun to blow things up in awesome ways” escapist super-hero films.  At least, not this much of it. 

I guess I also feel that there are things too terrible to be used – or at least used like this – as melodramatic backstory to the wish-fulfilment fantasy of being gifted with cool powers that set you outside the normal run of humanity, and the holocaust is one of them.  I don’t know why I feel like that with this film, and didn’t with Magneto’s backstory in the previous ones, but perhaps it’s because those terrible things are that much closer in this one and cast a denser shadow as a result.  Or perhaps it’s because the social outcast/super-hero metaphor breaks down for me when it’s looked at as closely as this – none of these super-powers leave you exactly powerless in the face of human evil, after all.

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