You know that you're entirely alone a specific viewpoint when your ride back home from a midnight screening almost abandons far from home for it. That's what almost happened to me only moments after getting out of seeing X-Men: First Class, the latest superhero film to be entered into this summer. It's also the fifth film to be based off of the X-Men comics, which yielded good results for the first two films, yet pretty mediocre results for the next two films. I'm sure that most people, after seeing this film, will say that it's a return to form, but I feel like this is the death of a franchise.
The film has a very intriguing premise, and that's a lot of what carried me into the theater. It traces the origins of humanity's discovery of mutants, as well as the origins of the alliance between Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. There's a very international spy element to the film that makes itself evident from the offset. Xavier and his group are recruited by the CIA to stop Sebastian Shaw, a former Nazi with aspirations of nuclear destruction in order to wipe out the humans and leave the planet free for the mutants' taking.
I usually start by dishing out the bad and then getting to the good, but I feel a reversal in this particular case is suitable. The performances from the cast are decent, with Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence being the three main standouts. Kevin Bacon takes up the form of a lower class of scene-stealer as Sebastian Shaw. He does have a charisma about him, but I just keep thinking about how ignorant and really stupid his character is. He is a minimal form of scene-stealer in this film.
I really like the story they have going for them, and the dynamic between Charles and Erik works to a degree. But then I get into the whole mess of things that didn't work about this film, and they are numerous and unfortunately distinguishing. It all stems from director Matthew Vaughn, who made last year's box office failure Kick-Ass. The approach he takes to this film is from a cartoonish standpoint, because that's clearly what he does best. He can make films that seem like comic books, and he's made that clear over the years.
The problem is that comic books translate quite horridly to the big screen. They're obvious, boisterous, loud, and punctuate every single detail, just in case the reader didn't understand. A film version of that is the exact same thing, and therefore not something you want to experience for $10 a ticket. In any case, X-Men was never supposed to be that sort of thing. If you look at the first two films, there's something sleek and dynamic about it. You can tell that there's a relationship behind Professor X and Magneto, and it was full of subtle nuances.
There is absolutely no subtlety in X-Men: First Class, painful as it is to say. If there's some sort of subtlety in this film, please point me out to it, because I couldn't find it. Too often did it feel like a live-action version of Monsters vs. Aliens, except without the 3D. I'm thankful this film wasn't in 3D, because then I would have hated it so much more. What solidifies my hatred is how it paints these characters in such irritating stereotypes. Erik is portrayed as an evil villain in the making, which he's not. He was never a sinister man, but a man vindicated in his own beliefs.
The humans are played as stupid antagonists, which may have just been the way of the 1960s, but I can't help but wonder why Charles even cares about them at this point. And then we get to the most heinous thing about this film, and I'm shocked that nobody has brought it up. X-Men: First Class is a really sexist film. Again, it was the 1960s, and that may have just been the way, but we never got that feeling. When I heard we were getting a vintage superhero film, I figured it would be along the lines of Mad Men, which it so clearly wasn't.
The women in this film are easily persuaded, overly conscious of how they look, and occasionally just there as simple arm-candy. There are some bad-ass moments with Moira MacTaggert early on, but they turn her into way too dumb a character. My favorite part of the film was probably Mystique, because she embodies the unsureness of that age and what a mutant would realistically feel like. That being said, the main mantra of the film, "Mutant and proud", is one of the worst lines written on paper this year. The cinematography and visual effects is painfully straightforward, and there's not a point in this film where the music isn't bashing you over the head.
You can tell this film was rushed through production, because there's barely an intersection between certain scenes. No care is put in when composing any shots or emotional performances, and it causes the film to be a lot weaker than it could have been. I realize that many are bound to like this film, and my opinion isn't a common one. I almost feel like people will peg me as a troll because of it. Still, X-Men: First Class is one of those films that makes me want to be a filmmaker, so I can do a better job with films like this. The poor work being done makes me wish I could change it, but I can't. On a final note, you can tell who made this film by the way it ends. It is the single dumbest ending shot of any film I've seen this year.