So, I went to the midnight show of the new X-Men movie yesterday. Short review: Wowee wow wow! What a great movie! Best comic book movie in quite a while, and since there have been several good ones that’s really saying something. Longer review below the fold. Only minor spoilers ahead, but if you truly want to know nothing about the film going in then it might be best to stop reading now.
The X-Men are a bit of a hole in my comic book education. A while back I worked my way through the first volume of The Essential X-Men, which collected some of the original 1960’s comics, but that’s about as far as I got. The franchise has gone through so many incarnations since then that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Still, I’ve always like the X-Men mythology. The basic premise, for the newbies in the audience, is that there’s a group of people, known as mutants, who possess certain genetic mutations that give them various super powers, some more formidable than others. The mutants are generally feared by, ahem, normal people, a fact which causes some bitterness in the mutant community. Roughly speaking, the mutants fall into two categories. There are those who want to be part of society and believe they should use their powers to protect humanity. They are led by Professor Charles Xavier (Professor X), a powerful telepath who runs a school for mutants located in Westchester County in New York. Others see themselves as Homo superior, and basically want to take over. They are led by Magneto, who has the power to manipulate metal. Professor X and Magneto were friends once upon a time, but their different philosophies haves led them to become enemies. Of course, the struggles of the mutants for acceptance, and the fear directed towards them by nonmutants, are rather obviously symbolic of racism and homophobia.
Now, on to the movie. The basic premise is that an evil, and especially powerful, mutant named Sebastian Shaw is orchestrating the Cuban Missile Crisis in the hopes of provoking a nuclear war. Mayhem ensues! His reason for wanting nuclear war is apparently that he thinks the mutants will survive it while the human will not, but that sounds ridiculous, so maybe I missed something. At any rate, the part where he explains his evil plan goes by rather quickly.
I had never heard of Shaw before, but he’s played perfectly by Kevin Bacon. In fact I liked pretty much the entire cast. My only quibble is with James McAvoy as young Professor X. He’s good, but he just doesn’t have the gravitas for the part. In the other X-Men movies you had Patrick Stewart as an older Professor X and Ian McKellen as older Magneto. These are two, formidable, Shakespearean actors who were both perfectly cast in their respective roles. Michael Fassbender plays young Magneto, and you can easily see him being like Ian McKellen a few years down the line. Somehow I just don’t see McAvoy being like Patrick Stewart.
The film is two and a half hours long, but is completely engrossing all the way through. There’s a good balance of humor and seriousness. Professor X and Magneto are both well-developed characters, and you can see how their backgrounds influence how they look at things. Professor X comes from incredible wealth and privilege, but he was raised by absentee parents and seems eager to find acceptance wherever he can. Magneto is a holocaust survivor who knows well what it feels like to be part of a despised minority. Magneto is really the focus of the movie, since he goes through far more of a change as the story progresses. He has history with Shaw, and, motivated by revenge (see the movie for the details), he initially works with Professor X to defeat him. But he is attracted to Shaw’s philosophy that the mutants should take over.
I do have three complaints, all of them small. The first is the frenetic pace of the film. I like that it was long enough to sink your teeth into, but was there a single scene in the movie that was longer than a minute? The second was that Emma Frost, played by January Jones, who is one of the more interesting of the evil mutants, is rather underused and disappears altogether about halfway through. I would have liked to see more of her. (I see over at Russell Blackford’s place that Jones isn’t getting much love. Well, since I never encountered Emma Frost in the comic books I don’t have a sense of what she’s supposed to be like. And I may be distracted by the fact that Jones is extremely easy on the eyes. But I thought she was good.) The third complaint is that Professor X really comes off as very naive, while Magneto is the prescient, farsighted one. This is related to my complaint about McAvoy. Unlike Patrick Stewart in the previous films, this Professor X just does not seem like much of a match for Magneto.
So that’s it. Go see it immediately. I just might have to go see it again. Looks like we’re two for two in superhero movies this year. Thor was hardly a masterpiece, but it was very enjoyable nonetheless. This one is pretty close to a masterpiece. We still have Green Lantern to look forward to. I’ve always considered him a decidedly second-tier superhero, but I must say that the trailer looks pretty awesome. Stay tuned!