By the time I got to walk down the red carpet at the NZ premiere of X-Men First Class, I was in such a rage that I failed to notice the gorgeous, real-life, silver-painted, almost nude woman. That is, I noticed her after the fact, and was just too shy to backtrack and have a good gawk.
Obviously, I need to get out more. It’s a bit of a trek from my Northwest semi-rural hamlet through to Auckland city, and out on the Southern motorway to Hoyts at Sylvia Park, home of New Zealand’s largest super-screen. I’m not used to all that aggressive traffic, and Sylvia Park itself – like most shopping centres – seems designed to bewilder the likes of me, the antithesis of a comic-book action hero.
We found an open-air carpark, wandered around aimlessly in the mall (the shops were already closed) and finally found the Hoyts cinema complex. There were throngs of people waiting to get through a cordoned-off area. Meanwhile, we wanted to attend to ablutions, but couldn’t find a toilet in the non-cordoned area, so we again set off to wander aimlessly around the shopping complex, only to discover that the sliding doors allowing us to access the toilets were now shut for the night. Back at the cinema complex, the cordons were finally opened, and we found our blessed bladder relief. Heck, come to think of it, no wonder I wasn’t too interested in the naughty silver vixen.
After my rage had subsided (oh for the ability to utilise this rage with Magneto-like powers!) we headed for the comfort of Cinema 2, and were pleasantly surprised to be gifted free Zero Water and Kapiti ice-cream at the door. Ah, great big seats to fit my great big, fat ass. (They do, however, make it more difficult to smooch up to your partner).
THE PART YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
Let’s start with what you really want to hear: X-Men First Class is easily the best X-Men film yet, and one of the better comic-book adaptations I’ve seen.
I’m not going to go into details of plot, because you can read that refried stuff in every other so-called review. The two main things that distinguish X-Men First Class are:
• Its insistence in character development and drama.
• Its 1960s ‘Cold War’ setting, which transports the viewer to a grainy, more tactile situation in which to chart the early development of their super-heroes.
Anyone who is reading this will know already that X-Men First Class, if not exactly a prequel, is a film that explains the genesis of the X-Men. Its scenario is both its greatest strength and a small weakness. On the one hand, the fact that the film exists to explain the history of the main characters means that we’re allowed an insight into their personal histories and relationships, and by charting those relationships, we get a better clarity about how the fully-fledged superheroes got to where they were going. On the other hand, it also means that the whole film comes on a bit like an introduction; the characters are so busy defining who they are and training their powers that the ultimate inter-relationships aren’t defined until the very end. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, but it certainly leaves you wanting more.
Let’s duck off for a moment and talk about those aspects of X-Men First Class that are a bit shonky:
• The lack of continuity is jarring. I can understand why some characters are developed while others are left in limbo, because the film is already overlong at 132 minutes, but several important characters get almost no backstory, while Emma Frost (January Jones) is inexplicably absent for a huge portion of the film (well, she’s imprisoned, so therefore absent from most of the film’s trajectory, but it’s clear that she could have escaped if she wanted). But I gather the real problem is one of editing. Perhaps they shot an epic five-hour version, and had to reduce it down? It feels like that, especially the way some scenes are truncated, and dealt with way too swiftly.
• The special effects aren’t all bad, but some of them are very bad. I’m no expert, but both myself and my wife were astonished at a scene where a submarine is hurtled through the air, landing on a beach. In this scene, the submarine was clearly a miniature, as were the plastic palm trees that it squashed on the beach! There were several other scenes in the film that were inexplicably using miniatures, just like those wonderful old Godzilla movies, and just as clearly, they were recognisably fake. Some of the CG, on the other hand, was well-done, especially the superhero morphing of body parts.
In this film, however, the plot (such as it is) revolves around the relationship between Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James McAvoy), before either of them had assumed those names, and when they were friends, rather than mortal enemies. Their enemy in X-Men First Class is Sebastian Shaw, (played ably by Kevin Bacon), a former Nazi who pretty much just wants to destroy the world. McAvoy inparticular is a sympathetic character that pumps up the movie in the dramatic department. Of the others, most notable are Jennifer Lawrence, who is as cute as a button playing the transformative role of Raven and Mystique, the purple reptilian one, and Zoe Kravitz (Angel Salvadore), who doesn’t really have to act when she’s flitting around with a pair of angel wings attached to her back.
There’s some real drama in this X-Men, but it’s not lacking in audacious action scenes. The scale of these scenes is reminiscent of some of the recent Bond movies, but the shaky lense effect (you know the one) destroyed some of the excitement for this viewer. I couldn’t help noticing, also, that the picture was a little blurred in places; especially around the edges of the big screen. Perhaps it’s just that my peripheral vision isn’t as good as it used to be, but then again, my wife noticed this too; maybe it will look a lot better in HD on a big panel in my lounge instead.
All in all, while X-Men First Class is a flawed movie, it’s definitely in the top 15 percent of comic-book adaptations. GARY STEEL
Movie = 3.5/5