Watched Lately: X-Men: First Class…And The Outlook Of Superhero Movies

June 4, 2011

Once upon a time, I used to write about the new movies I’ve seen on this blog, especially when it comes to comic book adaptations. They’re sort of an…esoteric interest of mine. I’d make an effort to get out to the theater, bribe my husband who doesn’t give a whit about comics with cookies so he’ll come along with me, and we’d watch whatever superhero/antihero that comes to life that week on the big screen.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve written about those, and there are a couple reasons for that. One, there has been an explosion of comic book films coming out of Hollywood lately, and let’s face it — so much of it is just utter crap. I’ve had to get picky with my money and time (not to mention that I tire of baking cookies) so depending on the movie, sometimes I’ll just pass if it’s an adaptation of a title from DC, Image, or an independent publisher. However — I will always watch anything based on a Marvel title, no exceptions. Too much of a Marvel fangirl; so much that I’ll take both the good and the bad.

So when I first heard about X-Men: First Class, I just knew I had to watch it. Come on, not only is it Marvel, it’s also the X-Men.

But I was wary. At first, I thought it was going to be a complete reboot of the movie franchise — mirroring the idea of the X-Men: First Class limited comic series. When I found out that it was actually a “fifth installment” and a loose prequel to the existing X-Men films, I was disappointed. I wasn’t a big fan of the first couple of movies to begin with even though they were both highly acclaimed, though I believe it’s safe to say the third one was universally despised, and I’m still trying to forget that that travesty of a Wolverine spin-off ever even happened.

To Marvel Studio’s credit, they’ve been putting out more great stuff than bad for the last few years. Still, I’ve always felt there was something missing. There’s more to a good movie than just high production values — sometimes, even the most excellent of special effects, the flashiest of costumes, and the creamiest of the crop actors can only take you so far. I’ve always felt that most comic book movies today lack a good story, and by that, I mean a story that’s both memorable and meaningful.

I certainly don’t mean to go on a rant but then I’m sure some of my comics friends are already familiar with this particular gripe of mine. Take the Iron Man flicks, for example. Love the character, awesome movies, but ask me if I remember any specifics from them right now, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you (like, in the second one…something about a Stark Expo, War Machine, and Mickey Rourke looking like ten miles of bad road with electric whips?) Same deal with the recent Thor. Hey, great movie, but again, I don’t know how much of it will stick with me in another couple years. They’re all just so run-of-the-mill and formulaic. Sometimes I think Chris Nolan is the only guy with any original ideas left.

Plus, a movie titled “First Class” but without the original team of Professor X, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel and Beast just feels…I don’t know, wrong.

Still, after watching it last night, I’m forced to eat my words. Because I liked it. A lot. I liked it so much, I’m actually here on my blog, extolling and writing a post about a comic book movie again. A rather long one too.

Ironically, the fact it was set in the same “universe” as the other movies (albeit loosely) was actually one of the reasons that made it appeal to me so much. Yes, There are a lot of new faces, seemingly a result of the movie producers taking a handful of random yet familiar names from the comics, trying to hammer these poor mutants into the plot and making them fit — that said, continuity is a little wonky and in many situations you can completely disregard the canon. But a few of the core characters return, and it is partly because you know what will happen, or that you know exactly whom will ally with whom, that was what made this movie so engaging for me to watch.

X-Men: First Class isn’t perfect, but it was much more than I expected. Despite some cliches and a few downright cheesetastic moments, I was surprised at how intense it was, given some of the simplistic themes it had to work with. Kudos to whoever did the music for the soundtrack, but a lot of it also had to do with the story’s pacing. It took its time to unfold and define the key players, clearly laying out their motivations every step of the way, so that when they finally acted upon them it didn’t feel like their personalities were changing on a dime. Also, set before a historical back-drop with real-world conflicts, X-Men: First Class felt like a more eloquent movie than its predecessors.

Superhero movies can’t afford to be typical anymore; if the audiences are anything like me, they’ll need a lot more to be impressed these days. Picking some random name from a hero’s rogue’s gallery, labeling them “the main bad guy” and throw in some action, rinse and repeat — that all used to be fine, but just isn’t going to cut it anymore. But I suppose if they had to choose a villain for this movie, they made the right choice in Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club. From William Stryker to Cassandra Nova to Apocalypse, there have been some excellent villains in the X-Men line-up throughout the years, but I’ve always thought Shaw was one of the creepiest. They captured that nicely in the movie, and my hat’s off to Kevin Bacon, who played him.

For me, the highlight had to be the Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magneto relationship. Arguably, it was the whole point of the movie, but I thought it illustrated their story of friendship-turned-animosity and bromance/frenemy dynamic perfectly. As they say in the books — two men, two sides of the same coin. Both actors performed admirably, but I felt it was Michael Fassbender who stole the show with his incredible portrayal of Erik.

While some elements of the superhero genre have remained the same, so much more has evolved (no pun intended!) such as plot lines becoming more complex and the focus on emotion as much as action. I’m going to remember the story of X-Men: First Class for a long time, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies as of late, not just comic book adaptations. I guess if they must continue making X-Men films…at least I like the new direction in which things are going.


