Hmm, what can I say about X-men? First, that clearly the recruiting pitch of the bad guys is way superior than that of the good guys. In no particular order:
(cut for spoilers, though the movie is pretty much predictable all the way through)
-the bad gus have backstory (Charles Xavier pretty much doesn’t have any, other than being a rich kid and a telepath)
-the bad guys have the most sex appeal (again, Magneto has way more screen presence than Xavier). And they have all the women!
-the bad guys are the most cultured. The only demonstrated polyglots in the movie are Magneto (who speaks English, German, French and Spanish with equal ease), and Shaw (who speaks English and German). Everyone else just seems to be mono-language.
-the bad guys are by far and away the most equal-opportunity employers: if you’re a POC in X-men First Class: you can die, or you can join up with the bad guys. Those are pretty much your only choices. And it’s actually worse than that: the only people who remain X-men when all is said and done are Banshee, Havoc and Charles, who can start a club of red-haired and yellow-haired Good People (if your hair is a teensy bit black, clearly you’re one of the bad guys. Except for Beast, who’s the token Blue Guy).
-the bad guys actually can be quite nice. Seriously. The only moment in the movie that had me tearing up was Magneto kissing Raven–Xavier, for all his “niceness”, spent the entire movie in a state of blissful ignorance of what her appearance meant to Raven (too busy flirting with Moira MacTaggert, no doubt…), and continuing to make choices for her long after she was an adult. I know it’s meant to be a big-brother thing, but coupled with Xavier’s total insensitivity about other matters (he seldom asks permission before reading people, actually has the gall to say to Erik that he felt his pain whereas he’s not the one that has to live with it every day…), it doesn’t paint Xavier in a pretty light.
-the bad guys actually ask themselves moral questions: Magneto knows that killing Shaw won’t bring him peace, but he needs to do it regardless. Xavier is just too naive to consider the moral implications of the act, and he ends up complicit in the death (yes, Magneto threw the coin that killed Shaw, but who was holding Shaw unmoving the whole time he did so? And it never seems to traumatize Xavier, ever…)
-the bad guys get to defy the laws of physics. There’s a scene at one point when Magneto rips out the lead out of someone’s mouth. You know one interesting thing about lead? Out of all the metals, it has zero magnetic properties altogether… Also, when Shaw dies, whatever happens to all the nuclear energy he’d absorbed? It never ever seems to dissipate.
-the bad guys can defy the laws of supply and demand. You’d think that in a time of Cold War and heightened paranoia, people would keep a closer watch on nuclear submarines…
-the bad guys have the coolest powers (OK, not the weird version of Angel. But other than that? Frost, Azazel and Magneto versus Banshee and Havoc? No contest). They also have the coolest suits: the yellow tight-fiting body suits just look dumb compared to Magneto’s cape and helmet…
Other than that… Well, what can I say? It was a deeply sexist movie–not exactly surprising, but my (female) neighbour and I watched in growing horror the series of Emma Frost’s flimsier and flimsier costume. And every single woman in the movie ends up naked (Moira even starts the movie by dressing as a call-girl, supposedly in order to do undercover work. Yeah, sure).
As pointed above, it was also a deeply racist movie, which is pretty much depressing considering X-men is meant to be an allegory against racism. The worst was that I don’t think any of those decisions were conscious, but that the filmmakers ended up making them all the same (hey, let’s kill the token black guy!)
It was a also movie of wasted opportunities. It could have focused on the triangle Shaw/Erik/Xavier, Shaw wanting to bring mutants to power out of selfishness (it’s pretty clear that he only did this because he wanted to be king of the world); Magneto wanting the same in order to protect them; and Xavier arguing for the need to co-exist with humans. But the movie spent far too much time establishing parallels between Shaw and Magneto, in order to unequivocally establish Magneto as bad because of his motivations (whereas Magneto’s tragedy, like that of so many people, is that his motivations are sound. It’s the means used to achieve said motivations that become problematic).
The movie also spent way too much time establishing Xavier as perfect: we don’t know enough about him to empathise (about his past, his motivations), so he comes across as the rich man who’s always had all the luck in the world, and that’s pretty much it as far as his character is concerned. I don’t know if it’s that, or the choice of James McAvoy, but he ended up never quite having as much screen presence or charisma as Michael Fassbender… (whereas Patrick Stewart at least held his own to Ian McKellen in the trilogy).
It could also have been a movie about the triangle Raven/Erik/Xavier, as pretty much emblematic of the mutant struggle to integrate, but again, that seems to have been killed in the egg as soon as it began (I thought the kiss was going to spark off problems, but that was also the point in the movie where Mystique started to be ignored altogether in favour of saving the world).
So, there you go. Very frustrating. Pretty much the only nice bits were the debates that followed the movie–a geeky discussion on the nature of Magneto’s powers (magnetic, electric, electro-magnetic, and was there a counter-reaction to his affecting metal or not. That’s what I get for going to the movies with physicists and mathematicians). Also entertaining, the movie’s decision to switch languages (to Russian, French, Spanish and German): it was a nice idea, but they were so amazingly slow (the H hasn’t practised German for more than ten years, and he could still understand every word. He says it’s not normal). We had quite a bit of a laugh at that. Oh, and the cameo. That made everyone laugh.
And now I just want to rewatch the first two X-men movies, which tackled a lot of the same issues, but did it with better actors, and way less offensive material (not to say they’re not problematic, but they’re not the caricature this movie was. Plus, they have Storm, who is by far my fave X-men character–independent POC who ends up as the leader of the X-men? W00t).
As an aside, while I was counting the colours of the various X-men, I did wonder–are there any Asian X-men? I can think of several Black ones (Bishop, Storm), but Asian ones? (bonus points if they’re not Japanese. Marvel seems obsessed with Japan, to the extent the rest of Asia becomes non-existent)