X-Men: First Class (2011)
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi
Director of Photography: John Mathieson
Music by Henry Jackman
Edited by Lee Smith, Eddie Hamilton
Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Rating: 9 out of 10
X-Men: First Class is an excellent comic book movie that is very satisfying for a comic book reader on a sheer entertainment level. It adapts the source material with joy and knowledge that is really refreshing. I honestly can’t say how enjoyable the movie is for a non-comic reader but I know that the acting is great (showing off a great cast from Michael Fassbender to Jennifer Lawrence to Nicholas Hoult to Kevin Bacon to Rose Byrne and, yes, James McAvoy who I’m not a fan of, but was still good), the effects are impressive, the 60s style camera and editing is fun and director Matthew Vaughn (also not a fan, but) does some nice things with the movie. The movie knows how to balance action, drama and humor unlike many other movies.
So, while I clearly enjoyed the movie on many levels, from nerddom to movie loving, some aspects bothered me on an intellectual level that I tend to blog about here. Let’s talk about race first. The X-Men are known for being a parable for tolerance, first about race when they started in the 60s, but later also for sexuality. Sure, the original line-up only featured white people (and only one female), but it was to be understood that the discrimination they faced was supposed to appeal to the Civil Rights Movement of the time. Anyway, when the group of young mutants is together here for the first time we have Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, white), Angel (Zoë Kravitz, black), Hank (Nicholas Hoult, white), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones, white), Darwin (Edi Gathegi, black) and Havok (Lucas Till, white). So, we have two black characters that black audiences can identify with.
Well, their identification shouldn’t last for too long because (spoiler!) shortly after the team is assembled, they are attacked by Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his “bad” X-Men. The “good” X-Men fight them, but Angel decides to join their team instead and Darwin is killed. No one else is killed and no one else joins their team (at this point). So, the only two black characters either become evil or die, leaving an all-white X-Men team behind. I really don’t understand the decision behind this other than “We could kill the black guy, right?”
The movie also stars Jennifer Lawrence and since I watched it because I watched all Jennifer Lawrence movies in a row (which were mostly great), I was startled to some moments happening here. She plays Raven, a shapeshifter who is snappy but determined, a strong fighter but also emotional, in a way like most of the characters Lawrence always plays so extremely well. If I’m not mistaken in all her movies (maybe with the exception of the relatively silly House at the End of the Street) you will never find any images of Lawrence that look like this:
And it’s not just that it makes Lawrence look bad, it doesn’t fit to her character either. Nowhere else in this or the next movie does she seem helpless or scared this way, just running around like a chicken. Everyone else stays relatively cool except for her. She is probably the best trained fighter in this group and has been dealing with herself being a mutant for years. It makes no sense. And one minute later she is the first to say, in her common strong voice: "We have to do something!"
Strangely, both of these things didn’t take away my enjoyment of the movie, but they did bother me nonetheless because they were extremely unnecessary.