Five brief thoughts on a recent film.
1) I am late to the party with this film and I came with only one question: Is this the only good X Men film (so far)? Let’s face it, the X Men trilogy and the Wolverine spin-offs have some good moments but are tragically disappointing. The answer to that question is yes. One of the best things about the original trilogy is the gravitas given between the adversarial relationship between that guy who played Captain Picard and that guy who played Gandalf. That McAvoy and Fassbender are able to to approximate that is an achievement indeed. The film works, the plot makes sense, there is a clear story and character arc that completes a satisfying story and moves on the themes of the overall narrative. Within the film we even get some of the truly classic X-men comic tropes that we didn’t get to see yet – actual teenagers training to control their powers under tutelage. However……
2) ……it could not be clearer to me that the makers of this film set out to make a B-movie. The script is intentionally corny and full of signpost dialogue of “Noooooooos!” and “Maybe I’ll go bald?” and “Yes, X-men, I like the sound of that”. Approximately half of the lines of the CIA agents refer to how women shouldn’t be allowed in the CIA to the point where you feel they should turn, perform the line directly into the camera and then wink, tap their nose and mouth silently the word “irony”. The CGI could have had some more work put into it and the costume design for Mystique, Azazel and Beast looked cheap, probably intentionally so. The movie starts with children (why? terrible child actors? why?) and has an approach to villainous lairs that the set designer for Goldfinger would have found cheesy and garish. This movie is a spiritual sibling to an Austin Powers movie, but actually that kind of works. It makes sense to me that oddball characters like Magneto and Xavier are the bullheaded and arrogant characters who they are because they embraced a kind of outdated ’60s Steve McQueen style machismo. They seem to belong here in ’60s B-movie land as much as a character like Kitty Pryde belonged to the 1990s.
3) So the most distracting thing in the film is the way that it maintains continuity with the prior trilogy. This was a mistake. They should have burned their bridges and rebooted. Maintaining continuity means that we didn’t get a young Bobby Drake or Warren Worthington, we got a bunch of characters that were left untouched by the trilogy. Ice man can’t be a young X-man because they made him young when Xavier is an old man. Instead, we get Beast (who knew Nicholas Hoult grew up to become Kelsey Grammar) and a fairly good replacement for Cyclops in his brother Havok, a fittingly more jockish persona. Then the rest are a muddle – we have a character called “Angel” but not THE Angel. The X Men need someone who can fly so we get Banshee instead of Angel, which seems like a decision made to the sound of barrel scraping. Then we get a mutant almost exactly like Pixie but for some reason not-Pixie. Ugh, whatever. The fact is that we get a C-List X-men instead of an A-list X-men and the reason is purely for continuity, which sucks because…..
4) …..they already messed up the continuity. In this film we see “Agent Stryker”. He’s a recurring character in these films – he’s Brian Cox (the actor not the scientist) in X2. We know this is the same character because of the dialogue around his son which forms much of the plot of X2. He also turns up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine as the guy who gave Wolverine an adamantium skeleton. If you recall, that film featured Emma Frost as a young mutant, which directly contradicts this film. The film also shows a pre-crippled Xavier, which (SPOILER) also contradicts this film. So the continuity is already broken. Why pretend those films deserve the credit. They should have started afresh.
5) Errrmmm……Fassbender is a great presence and does a lot with a pretty limited character but in the tradition of Halle Berry, his accent is not consistent. He uses his normal “English” acting voice for the whole movie until the scenes on the beach when he goes full Irish on us. Did they film those scenes first before he was in character fully? Did he listen to the dialogue about not hiding your true nature and decide to make Magneto Irish and screw the Ian MacKellen consequences? Only he knows. The relationship with Mystique worked very well, but, well, there is a problem. I love her, I think she is a talented actress and I think in Winter’s Bone she made a film that launched her career magnificently but Jennifer Lawrence had no idea who her character was. The clue is in the name: Mystique. She’s supposed to be somewhat mysterious, prickly, furtive, secretive, sometimes manipulative, composed in herself and perhaps somewhat self-absorbed. Lawrence played her as a girl-next-door type which, even in an origin story, was terrifically out of place. There was nothing in the script to really suggest this approach but, well, let’s blame the director on this one. Jennifer Lawrence deserves a pass. May the odds be ever in her favour!