X-Men: First Class – what good actors get you

First, I liveblogged the MTV Movie Awards last night with the ladies from LaineyGossip. You can read the transcript here if you scroll down to “Sunday”. I spent half the night defending Ryan Gosling and Kristen Stewart. Lainey recapped our KStew fight here. I need some support on this as I am alone in my opinion (on LaineyGossip, anyway) that Stewart is hardly a “problem starlet” just because she’s awkward in public. Also, the show was painfully boring and host Jason Sudeikis (SNL, Horrible Bosses) failed to deliver in any significant way. My host-vote for next year: Donald Glover, Mindy Kaling or Danny Pudi. Or Joel McHale? Discuss. My favorite part of the night was a pre-show bit with MTV entertainment guy Joshua Horowitz and James McAvoy. Goddamn that accent is sexy.

Speaking of James McAvoy…

I saw X-Men: First Class over the weekend and posted on my twitter afterwards that I thought the movie was a mess. Not disastrous, just messy. A lot of you yelled at me. Let’s start out by making this very clear: I did not dislike this movie. I just didn’t love it as much as I wanted to. I grew up reading X-Men comics and playing X-Men in the backyard and wishing I control weather like Storm or hear thoughts like Jean Grey or make a katana blade out of psychic energy like Psylocke. Looking back, my earliest female role models were the women of X-Men and Marion Ravenwood from Indiana Jones. So I always go into X-Men movies wanting to love them.

I really loved the first two X-Men movies. I strongly disliked X3 and I hated Wolverine: Origins for bringing down Hugh Jackman’s great portrayal of Logan/Wolverine and also for under-serving Gambit (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights), one of my favorites. First Class falls somewhere in the middle of all that. I liked it better than X3 and Wolverine, at least as well as X-Men and not as much as X2. Yes?

So what was so wrong with First Class? Overall I thought it was a problem of tone. We commented early and often that the First Class marketing was all over the place, which I took to be a sign of a bad movie. Well First Class wasn’t nearly as bad as its marketing suggested (really screwed the pooch on that, Fox), but I can see why the marketing department had a hard time deciding what kind of movie they were hawking. Solution? CUT CUT CUT.

As with all X-Men movies, there were too many characters. We had bad guy Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his minions, Azazel (Jason Flemyng, Hanna) and Riptide (Spanish actor Alex Gonzalez), and Shaw’s partner in crime, Emma Frost (January Jones, Mad Men). Azazel had maybe one line and Riptide never spoke so guess what? Cut. Jones was indifferent as Frost—she wasn’t distractingly bad but anyone could’ve done what she did—but Emma served a purpose so I’d keep her around. And on the X-Men side, I’d drop everyone but Charles (James McAvoy), Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult). The other characters were cool and all, but ultimately they created redundancy. Charles gave his “I believe in you” speech to Erik AND Alex Summers (Lucas Till, Battle: Los Angeles). Guess which one doesn’t do anything but stand around looking cool? Yep. See ya, Lucas.

I love the X-Men, I want to see these characters brought to life. But there are TOO MANY of them. Each X movie has suffered from too many characters. First Class would have been a much more focused, much more streamlined film about idealism versus practicality in a moral context and what kind of responsibility those with power bear. Charles and Erik were the story here and everything that took away from them needs to go. There was also a disconnect between production design and characterization, especially for Shaw. Bacon played Shaw straight and sinister yet his sets were straight out of Austin Powers which gave everything an undermining cartoony feel. Jordan from KristenStewartWantsIT put it best: First Class was a four-hour movie shoved into two hours. It would have benefit from a stricter story edit.

Also I had a logic problem. Which, I know, I shouldn’t be looking for logic, but hang with me. Shaw thinks that the mutant gene in some humans was activated by radiation distributed in the atmosphere by the atomic bomb. He keeps saying, “We’re children of the atom.” Which sounds cool, but… The movie opens in 1944 with Erik imprisoned in a concentration camp. He first demonstrates his metal-bending under these horrible circumstances. In 1944. A year before atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But there was testing! Yes, for several years before 1945, but Erik appears to be around 14 already. In New York, Charles looks about 12. And we know from Wolverine that Logan’s story began in the late 19th century (speaking of Wolverine–that cameo!). So um…sorry Shaw. Something else triggered the gene.

All of this said, what saved First Class was across-the-board good acting. The worst performance given was Jones’ as Emma Frost but like I said—she doesn’t ruin it. She just isn’t great. Fassbender and McAvoy ARE great, which is why I wanted so much more of them. They worked better than anything else in the movie. The final third of the movie was by far the best because it was all about the rift growing between Erik and Charles. And if McAvoy didn’t slay you with his performance on the beach at the end, I don’t know what to tell you. Everyone in the theater was choked up as he said, “I can’t feel my legs.”

