Bamboo Review: X-Men First Class

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 22:23 EDT
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So, a review of "X-Men: First Class".  Well, it wasn't nearly as good I'd been led to believe from some of the raves I read online.  I think people are so desperate for a superhero movie that actually goes beneath the surface and struggles with some larger themes that they graded this one on a curve.  But this movie had a number of major flaws that were really distracting:

1) While the lead actors were really good, the supporting cast had some distracting clunkers in it, especially January Jones.  I fail to understand casting bad actors in a movie, seriously.  There are thousands of people who want a break who are better than some of these actors. Cast one of them.  What's stopping you?  Laziness, I assume.

2) The script was really uneven.  There were a number of great parts in it, but there were an equal number of head-thumpingly stupid moments.  Some really atrocious lines, and the whole scene where the X-Men are naming themselves needed to be cut, burned, and never spoken of again.  

3) This is minor in the grand scheme of things, but was to me really indicative of how lazy this entire enterprise was.  The costuming in this movie was unforgivable, especially since they were clearly trying to borrow some of the glory of "Mad Men" and the cultural fascination with the early 60s.  As I joked on Twitter, the miniskirt was invented in 1965, but the costume department for this movie seemed to think all women in 1962 were wearing them.  It's not that I object to miniskirts.  That's just one of the most obvious problems.  Mostly the suits men were wearing and other outfits looked generic and modern, and not like the 60s at all.  This is supposed to be a stylized film.  I fail to understand why not just hire the costume designer from "Mad Men" and pay her whatever she wants.  Ditto on the hair, though the make-up was fine. 

I think in a lot of ways it was more disappointing because there was a good movie buried inside this one.  We joked afterwards that "Magneto: Nazi Hunter" would have been an awesome movie, for instance.  I don't really mind the Cuban missile crisis as a backdrop, and the action sequence where they captured the submarine was sublime.  There were lots of instances, in fact, where I just longed for the movie to live up to its potential—the bar scene in Argentina, the joke about the White Queen projecting sexual fantasies so that men believed they were real, things like that.  Above all, I really dug the underlying idea of the movie.  At the end, there is no resolution between Xavier and Magneto, and if anything, the thumb was on the scale for Magneto and his crew of badasses, while Xavier was left with the dorky white dude brigade.  Which is how it should be; audiences should be forced to take Magneto's arguments more seriously than they were asked in the previous X-Men movies, where Magneto was a purer villain and his mutant army seemed like a bunch of whiners because they were skeptical that assimilation was an effective strategy. 

In fact, I suspect there's a draft of the movie that's  much better out there, but that the studio system chewed it up and put demands on the script such as "more time with the younger mutants".  There's a lot of good in the script, especially in terms of characterizing Xavier as an overprivileged twit who can't really understand what it's like to really be oppressed, and in terms of how Magneto's status as a Holocaust survivor and an orphan makes him feel excluded from normal people to begin with.  I can definitely see why people liked it more than I did; they concentrated on the good and ignored the bad.  But I really think that audiences should demand more.  These characters clearly mean a lot to people, and the amount of money spent on these movies should buy, at bare minimum, a clunker-free script, good costumes and set design, and good acting.  I know that it's possible—"Iron Man", the first one, was put together brilliantly, even though it was fluffy on its themes compared to "X-Men".  What we need is a superhero movie that weds the deeper themes of this movie with the level of storytelling skill that was in play in "Iron Man". 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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