Super Movie Monday – X-Men: First Class, Part 3

Here it is, the final chapter of the final (so far) movie of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men series. Last week, evil mutant Sebastian Shaw had manipulated the U.S. and the Soviet Union into a confrontation off the coast of Cuba in a bid to set off a nuclear war between the two superpowers. Meanwhile, Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, along with C.I.A. agent Moira McTaggart, recruited and trained a team of mutants to stop Shaw.

Before the big event (and just after Hank McCoy’s botched attempt to normalize his appearance), Eric returns to his room to find Raven waiting in his bed. He tells her she’s too young, so she changes herself to look older, and we get another cameo from Rebecca Romijn as an older human Raven.

I’m not sure if Romijn had gained weight or if they digitally widened her face to make a closer match to Jennifer Lawrence’s round features, but she doesn’t look like her earlier appearances. Eric tells her he prefers “the real Raven,” i,e, the blue one.

Raven then confronts Charles about his insistence that she hide her true self, saying “I always thought it was going to be you and me against the world, but you don’t want to be against the world.” It sounds more like adolescent drama than a prescription for living, but if you’re watching X-Men movies to learn how to live, you’re kinda screwed to start with.

The next morning, they find Hank’s lab trashed and a crate marked X containing special flight suits that–surprise,surprise–look a lot like the original X-Men’s uniforms.

And Hank appears, only the serum, instead of curing his deformity, has enhanced it.

And this… I know why they did it, basically. At this point in the comics, Beast had been redesigned by Frank Quitely to have a more cat-like feel, and so they apparently decided to keep pace with that in the movie. But something about it–the bright blue fur, the big eyes–doesn’t quite work. It has a cute look that doesn’t match the aesthetic of the other X-Men movies, but also doesn’t match the 60’s spy movie vibe they play off of for much of the rest of the movie.

So now comes the big confrontation near Cuba, as the Russian and U.S. fleets square off on either side of the cargo ship bearing the first nuclear missiles bound for Cuba. The Russians receive orders for the ship to turn around, but the crew can’t obey, since they’re currently dead. Azazel is piloting the ship.

And here comes the secret plane! Xavier telepathically orders the Russian political officer to fire on the cargo ship, thereby stopping the shipment and preventing war.

But Shaw has other plans. He decides to absorb the power of his sub’s nuclear reactor and use that power to strike against the two fleets, which will spark the all-out war he seeks. Good plan, if not for the fact that Banshee has used his sonic screams to locate the sub and Magneto is using his newly-buffed power to lift it out of the water.

And on the one hand, it’s a really impressive moment with wonderful effects. But it has been so meticulously set up that there’s no real suspense to it (even less since it was spoiled in the trailers). It feels kind of obligatory.

Until Riptide uses his power to knock the X-plane out of the sky, causing both sub and plane to crash on a nearby island. The final fight is on!

Beast, Havok and Banshee square off against Angel, Riptide and Azazel, while Magneto enters the sub to find Shaw. Xavier can stop him, but not while he’s wearing the telepathy-blocking helmet.

I’ve got to say, I really like the flying sequences in the finale. They match the lighting beautifully on the live-action plates for some of Banshee’s process shots, while others, like this aerial chase, look like they’re literally just hanging them from helicopters and choreographing them on location, which is brilliant.

Meanwhile, Magneto confronts Shaw, but even though he is much more powerful than he was before, Erik is no match for Shaw’s nuclear-enhanced strength.

Unfortunately for Shaw, as he’s gloating about his final victory, Erik steals the helmet off his head, allowing Charles to freeze him in place. Unfortunately for Charles, Erik uses the opportunity to put the helmet on himself, so that Charles can’t stop him from killing Shaw with the coin he gave Erik all those years ago in the concentration camp. And Charles doesn’t dare release Shaw to protect himself, lest Shaw take the opportunity to start World War III. He can only view it through Shaw’s mind at a distance.

It’s a great scene, echoing the beginning, with Fassbender’s performance and parallel camera moves between Shaw and Xavier, and Henry Jackman’s pulsing revenge theme on the soundtrack. It’s almost too bad the movie can’t end there.

But of course, the two navies sitting off the coast watching this whole fight decide (at the urging of Major Stryker, mutant-hater that he is) to end the mutant threat once and for all by shelling the beach. Good plan, if there weren’t an incredibly powerful mutant whose specialty is controlling metal.

Magneto sends the shells and missiles back at the ships, but Charles launches into a fistfight to try and stop him, joined by Moira, who tries to shoot him. Magneto deflects the bullets easily. Oops.

Once again, completely incompatible with the timeline as shown in the other films, but then, it saves us from the nightmare of a digitally-smoothed Patrick Stewart, so yay, I guess.

Magneto gives a big “join me” speech and is joined by Shaw’s former teammates, plus Raven, of course. I don’t quite buy it, but we’re at the end and it gives us something that actually ties in to the other films, so I’ll accept it. Funny thing, though; having Mystique run off with a group including Azazel in 1962 means they could really be Nightcrawler’s parents.

Even though Charles is wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life, he decides to turn his temporary training academy into a full-fledged school for mutants. He erases Moira’s memory and sends her back to the C.I.A., where Magneto is busting Emma Frost out of confinement. And he is not only wearing his familiar red outfit, but has also modified the helmet to look like the classic original  Kirby design, down to the goofy doodad on his forehead.

In the end, I’m torn on the film. I like some of the scripting touches, I like the design aesthetics (with the exception of Beast’s redesign, which doesn’t completely work for me), I love the music and the performances by McAvoy and Fassbender. Director Vaughan includes some beautiful stylistic flourishes.

But I don’t like some of the supporting performances or the haphazard mix-and-match feel of the comics elements. The Hank/Raven “Mutant and Proud” character arc doesn’t work well and takes focus away from the relationship between Charles and Moira, which is too bad, since Rose Byrne gives the best female performance in the film.

I may take a week or so break before the next film. I’m hoping to post another video soon and want to use the time working on it instead.

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One Response to Super Movie Monday – X-Men: First Class, Part 3

  1. Ian says:

    Mostly agree. Blue furry Beast looks kind of weird in this movie. Kelsey Grammar as Beast seemed one of the few good things about the Last Stand. Rose Byrne was good, but I didn’t really recognise the tough, smart scotswoman of the comics. I’m hoping some casting guy offers the role of older Moira MacTaggart to Phyllis Logan in a future movie….and while we are on the subject of Scottish geneticists, the Roslin institute where Dolly the sheep was cloned is very close to the extremely mysterious and creepy Masonic/Rosicrucian Roslin chapel, reputed location of the holy grail. There is definitely an X-Men storyline in there!

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