That’s what good actors get you. First Class had some problems, sure, and if left up to me I would have cut a solid 40 minutes out of it and eliminated half a dozen characters, but I ended up satisfied with it because the cast, particularly Fassbender and McAvoy, really sold me on these characters and this struggle. I was rooting for these people, I cared about what happened to them, and even as I suspected them of wasting my time I wanted things to work out for them. And when they didn’t work out I was really sad. Good actors make you care, even if the story doesn’t.

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10 Responses to “X-Men: First Class – what good actors get you”

  1. Overall I enjoyed First Class, because…obviously…Fassbender, McAvoy, Hoult…YES. Jennifer Lawrence was equally as enjoyable. My main irritation with the film was the complete revamp of Angel Salvadore. Especially her fiery spitballs. I mean…why?

    Sorry for being too fangirly/geeky.

  2. I really liked the movie, though I think the references back to the “original trilogy” were very forced and ultimately unnecessary. I was fully expecting Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn, and James McAvoy when talking about his hair, to look straight at the camera and wink with some sort of cheesy grin on their faces. Irony is best when it’s subtle, not slapping us upside the head.

    I surprisingly didn’t mind Charles putting his hand to his temple when he was using his gift. It served the story well in a few instances. Dang McAvoy was sexy.

  3. Great post. I haven’t seen the movie yet. the marketing for it was so off putting and frankly nothing this summer has felt like a true event film.

    OT during the MTV movie awards live blog you mentioned that Kristen stewart would always be hated but if she were to get really good representation could she pull an Angelina Jolie? Im not a huge fan of hers but i always thought that if she just invested in a publicist she could be big “movie star” and not just a teen star. Plus on the surface i’ve always found Kristen and Angie similar as far as their star image goes.

  4. Sarah, you’re not alone in your opinion on KStew. Can I be honest and tell you that when the liveblog came to the topic of Stewart last night, I got pretty rage-y (and had wished the liveblog would have allowed interactive comments, at least at that point…) Kristen needs to be “silly”? You can’t be shy if you’re an actress?? WTF?

    It honestly makes me angry on a deeper level because I think it brings up issues of what a woman “should” be in a way that a man doesn’t has to deal with. (Look at Pattinson – to my mind, he should have been the object of much more of the scorn than she was, as he was the one to put his foot in his mouth over and over.) Stewart’s “sins” are that she is serious, she is quiet/shy and she is – at times – impatient with the media machine, which can come off as not being grateful for what she has (although I would question that conclusion). Yes, she hates how it trivializes her work and her life, which given the level of scrutiny she’s had to deal with, is understandable. I just don’t understand this insistence on the need for her to conform to some pre-packaged standard. If some cookie cutter teen star had been Bella Swan, I never would have gone to see the first movie, much less seen all the movies, read the (ridiculous but fun) books and have gotten interested in both Stewart and Pattinson’s careers.

    And what was so weird to me was that other than her acceptance speech for best actress, she pretty much was responding to her critics at the awards, unconsciously or not. The “practiced weariness” label was completely unfair last night – and as usual, ANYTHING she’s ever done that could be subject to misinterpretation is held against her forever (this doesn’t happen to Pattinson). She looked hot, she posed for pictures with a bright smile, and not only was she not rolling her eyes — she looked pretty deliriously happy. God forbid she not know what to say on stage – unpardonable. We need our celebrities to be suave and have a sparkling wit and have fantastic bodies and be in great movies and have interesting personal lives that they’ll willingly share tidbits of on a semi-regular basis. God forbid anyone challenge those expectations – we’ll rake them, especially the younger women, over the coals.

    Sorry for the rant, but this clearly got me going…

    PS I also thought the McAvoy-Josh Horowitz piece was hilarious.

  5. I basically agree with everything sunny said. I read the liveblog and was disappointed, frustrated, pissed, etc. I suppose I expected more from Lainey and her cobloggers, some of Duana and Sasha’s comments were just straight up dumb.

    I am admittedly very biased, as I’m a big Kristen Stewart fan. I also hate Twilight and would not watch that crap if she weren’t in it. Anyway, it’s been very interesting being a ‘fan’ of such a young actress and not being in high school/college or whatever the prime period is for being part of a fandom.

    I can’t count how many times I’ve been annoyed recently at media mentions of her that stick to the same old sullen, glum, ungrateful schtick. Just looking through coverage of the MTVMA, even when she was complimented it’s always something like, the notoriously glum KStew seemed like she was having a good time! Like does she just need a better publicist or what? I mean I think the answer to that is yes, but more of the blame probably lies with the media.

