Anghus Houvouras’ Most Disappointing Films returns with X-Men: First Class…
Disappointing movies are all about the final product falling short of expectations. That shouldn’t have been a problem with X-Men: First Class (henceforth referred to as ‘First Class’) because it had such earnest goals. To start the X-Men franchise over. To erradicate the creative horrors unleashed by uber-hack Brett Rattner. It took the path of least resistance: go back to the beginning and tell the origins of the X-Men. Lay the groundwork for the fissure that split Charles Xavier and Magneto down divergent paths. Tell a story that the movies hadn’t yet tackled. Clean the slate and bring in new talent to tell the tale. While I never like the idea of origin story superhero movies, we never had a proper one for the X-Men, so I suppose four films into the series it was about time to tackle that task. Considering they were trying to wash the foul stench out of audience’s mouth that was X-Men: The Last Stand, I could be forgiving of Matthew Vaughn and company going back to the well.
I had so many issues with First Class. Little tiny thorns that began to accumulate and gouge me in the side getting more painful with each subsequent stab. Things like the theatricality of young Charles Xavier having to place a finger on his temple whenever he had to use his telekinetic powers. As if audiences were too stupid to understand when Charles Xavier was reading minds or stopping people cold if he didn’t press a finger to his forehead. Or the complete lack of personality in the young mutants recruited by Xavier and Magneto. Shoehorning the entire Beast transformation story into a five minute subplot.
First Class is a messy movie with a lot of small, grating faults. I’m not going to waste my time spending paragraphs on every little nitpick. Rather, I thought I would try and detail my disappointment with the one glaring flaw that ruined this entire enterprise.
A mutant was responsible for the death of Magneto’s parents.
This was a move so idiotic I am, to this day, dumbfounded by it’s inclusion into the cinematic canon of the X-Men. The original X-Men movie’s finest scene might very well be it’s first. The perfectly staged, heartbreaking moment when a young Erik Lensherr is separated from his family. He reaches out to them, held back by a soldier. Then, something happens. The gate trembles. Steel begins to bend. The soldiers try to restrain him, but his power wells up growing stronger. Finally he is felled with a blow to the head. We skip ahead to a modern day Lensherr, the legacy of hatred inked onto his inner arm. A holocaust survivor who lost everything to humanity thus fueling his fear and loathing of the human race.
Ah ah ah. Not so fast. Matthew Vaughn and company decided to tinker with the origin story. That’s usually the first sign something’s going to go horribly wrong. So few movies are able to go back and revisit previously staged material without something going awry. Back to the Future 2 is an example of a movie that almost pulls it off (but not quite). There’s something inherently empty about trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle. The moment I saw the opening of First Class where they re-staged Magneto’s awakening, I was hoping this was a primer for the uninitiated. Sadly, that was not the case. Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw shows up in a moustache twirling turn revealing himself to be a mutant and toying with young Erik. He fails Shaw’s test and his mother is executed right before his eyes.
In one moment, everything about Magneto is stripped away. So much of the character is built on audiences understanding his hatred for humanity. He is the product of tragedy. Even if you don’t agree with his methods, there is a certain amount of sympathy for what he has suffered. Now his quest for vengeance focuses not on humanity, but on the mutant responsible for his Mother’s murder.
I was amazed how many people praised First Class and didn’t seem to have a problem with this revisionist history. To me, it completely changes everything about the character. Magneto was once a tragic villain who sought to empower his brethren so that they could avoid execution at the hands of unsympathetic humans. The ending makes sure that is no longer the case.
Magneto finally has Sebastian Shaw at his mercy and propels a coin through his head. Right before he says to Shaw…
“I’d like you to know that I agree with every word you said. We are the future. But, unfortunately, you killed my mother.”
His ideology is now borrowed from Shaw, a character whose interest in world domination comes from an epic superiority complex rather than being forged by the torturous hands of his Nazi tormentors.
The fundamental change made to Magneto’s origin story will forever taint First Class for me. The choice was questionable at best, and at worst creatively negligent. For that choice alone, First Class is a major disappointment.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.