X-Men First Class: Not all sequels are equals

by Brooke Nowakowski | Editor-in-Chief

There’s something odd about X-Men: First Class, and it has very little to do with the extraordinary mutants and hyperbolic evils that inhabit director Matthew Vaughan’s variation on the turbulent sixties. In a franchise marked by uneven quality, he might be forgiven for falling short on the inherently monstrous task of explaining a dozen origins stories running concurrent to each other. However, the simple fact that a cast packed with the rising stars of young Hollywood failed to make First Class the powerhouse flick it promised to become is unforgivably odd. The exquisite Jennifer Lawrence is a prime example of this phenomenon. Considering the young actress’ Oscar-nominated performance in Winter’s Bone, I held high expectations for her portrayal of the conflicted Mystique. She, like any other big name in this film, seemed to hail a deeper, more character-driven interpretation on the two-dimensional trend in comic book derivations. But this movie is, as I have stated, strange. Lawrence is robotic in the delivery of her lines, and, in scenes of emotional climax, her reactions are too strong to be believed. Worse still, as soon as the iconic blue makeup (made famous pre-Avatar by Rebecca Romijn) appears, she is literally frozen in place. Atop an apparent inability to emote under this mask, Lawrence usually holds a single pose for the duration of her appearance in this form, and the
utter lack of fluid C.G.I. seen in past X-Men films is disturbing. For fans accustomed to Romijn’s graceful and alluring femme fatale, this Mystique is a huge disappointment.Considering Lawrence’s immense talent, one can only look to the director for an explanation of this yawning gap. Vaughan’s cinematography is uneven and largely ineffective in generating the Bond-esque vision of Cuban Missile Crisis conspiracy seen here, and his focus on elements that quickly grow old (January Jones stares into the camera as a crystallized Emma Frost, producing an effect that is less ‘sexy’ than ‘gelatinous’) wears on the viewer. Makeup, as in the case of Mystique, plasticizes actors beyond the point of movement and lacks any kind of realism by the standards of modern film.

Not to say that his direction hasn’t yielded some standout performances here. Though First Class frequently abandons character development for unnecessary scenes with an unconvincingly sinister Kevin Bacon, both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender bring gritty humanity to the monolithic mutants met in earlier films. Their performances are augmented by a talented cast of
supporting characters that will leave both comic fans and eye-candy enthusiasts drooling at the mouth. I am probably not alone in taking home a girl-crush on the up-and-coming Zoe Kravitz, who shows herself to be as at home in the action genre as in the indie flick scene, and series fans will enjoy the lighthearted sequences involving Havoc, Banshee, and the tormented Hank McCoy.Most importantly of all, we walk away from the film with a solid understanding of the dynamic between Charles Xavier and his metal-wielding contemporary. Erik is justified in his all-or-nothing stance on the issue of ‘mutant rights’, and Charles has every reason to oppose him. A last-minute twist sent up a collective gasp in the packed midnight release, and will certainly awake anyone lulling at the close of this two-hour behemoth.

Nevertheless, First Class could have been much more. While the success of the series is assured, we can only hope for better from future directors and inevitable sequels.

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