    It’s kind of funny that she has such a bad rep, since having seen and read a bunch of her interviews, she really seems like one of the most genuine, nicest girls in Hollywood. Sure she’s not bubbly and she’s definitely still awkward, but she’s improved, and do we need all our stars to be perfect when they accept awards and go on shitty late night talk shows?

    The level of criticism and just the extreme microscope she lives under is kind of unreal, I don’t recall ever seeing another actress go through it to this extent. Who knows, maybe Angelina would have undergone similar treatment, but Twitter and social media didn’t exist in its current form when she was coming up.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment. Just wanted to say there are other people that agree with you. I’m too lazy and frankly feel too silly to email Lainey, even though I do enjoy reading her blog despite the fact I often disagree with the opinions represented there. Keep up the good work!

  6. Saw X-Men this afternoon. I agree with a lot of what you said. Some of the stuff was messy and would benefit from cutting out a few of the characters.
    I also thought a lot of it was “cheesy,” and some of the dialogue actually made me cringe. I thought McAvoy and Fassy were awesome. I loved the surprise cameos.

    I thought the script needed to 1) have some things cut out of it, as you said, and 2) flesh out the parts that are left over after that. Especially the big finale, where the US and Russia join forces to attack the mutants. I’m like, “you’re telling me that 2 minutes ago these two countries were ready to nuke each other and blow each other’s fleets apart with missiles, and now, with seemingly no communication or discussion between the two countries or consultation with the respective governments, they sort of looked at each other, nodded and winked, and decided to join forces to launch hundreds of missiles at like 10 people standing stranded on a beach??!?!?”

    I also agree with what you said about some strong female characters coming from the x-men universe. Unfortunately, none of those characters seem to be in this movie. I think whoever wrote the script doesn’t know how to write female characters. Mystique was alright, but still randomly ended up naked in Magneto’s bed for no reason. Mystique also just “walked away” from her SHOT and PARALYZED “brother” at the end. Angel was a stripper who never showed any redeeming qualities. Emma Frost was dull, dumb, objectified, and apparently helpless. In the beginning, she could use her powers to “hurt” Magneto’s mind to save Shaw, but she suddenly wasn’t able to do that while she was tied to the bed? Or imprisoned by the CIA? She is literally indestructible, and she can’t break through the glass or throw a punch? Emma Frost, in the comics, is literally one of the most powerful mutants around. Just so disappointing. And don’t even get me started on Moria MacTaggert. As a CIA agent in a room full of men, this movie wants me to believe that she would tear up and wistfully talk about a kiss???? Who in their right mind would do that? Which of course brings us to my favorite line of the movie THIS IS WHY WOMEN DON’T BELONG IN THE CIA. Which then cuts to Emma Frost, powerful telepath, needed to be saved. GROSS.
    OK, I’ll end my feminist rant there. :P

  7. Also, I agree with you about Kristen Stewart. If she started hard posing and giggling and blowing kisses, I think I would vomit.

  8. Sarah,
    I wholeheartedly agree with your “position” on Kristen Stewart. I was actually angered by Lainey’s comments on the liveblog and post. She says that she no longer “buys” Stewart’s awkwardness/shyness. What is there to “buy” anyway? Lainey was purporting that Stewart’s discomfort was “put on” or something because she wants to rebel against fame/celebrity. But that makes absolutely no sense–what 21 year old kid would WANT to appear this way and receive the kind of backlash she does? While I think she is a talented actress and consider her realness refreshing, I realize that not everyone is going to agree and I’m okay with that. However, I don’t think it’s fair to rip on a young woman for being uncomfortable in the spotlight or for taking her heels off after walking the red carpet (WTF kind of criticism is that anyway?). Thanks for defending her!

  9. Totally agree with your analysis on the film. But, can we talk about how BUDGET some of the makeup/effects were? Mystique looked horrible. Azazeal looked painted red, and let’s not even talk about Beast, arguably one of the most difficult to cgi, and came out looking like a sketch of Sully from monsters, Inc. That almost ruined the movie for me. I actually think that the original x-men, from over a decade ago, had better fx when it came to this. How is that possible?

    All of this screams of bot enough prep and post. I just wish that had given themselves another year and given us one of the best movies of the franchise. All of the elements were there, they just needed to be fleshed out more before putting it onscreen (and perhaps addressing some of those female character issues mentioned in a post above. I thought the exact same thing).

  10. [...] experience to me. This story definitely worked better with the benefit of a top-notch cast. Like X-Men: First Class before it, The Help is a study in how good actors can elevate mediocre material. The Help is about [...]

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