The first half of Matthew Vaughn’s prequel-of-sorts, “X-Men: First Class”, was better than I thought a comics-based film could be. The second had continued moments of brilliance that were inexcusably dotted amongst a forced tableau of piss-poor hack writing and contrived drama I would expect out of a 4th-grade writing class. There’s some real eye-rolling events that when mashed with bits of exhilarating action and human moments that inspire one to actually wonder aloud, “what the fuck?” The cumulative effect was a bit of a tease; I didn’t know an X-Men film could be that good, but I’m really just bent because I didn’t get the full payoff promised.
Introducing familiar characters with fresh eyes, the prologue to the tale now posits young Charles Xavier forming a familial bond with a future Mystique, and concentration-camp-interred Magneto bonded to pain and anger via the arch-villain (Sebastian Shaw) of the film. Shaw is played with real strutting menace by Kevin Bacon (I didn’t think I could write that line about KB), which is what you’d do if just about anything thrown at you makes you literally stronger. Fast-forward to the post-collegiate years for Xavier and Raven, who have very different views on the world. Here we find James McAvoy’s Charles using his talents as advanced pick-up lines, where Raven struggles with her own beauty and identity. That divide, which Charles just doesn’t understand, ultimately drives them apart. Magneto’s journey is that of vengeance, as he mercilessly hunts down Nazis instead of cooing coeds. Their two worlds couldn’t be further apart.
The entire first act feels like a world of limitless possibilities, with the stories we thought we knew re-imagined and acted with some real chops. It reminds me of what the reboot of Star Trek was able to do with a new alternate universe. And then slowly but surely the second half of the film introduced some tired in-your-face mutant shtick of “mutant and proud” and cold war stereotypes and awkwardly-written getting-to-know-you scenes that just play flat and forced. McAvoy, Bacon, and Michael Fassbender carry the entire second half of the film on their shoulders, despite the hacked script. (The point where I had to shake my head in the theater was the juxtaposed moments of the Russian and American Captains thanking their crews for serving with them right before they believe they are to die. Instead of being poignant, they now serve as the lines that I will remember most from the film because they are unnecessary, hack, and execrable. However, as this movie does outweigh its stupidity with its brilliance, I’ll quote from a great mid-movie cameo, and imagine what he’d say to the writers who suggested those lines: “Go fuck yourselves.”)In short, I’m excited about the future, and hope that the filmmakers can correct their mistakes to fulfill the promise.