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.
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.