(sorry for the delay on this – there have been some ordeals of late and I didn’t want to post this at risk of more vitriolic leaking in on than the movie deserved)
tl:dr edition – Better than XMen: Wolverine and Last Stand. Debatable on whether it’s better/worse than the original 2.
Let’s divide this into two major sections. First I’ll discuss briefly how this fits in the continuity with the other movies and general overall comic rating. Then the shell rank of the movie. Then an overlong discussion of the meanings & relationships in this movie.
X1 = XMen – first movie.
X2 = XMen united – second movie.
X3 = XMen Last Stand – third movie.
X4 = XMen Origins: Wolverine – fourth movie.
X5 = XMen: First Class – 5th movie.
So how does X5 fit into the overall continuity of the movies? It does not fit with X4 at all – there’s just no way for several important moments in one of the movies to “fit with” important moments of the other. The plot holes that result are so large that we’re better off just ruling that one of these movies has to be discontinuity. Although X4 wasn’t quite as bad as a lot of people said (though not a great movie either), seems like the popular consensus is to let X5 into continuity and jettison X4. X1-X3 still have a few hiccups in continuity here and there with this movie, but as they are rather minor and relate to character relationships (as I’ll detail below), most of these problems can be hand-waved with minimum effort. But since some of the (relatively) biggest problems also arise in X3, fans can now jettison that movie and accept X1, X2 & X5 as a cohesive whole. So the movie has all that in its favor.
I’m not the biggest fan of the X-Men comics so I also can’t comment on how well this movie syncs with them, but as I haven’t heard excessive fanboy whining (a miracle in itself), it seems the movie makes many acceptable breaks from the source.
In general, I was impressed by this movie’s montages as they are the first that I’ve enjoyed (both of them) considerably more than the regular movie’s plot. One almost wishes they had jettisoned the overarching plot of the movie and just gone with a more slice-of-life/indie feel to the proceedings.
At one point Sebastian Shaw says that mutants are “children of the atom”. Since it’s clear that he and the three protagonists were all born before the invention of the atomic bomb, this statement comes off as really weird.
All the actors & actresses do excellent jobs. I half wished this had been turned into a series instead – ah la Smallville – to give the viewers more time to savor and enjoy the talent on screen and relationships between the characters. All put together this movie ranks about a…
Average and competently told, but nothing outstanding.
What would have made this movie outstanding?
Let’s address the obvious point first: don’t make the “message” of the film overt. Worry about the story first and then let the audience impose their own meaning or interpretation on the events. This movie wears its “message” (summed up as: “Bigotry is bad, m’kay?”) more overtly than any of the previous 4. What’s wrong with this? Well maybe trying to tie gays, furries, trekkies, nerd or any other minority group with the mutants isn’t a bright idea. For one thing, the mutants are a real, legitimate threat to people in general and ironically the bigots in these movies end up “having” a point. Twice in X5, hundreds, if not thousands, of people are nearly killed because of the machinations of mutants. The first time because the mutant is bigoted himself against regular people and the second time because normal people apparently have the audacity to try and defend themselves against and unprecedented threat. At movie’s end we see Charles Xavier mess with someone’s memories. Although I don’t think the constitution has any provisions relating to telepathy, I’m fairly certain that act was a huge civil rights violation. Regardless of any merits of any of these actions, I’m 90% certain that everybody but the most insane bigot does NOT believe any minority is that much of a threat to life, mind and overall welfare. Tying a movie like this one too closely or overtly to any particular real life group ends up carrying the unfortunate implication that… well that real life group actually is a huge threat. That’s a bit of a parable fail.
Other than that, this movie was fundamentally about relationship, particularly the relationship between 3 characters: Mystique, Prof. X & Magneto. Here’s how the movie actually plays the romance:
- Mystique & Prof X meet each other – bond over their strangeness.
- They grow up as friends – Mystique wants something more, Prof X wants them to remain in the friend zone.
- Mystique eventually meets Hank “Beast” McCoy – they bond over their physical strangeness.
- Beast doesn’t give Mystique what she’s seeking – she seeks out Magneto.
- M & M presumably mate in what is very likely both of their first time (at least it seems like Magneto was too busy with his revenge efforts to really have time for more romantic endeavors).
This brings up a bit of an issue with X3 when Magneto abandons Mystique about midway through the film. While I have no doubt he would probably abandon any mutant who became “normal”, I’m just not convinced he would abandon his “first” so callously.
However, that’s not the issue I had with this arc in the movie is that they didn’t take the opportunity to reinforce the character motivations. Here’s what was missed: Mystique is a shapeshifter. She can appear as (just about) anyone. There is no excuse for her to be lonely. Especially when her best friend is a telepath. Scene: Prof X reads a cute guy’s mind, and tells Mystique what he’s into. She changes to appear perfectly as that ideal.
However, none of Mystique’s efforts ever go further than a bit of kissing (maybe petting). Here is her actual crushing loneliness: all the guys want her for a pretend appearance, never who she actually is. What does being told “you’re beautiful” matter to a woman who can change her appearance at will? She wants to be told she’s beautiful for how she really looks. Thus she turns to Prof X because she knows he’ll appreciate her for more than just her appearance.
The catch is… Charles Xavier is like the dating opposite of Mystique (at least, they should have played with it more in movie). Think about it: Men are known to be visually wired in general when it comes to mating. Mystique can appear as any visual stimulus they desire (if anything, she could probably get all the money in the world just setting up an escort service). Women are more emotionally/mentally wired. While looks still play apart, Charles Xavier is (from what I gather from reliable sources – my gal pals) apparently handsome enough that that isn’t a consideration. Instead, he can access their thoughts and “play” the role they would most find stimulating. He’s a “shapeshifter” (of an emotional/mental kind) that appeals to women just as Mystique is one that appeals to men.
And all of that would have lead naturally to their schism. Mystique wants to be with Charles, but he refuses because, she’s ultimately seeing him in the same manner she is disgusted with men for seeing her – an ideal, not a reality. Hence the later romance with Moria McTaggert. She approaches him because of his work – not for anything he’s ever said or did to appeal specifically to her. That’s why he falls in love with her, and not his old friend.
Of course, Beast still remains a part of the problem Mystique is trying to escape – it’s Magneto that finally sees her the way she wants to be seen.
It was all… “almost” there. Which is another reason why I wish this had been a series instead of a movie. That and it would have given Prof X and Magneto more of a friendship.
UPDATE: I simply must link John C Wright’s post on this movie which is quite good and I agree with a lot of it, myself.