  1. Great review. I really thought it was going to be shit up until release reviews started showing up. The trailers and posters just made it look lame.

    Also, I bet he loves superhero movies, but knows he can get cookies feigning indifference :p

    • I thought the trailers made it look awesome. I think that was the moment I got sold on the whole idea, when I watched the first feature trailer. You should go watch it!

  2. Sounds like it’s really cool. We’re going to see it tomorrow.

    I liked Wolverine overall, though I felt some parts were better than others.

    • Enjoy!

      Technically, Wolverine was a decent movie. What I felt was wrong pretty much everything I outlined in my post. It wasn’t a movie made to tell a story, it was a movie forced around a formula and the execution was awful. It had so much potential too, as Wolverine has actually become quite a complicated character in the comics in recent years. Things started well until the moment they decided to just throw all in for the action, and it didn’t seem like they cared which mutants they featured as long as they were the “cool” ones *cough* Gambit *cough*. Kinda wasted the Wolverine: Origins idea imo,

  3. Good to hear that it’s a good film, then.

    I’m actually waiting for it right now, inside the theater, and passing time reading blogs. I came in 40 minutes early.

    You’re right though. Lots of comic book adaptation these days. I counted 5, this summer alone. Most of them are forgettable. Besides the first Iron Man, Kick-Ass, X2 and the Batman films, I couldn’t really remember what happened.

    I won’t count out adaptations from Image yet though. They have a lot of good comic books lately. Not superhero books but good books. Though, I admit, they’re much more suited for TV than the big screen.

    • Well, you should be done with the movie by now, hope you like it as much as I did.

      LOL Kick Ass was great. I loved the comic too, these days I’ll still read whatever Mark Millar writes. That one was very different to begin with, which is why I think it stuck with me.

      Whether I choose to watch a comic movie I think depends a lot on whether or not I read it or liked it. Not a lot of Image books I’ve enjoyed have been made into movies, unfortunately. I also used to read a lot of DC but I’ve soured on them lately. For example, I’m still debating whether or not I should go see Green Lantern. Something like Jonah Hex though, I passed.

      • Yes, I did enjoy the movie. I was better than I hoped it would be. I think the 60’s outfit just made the trailer and posters look lame.

        They really captured that 60’s atmosphere to the point that I thought I was watching a bond flick. Especially when Shaw was sitting in the throne of that submarine. That was a very bond-like villain moment.

        Green Lantern looks cool. But I’ll wait for the review.

        The problem with DC is that, besides Batman, they haven’t really retconed their characters. So most of them are 70 years old, which means they’re old and lame. Plus, unlike Batman and most of Marvel characters, they seem otherworldy and too superheroic that audiences can’t relate to the characters.

      • Agreed, they really captured that 60s feel. And yeah, there definitely were some “Bond moments” now that you mention it!

        Interesting that you bring up DC and retconning because I heard recently they are planning on resetting the whole universe. Like, one huge reset, all 52 of their titles, starting over. Trying to appeal to younger audiences and all that. Makes me wonder if they’re hurting, since I think that’s the market dominated by Marvel right now.

        A reset like that will probably renew my interest in DC. They need to get some good writers in there though, or else it won’t matter how many times they reset their universe.

  4. Wait, you didn’t like the first two X-Men? Time to grab the pitchforks and torches! Ok I’m kidding. Maybe.

    • LOL I know I know. Okay, I think I enjoyed them a lot more at the time, but these days I just can’t stand to watch them again.

  5. I think going into super hero movies initially, i expected as all nerds do, a perfect translation from comic to film……that expectation went out of the window after a while and i set my own standard. In my mind, i’d like for the movie to if anything, portray for someone who’s never heard of Tony Stark, Jim Rhodes, or someone of the like, why it is i was so die hard about this comic in the first place. I want a movie that AT LEAST IN SPIRIT stays true to the franchise.

    I’m not saying Thor was a Masterpiece, but i dont look like a goof when debating with lesser “comically intellectual” friends about why The Incredible Hulk would NOT just mop up The Mighty Thor, or explain why Loki is so diabolical, for what it’s worth, the movie captures that, albeit all of the extra ties to the story and such in the movie? Yeaah….all of that utter transparency and “yeah i get it…” ‘s aside, at least it wasn’t a complete miscarriage on the screen, and that’s KINDA all i ask for.

    Because i realize it’s borderline impossible to really capture the feel, the story, and the picture perfect cast for a comic book movie. However, i felt X-men 1 and Spiderman 1 pretty much spoiled me movie-wise, it was a picture perfect homerun of story and action and thought provoking shit.

    Everything that followed, like Fantastic Four, Hulk, etc were utter garbage because they played upon the action of the comics without truly giving it substance in my mind, and sometimes, especially with everything after X2, they just disregard any canon if not ALL canon entirely, it’s made me LOATHE to see X-men first class.

