I enjoyed “X-Men: First Class,” but to be honest I’m not impressed.
I must point out that it is this franchise we have to thank for the last decade’s numbing proliferation of comic-book superhero movies. Accordingly, I think that we should hold it to a higher standard. And so, like Charles Xavier scolding his first colloquium after a spate of adolescent superhuman rowdiness leaves the house a mess, I expect more.
What I want is simple. I want all superheroes finally together in one movie. I think it is time. And I mean all of them. With at least one good trick and one good one-liner apiece.
If anyone could make that happen, it’d be the dauntless “X-Men: First Class” director Matthew Vaughn and his mighty screenwriting team, whose collective credits also include “Kick-Ass,” “Thor,” the first two “X-Men” films and even, if IMDb is to be believed, a “production polish” of “Snakes on a Plane.”
“X-Men: First Class” has some artificial flavors — corn, cheese, Kevin Bacon bits — but also some natural advantages in James McAvoy as the learned telepath Xavier, later Professor X, and Michael Fassbender as his tormented friend Erik Lehnsherr, later Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence, as the reluctant shapeshifter Raven, later Mystique, tags along for comely companionship and cliché mitigation.
It’s fun to see a randy Xavier hitting on pre-mod Oxford birds, working his innate nobility and genius gene theory, while Lehnsherr extracts information and dental fillings in order to go suavely about hunting down hidden Nazis. And it would be fine to spend the whole movie with just these two wily Brits, each well adapted to the Ian Fleming-style espionage thriller already under way and presided over by Rose Byrne’s CIA agent, who sets a tone early on by stripping down to lingerie in her very first scene.
But of course we have a class to assemble, and the professor’s and Magneto’s competing styles of tutelage to discern. We have subplots and sub-characters and new franchise trajectories to establish, mutant superpowers to demonstrate (prehensile toes, dragonfly wings, weird fiery hula hoops) and January Jones’ already baffling career to further enable. (Yes, she’s the one said to be made of diamond.)
The 1960s setting does clarify the movie’s top priorities: apocalyptic brinksmanship and groovy clothes. Sure the Cuban Missile Crisis is a nice touch, but there was also that whole Civil Rights thing going on, which should matter to the mutants. If this world has room for Magneto and Professor X, it also should have room for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Not to mention other superheroes. I say why not just bring ‘em all on? I am talking about a total prequel-reboot-crossover-ganza. All the Marvel guys, all the DC guys, all the other guys. And gals. X-Men, Avengers, Justice League, Watchmen! Masters of the Universe, ThunderCats, Transformers, Herculoids! Xena, Barbarella, Lara Croft, Aeon Flux! Hellboy, Hancock, Darkman, Green Hornet! Hell, let’s even add the Greatest American Hero, the Toxic Avenger, Meteor Man, Pluto Nash! Anybody. Everybody. Then get Neo from “The Matrix” to show up and go, “Whoa,” and we all go home. Totally doable, amirite?
“X-Men: First Class” doesn’t disappoint exactly, but it doesn’t raise the bar either. For all its restless recombinations of allies and opponents, it only stokes our hope for a superhero movie to end all superhero movies. Well, the season is still young.