X-Men: First Class

I couldn’t help but notice that this latest X-Men offering has had the worst debut of any of them. I can’t imagine why. First of all, the debacle that was X-Men: The Last Stand richly deserves to be last, all right; and second of all, this film is set in 1962. Y’know, an era when every female was apparently required to wear either a miniskirt or a catsuit like Emma Peel. One character even goes, um… undercover by stripping down to bra, garter belt, and stockings.

I couldn’t help but notice that this latest X-Men offering has had the worst debut of any of them. I can’t imagine why. First of all, the debacle that was X-Men: The Last Stand richly deserves to be last, all right; and second of all, this film is set in 1962. Y’know, an era when every female was apparently required to wear either a miniskirt or a catsuit like Emma Peel. One character even goes, um… undercover by stripping down to bra, garter belt, and stockings. Seriously, why are the theatres not packed with people who want to see lots of scantily-clad pretty women?

Sadly, there’s nothing in the way of mostly unclothed men, though Magneto is pretty cute. I can’t believe I just said that. He’s played by Michael Fassbender, who was in Jonah Hex, but we’ll forgive him that because he does such a good job here. Like in the comics, he was sent to the concentration camps of Poland as a boy and, unsurprisingly, has a hard time forgiving fate or God or the world in general for letting that happen. He also does really disturbing things with coins, even though I’m pretty sure German 1940s coins weren’t magnetic.

Meanwhile, Charles Xavier is growing up as a wealthy but neglected boy in Westchester, New York, even though his family’s English. He’s played by James McAvoy of Atonement, at least once he’s all grown up. James McAvoy is actually Scottish, but since Moira MacTaggert, who’s Scottish in the comics, is American here, played by Australian actress Rose Byrne of Knowing, it all evens out. Or something. She also isn’t a geneticist as in the comics, but at least they didn’t give her super powers. I was nervous about that.

I have to hurry up, though. There’s a lot of movie and an awful lot of characters still to get through. Kevin Bacon (Death Sentence) is bad guy Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club. His main minions are Riptide (Álex González), whirlwind-creator; demonic-looking teleporter Azazel (Jason Flemyng, Hanna; and Emma Frost (January Jones of Unknown), telepath and part-time diamond. Realizing that Shaw is Up to Something, and also now realizing that there are plenty of other mutants around — they all pretty much each thought they were the only one, not surprisingly, since it’s hard to find a support group for shapeshifters — Charles and Erik (Magneto, that is) use a gadget to help them find all these other mutants. This gadget is designed and cobbled together by genius mutant Hank McCoy (aka Beast, played by Nicholas Hoult, Clash of the Titans). His genius isn’t his mutation, or at least not all of it; he has feet that can grab like hands.

Anyway, they scoop up a bunch of mutants, though at least one tells the pair to get lost — only much less politely — and bring them to the CIA. The CIA is hunting for Communists and accidentally find mutants instead, but I have no room to get into that. I’ll just mention the more important ones they find, at least more important in the comics: Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone), Banshee (aka Sean Cassidy, played by Caleb Landry Jones), and Havok (Alex Summers, played by Lucas Till). See how many characters there are to deal with? I’ve hardly touched the plot yet, or even gotten to complain about how they don’t bother to explain how Cyclops’ younger brother is suddenly a teenager in 1962. Is he supposed to be his dad or his uncle or something? He’s a jailbird, anyway, which would probably amuse Wolverine.

Since it’s the sixties, everyone’s nervous about nuclear war. It almost seems quaint to worry about that these days. Shaw, wanting to rule the world like any good bad guy, takes advantage of this to cook up the Cuban Missile Crisis. Charles thinks this is their big chance, to get humankind to trust mutantkind by organizing his group of mutants to save the world from nuclear annihilation. Erik thinks he’s crazy. And sadly, we all know cynicism is the way to go, but even so, it’s certainly not dull, watching them all race towards disaster.

Four and a half out of five. There were, oddly, a couple of places where the special effects weren’t quite stellar, but overall they were excellent, and the actors do all right even though a lot of them are very young and/or largely inexperienced. And, like a lot of these ensemble cast films, it’s both too long and too short — it’s over two hours and seems longer because there’s so much stuff packed into it, and yet it isn’t nearly long enough to cover even half of the characters and subplots that mostly only get hinted at. But it was still fun, even though I now can’t help wondering what happened to all these characters between this flick and the first X-Men movie, since we only know about the fates of three of them, I think. And, yes, it was still fun, even though I’m still vexed about the whole Havok/Cyclops thing. I’ll get over it. I think.