Dear X-Men: First Class,
You are a movie that must be met on its own level. If an audience is capable of doing this, they should have no trouble enjoying your charms as much as I did. In a world where most comic book movies reach for a level of realism and social import on par with The Dark Knight, or settle for mindless, unnecessary franchise building like Thor, it is good to know that somewhere out there a movie is willing to embrace rather than shun its comic book origins to create an unabashedly fun time at the movies.
Not that I am saying the trend toward social relevance is a bad thing. Far from it. Movies such as The Dark Knight allow for a greater moviegoing public to confront and consider issues of morality and ethics that they might otherwise have avoided. This not only engenders more mature critical goodwill toward the genre, but proves the genres worth as an artform on a greater scale as well.
Still, sometimes it seems like certain comic book movies are forgetting the reason we as a culture fell in love with comic heroes in the first place; we love to see the extraordinary, the novel. People come to see an X-Men movie not to be reminded of the civil rights movement of gay pride movement – though these are all fitting allegories – but to see a team of mutants using their powers to battle other mutants. This is what gets us in the seat, and what we will ultimately be most aware of. We want to see something strange and spectacular in a world where most of the curtains have already been pulled back.
To this end, you succeed with assuredness and poise. Your action scenes are all pretty inventive and energetic, thriving off of the emotional and visceral energy of the setup and situation, rather than having to try to create energy solely through camera tricks and loud noises. As you are set in the 1960s, it is refreshing to see you embrace the garish colors and styles of the time. The ’60s aesthetic also extends to your villains. Kevin Bacon and January Jones are the perfect example of early-James Bond enemies, complete with an opulently decorated submarine lair. This tonal choice allows for a more fun, carefree tone amongst all of the world-threatening drama.
Your new team of mutants also helps in this regard. This ‘first class’ of mutants isn’t as deeply ingrained in popular culture, and therefore can be allowed to work with a little more space while at the same time striking a chord of newness with an audience. The powers of these mutants are also employed in ways that keep them from coming off as stale, one trick super powers. I am thinking particularly of a scene involving a teleporters attack on a government compound that makes particularly fiendish use of his gifts. Likewise, it is good to see Magneto’s gifts used as something other than a way to throw or bend things. In fact, not only are his powers employed with originality and grace in action, but they are also utilized well on a story level.
Those previously mentioned real world allegories are a deeply seeded part of your franchise’s nature, and you do an excellent job of using them on a subtextual level to enrich your narrative. The inclusion of a Holocaust subplot adds another level of depth to this outsider narrative. Erik, soon to be known as Magneto, was brought to a concentration camp as a child, where his powers were cultivated by a cruel Nazi warden. This sets him on a course of vicious revenge that will lead him, through happenstance, to his intellectual opponent, Charles Xavier. Xavier lived a life of privilege and became a professor of genetics, believing that mutants and humans could coexist and benefit from one another. These two men have always made up the core of the X-Men narrative, and it is nice to see their friendship and rivalry used to better explore the themes of this story.
Even better, though, is that the subtext of an alienated class vying both against society and against itself is kept as a second-degree plot point. It is actually allowed to just be a subtext. In your world mutants are mutants, not a fantasy stand-in for another class. This allows your story to move unhindered by the need to fit a greater social architecture.
Of course as an origin story you will fall into some pitfalls that seem unavoidable. Exposition is luckily kept to a minimum, but there are still a lot of characters to be introduced and items to be explained. In your attempts to raise the stakes in terms of what is at risk while also creating a team of characters, it seems that sometimes characters are introduced and dispatched in the same breath. Also, there is the ever-awkward scene in which a group of people sit around picking super hero names, a scene that I fear will never work well in the medium of film.
But these are all small quibbles in respect to your greater whole. Your breezy, retro style in terms of both production design and narrative tone are a refreshing change of pace. Your characters are fun, their powers strange and wonderful, and your action enthralling. As I said, if people can allow themselves to see a comic book movie that wants to feel like an old school comic book, they will be greatly rewarded by you. I know I was.
Looking forward to what comes next,
Brian J. Roan