Sorry this is late, but, you know (ETA: Wow, so lateness is not an excuse for not proofreading, apparently; corrections added throughout).
Continuing our look back at the final (so far) film in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men series, X-Men First Class. When we left off, young Professor Charles Xavier and mutant master of magnetism Eric Lensherr had found common cause in stopping Nazi-torture-doctor-turned-Swinging-Sixties-supervillain Sebastian Shaw.
The man in black, whom I shall refer to as Fred (because I think his character is supposed to be Fred Duncan), takes the three mutants to his secret facility in Langley, Virginia. There, they meet Hank McCoy who is introduced as he talks about the plane he has designed, and his hand is moving restlessly in his pocket. It looks like he’s playing with himself.
Charles is thrilled to find another mutant, which is news to Hank’s boss. Hank keeps his mutation a secret, because it’s embarrassing. His feet are like hands. Monkey feet, if you will.
Raven is impressed. You know what they say about guys with thumbs on their feet.
Meanwhile, Shaw is thrilled with the escalation in tensions between U.S. and Soviets and is on his way to Russia to crank things up a bit more. He demonstrates a helmet the Russians made him that can block thoughts, which we all recognize as Magneto’s helmet. He also indulges in a little male chauvinist power trip, just because it’s the 60’s and he can.
Back in the top secret facility, Hank and Raven are getting romantic over Hank’s plan to make a serum that will cure their mutant appearance “without affecting abilities.” And I can see how Raven could still be a shapeshifter without her blue base form, but the only power of Hank’s we’ve seen is his ability to hang by his feet, because his feet work like hands. There’s no real way to make them look normal and still function the same way.
Erik interrupts with the cock block by saying Raven is perfect the way she is. Then he steals Shaw’s C.I.A. file and starts to leave, but Charles talks him into staying (and mentions that the yacht battle was only yesterday? things happen fast in movies).
The next day, their CIA sponsor shows them a special telepathy enhancing computer Hank has designed, named Cerebro of course. This changes the previous movies’ assertion that Magneto helped build Cerebro, but by now it should already be apparent that this movie has no interest in being an authentic prequel. More on that in a sec.
So now Charles uses Cerebro to find other mutants, whom he and Erik will then go and recruit. Cue the montage with the 60’s-style pop groove. Angel the Exotic Dancer! Darwin the Cab Driver! Convict Alex Summers! The Red-Headed Guy Whose Picture They Showed Rupert Grint When He Asked for More Money! This is the by-now-standard X-movie grab-bag of old and new characters, and I don’t mind, except for Alex a bit.
See, in the comics, Alex Summers was Scott Summers’s younger brother, but in this movie, he’s obviously way older than Scott, around the same age as Charles Xavier. Which would make him Scott’s, what, father? Much older brother? Totally unrelated guy whose name just happens to be Summers and who just happens to have a crimson energy power?
And of course, because you’ve gotta have Wolverine in there, Jackman shows up in a brief cameo refusing to be recruited (this takes the place of the usual Stan Lee cameo, because there’s not one). McAvoy can barely keep from laughing.
And it’s that last bit, along with Mystique’s design, that kind of bugs me. I mean, I can understand and respect wanting to do your own thing and not be bound by the earlier movies’ continuity, but then they try to have it both ways by working in references to the other movies. If you’re going to do your own thing, then own it.
On Shaw’s submarine, Emma Frost tells Shaw that she can feel Xavier’s mind and it has been unnaturally amplified somehow. She deduces that they are recruiting. Shaw sends her on to Russia and says he’ll take care of Xavier.
Back at Langley, we finally get to see a demonstration of the new mutants’ powers as they get drunk and bond through destroying their quarters. Mystique also comes up with the idea of giving them all code names, because they’re secret agents now.
Charles argues for taking the new mutants along with them to stop Shaw in Russia, but the drunken party quells that. So Charles, Eric and Moira head to Russia with a squad of soldiers. When they discover Shaw has missed the meet, Moira decides to abort the mission, but Eric charges in to confront Emma. Charles pursues.
Emma shifts to diamond form, which makes her mental defenses impenetrable, but Magneto (so named by Raven) wraps her up in a metal bedframe and squeezes her neck so hard, it cracks. She has to shift to human form to keep her head attached.
The filmmakers do a better job of depicting Emma’s diamond form here than the people doing the Wolverine movie did. Still, those human eyes in that faceted body are disturbing. Also, although the script tries to make Emma confident and smart, January Jones’s performance is awfully wooden for someone so soft and curvy.
Charles finds out that Shaw’s plan is to provoke a global thermonuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, destroying or mutating humanity while making mutants stronger.
Back at Langley, meanwhile, Shaw, Azazel and the third guy (the credits call him Riptide) attack the facility. Even though Azazel doesn’t have any lines, he’s a striking presence and I like the way he teleports in a burst of flame (the way Nightcrawler supposedly teleported in the comics).
Shaw intends to kill Xavier, but he has to settle for recruiting the kids instead. Angel, who wasn’t really loving the C.I.A. in the first place, immediately defects to his side, because the bad guys are much sharper dressers. Darwin defects also, but it’s actually a ruse to protect Angel while Havok blasts them. Too bad one of the bad guys can absorb energy blasts and then use their power to kill his enemies. Say, Darwin.
And there are a lot things to say about this particular moment. On the one hand, it’s obviously a naked ploy to shock the audience, but its impact is diminished by the fact that we don’t know any of these new faces well enough to really care if they die. But then there’s the unfortunate fact that he’s the only black guy in the movie; not the token black hero, but literally like the only black guy you ever see on the screen (the only other non-white character is Angel (the exotic Zoe Kravitz) who turns bad).
But he’s also the guy who emerges in the brief scenes we’re shown as the natural leader of the new group (aside from Charles and Eric). In the attack sequence, he’s the only one of the new mutants who shows any initiative or courage, which maybe they were hoping would insulate them from charges of racism when they killed him off.
So Shaw convinces the Russian general to put missiles in Cuba, while back in the U.S., Charles decides to take the mutants to his place, where they can have a training montage!
Not the Luthor mansion this time, I’m afraid. And so, Charles teaches Eric to move mighty large things and teaches Hank to unleash his inner animal. And I like the way McAvoy as Xavier really seems to get a kick out of helping the others achieve success. With the help of Hank’s gadgets, Professor X also teaches Banshee how to fly using his sonic screams for lift (although the bit about sounds having to go “supersonic” seems a little, um, impossible)…
And Havok to control his powers using a costume that approximates what he wore in the comics.
So now they’re ready for the final confrontation, except for one thing. Hank has finished his mutant appearance-correcting serum and offers it to Raven. However, she has been swayed by Eric to believe she wants to stay blue, and so she declines, at which Hank turns total douchebag and says her natural form will never be considered beautiful.
So Hank goes back to his lab and tries the formula on himself, alone. And since we namechecked Dr. Jekyll earlier during the training montage, we know what’ll happen.
See you next week for the big finale.