    Since like anyone else i’d been saying from the get, “What, retcon? Then where’s Angel, Iceman, Marvel Girl, Cyclops, and Beast eh? ORIGINAL, FIRST, CLASS, GARBAGE, DONT WANNA SEE IT!”

    But then….there was the moment where i said, “To hell with the canon! YOUNG MAGNETO!? Holy smokes!” And instantly i was drawn in. I still havent seen it, but it’s comforting to hear *albeit from the most positive blogger on the planet* That it was good *thx for no spoilers :)* i cant wait to check it out..

    • I used to think like that too, until I realized how badly some of the comic book stories I love would translate to the big screen. Those that try to follow that format always fail, because let’s face it, comics are comics and movies are movies. I have different expectations now.

      Still, agreed that the movie itself has to stay in the spirit of the franchise. I think that’s what pissed me off about Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies. Thor was made well in that sense, and everything about it was in the right place — but to me it was still missing that extra oomph. The story itself was still very packaged and unfortunately forgettable. That’s okay though. A superhero movie would have to go “above and beyond” to stand out, and while Thor wasn’t quite there I still really liked it and it exceeded all my expectations.

      Interesting you say that about X-Men 1 and Spider-Man 1…I used to love those movies, but for some reason now when I watch them again, they feel so…dated. The ideas, the lines, the story, everything. For example, I can’t watch the first Spidey movie now without cringing, because it’s so cheesy even though back then I didn’t think so. To truly go “above and beyond” with a superhero movie, maybe you have to make something that can stand the test of time. To me, Batman Begins did that. As you said, movies like F4 and Ang Lee’s Hulk never stood a chance. Same deal with movies like Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider. They all just lacked substance and were very blah.

      You’re right, sometimes throwing out canon is the only way to enjoy a superhero movie πŸ™‚ I don’t mind it so much anymore if they screw with the canon…as long as they do the characters justice, I’m willing to put up with a lot now. I get how they might need to butcher the lore a little in order to make a marketable movie. Made for some good conversation fodder with the customers though, when I used to work in a comic book store πŸ˜€

  6. I agree with everything you said, except I really liked Thor an awful lot. But because he’s my husband’s favorite Marvel character I tend to rally behind him πŸ™‚ I’m a student of folklore above and beyond comic books, so it was great to see their take on Valhalla and the pantheon of Norse gods, anyway πŸ™‚

    • Don’t get me wrong, I thought Thor was a good movie πŸ˜€ They did a very good job with the character and story, considering. And best of all, they stayed true to the spirit of the title and kept most of the folklore and what’s in the comic intact. It was just missing that extra oomph to put it above and beyond the many other really good superhero movies in its class.

  7. I grew up reading Marvel Comic books and loved them for their story. As much as i used to hate to read anything, i found a love reading Marvel Comics and really loved and follow many the characters well over the years. X-Men i loved as a group though i actually liked several of the characters more individually and their story. Wolverine was much more a favorite a mine by far because of background, story and character. Its just too bad Marvel will never really get a good series of movies made based on the character at this point anymore.

    Yet Marvel is a rich universe of many unheard of heroes less popularly known by many and less known than the popular ones we all know. I no doubt marvel can make a good story for any their characters. But Hollywood is about making money and want to make money selling and filling seats at the movie theater and sometimes that don’t always go well with a good story. Or the time it takes to properly develop and present a character that many have never heard of or understand its origins, story and what drives them character wise.

    One the many reasons also you now seeing more Marvel movies is if i remember right a few years ago Disney bought Marvel Studios to have more content to tap into for movie making and well i guess they want to make back some of what they paid for.

    But anyway be at the movies in less than 2 hours to see the new X-Men, i’m a total sucker for anything Marvel related as a child of the comic age.

    • I too have favorite X-Men that I follow, which leads to a lot of picking up and/or dropping of X-titles depending on who’s in their current line-ups πŸ˜€

      No doubt Disney buying Marvel had something to do with it. I find it interesting also how the studio is trying to tie in all their movies as well, mirroring the way the comics work. No doubt we’ll see something similar with the upcoming Captain America and Avengers movies.

      Hope you enjoyed X-Men: First Class.

  8. Glad to see that you enjoyed this. After X3 and Wolverine, I was worried that this would suck. Hopefully I’ll have the time to check it out.

    • Yeah, my thoughts exactly after the train wreck that was the X3 movie. First Class is definitely worth it though.

  9. I dug it quite a bit. However, the links it has to the original trilogy make certain plot elements in X3 seem even more atrociously stupid.

    What is it with the threes anyway? X-men III, Spider Man III, Matrix III…though to be fair that series had already jumped the shark by the end of the second movie. Even Superman III and Batman III sucked if you want to go back further.

    • Tell me about it, I pretty much had to put the three X movies out of my mind when I watched First Class, or my head would have exploded from contemplating continuity issues.

      I think 3 movies is as far as the movie guys dare to push — they’re probably like, at this point audiences are getting tired but are still invested enough in the franchise to watch! Let’s just shove this thing out the door!

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