Last week, we covered the art of the sequel. This week, we will be covering the art of the prequel. As far as comic books go, your reviewer has some slight familiarity with most characters. As far as X-Men goes though, I had the benefit of watching the Saturday morning cartoon which allowed me to become at least passingly conversant with the characters.
It turned out that it also at least helped me to know some of the plot of X-Men: First Class in advance too. Ultimately, this movie was about connections... the first one is between Magneto and his rage, personified by Kevin Bacon, and the second between Charles Xavier and Mystique. From there, we learn about a rogue (HA!) team of mutants headed by the same Kevin Bacon (cross THAT off my bucket list) who just wants the world to blow up. Just after, the CIA makes the connection between funny business and mutants with the help of another recurring character, who was amazingly never caught when sneaking (or, really, *slinking*) up and checking out what all the noise was about.
It is then that Xavier and Mystique ("Raven" in this story) get drafted into the CIA, picking up Magneto ("Erik") as he attempts to go after Kevin Bacon out of revenge. Not a surprising impulse, I'm sure. The rest of the team gets sniffed out by Xavier and his +3 Radar Dome of Casting Call, including a brief Hugh Jackman sighting. It's during this part that the movie does some of its most... subversive work, as they find and add two white boys, a Hispanic girl, and then the token African-American character driving a taxi. After the "team" is gathered, it's proven that the CIA stands for "Cannon-fodder Is All-of-us" as they get decimated by the Bacon Mutantz. Bacon himself has his diabolical speech, including asking if the mutants being housed by the CIA want to be "slaves"... as the camera then goes for the tight-focus on the black guy... and when the Xavier/Magneto mutants decide that they do not want any part of being a Kevin Bacon production, the black guy is the one who buys the farm.
At that point, the movie starts to hit some of the continuity stuff. Xavier is shown training his mutants, Magneto starts with the mutant pride rhetoric, which pulls in Mystique, and Hank McCoy becomes... well, a blue bear-wolf-dog thing which presumably leads to him being the Beast. The Blackbird makes its appearance as well.
The last third or so of the movie is the big set piece, where aspects of the Russian Missile Crisis serve as the backdrop to
Side note here... it's fascinating how many times this trope is seen. Don't all diabolical masterminds understand that owning everything is useless if there's no one to maintain it to your best benefit? What's the point of destroying humanity if no one's going to run the power plant to make sure your 112" 1080p television works, or to make sure that there's water enough for your jacuzzi and indoor pool? Who's going to design the next Bugatti for you to own, and who'll act as the policemen to snarl traffic so that you can laugh at them as you zip by, knowing that traffic jams are for peasants? This even extends to the Atlas Shrugged set, because railroads are extremely, EXTREMELY useless without people at both ends demanding transportation or cargoes, and bluesteel/copper/unlimited free energy in large quantities is pointless if no one is there to consume it. And, most importantly, what is the point of power if there is no one around to worship you for your amazing power and for you to exert control over to demonstrate how cool you are?
Anyway, the X-Man team flies to where the Soviets are sailing the missiles into Cuba, has one of the Soviets completely blow up the second ship (?!, not really very non-violent, Mister Doctor Professor Xavier) and then Magneto unearths the nuclear sub. The Magneto-Kevin Bacon fight commences, and as predicted Magneto wins with Xavier's help.
At the end, it's shown that Magneto really just wanted to be Kevin Bacon but couldn't be on Kevin Bacon's side. It's (half-hearted spoiler alert) while he agreed one hundred percent with Kevin Bacon's treatment of every one else, he couldn't agree with Kevin Bacon's treatment of his own dear ma-ma. After that is the denouement and the oh-so-predictable credits.
You may notice far more plot being outlined here, and that's because the movie was pretty much all plot. They attempted to shoehorn in Xavier's message, and they even did an admirable job of taping together the fact that Xavier's worldview is as caught up in Xavier's circumstances as Magneto's worldview is caught up in Magneto's. They even did an interesting job of showing how some people may have other's best interests in mind, but they end up coming off as sanctimonious jerkwads (i.e. the Mystique situation, where she refers to herself at one point as "[Xavier's] pet".
At its heart, the movie is an action flick though, and the action sequences are not bad for pacing and for motion. There were a few nausea-inducing roller-coaster spots, because when you have mutants that can fly you're gonna get that green-screen stuff in somewhere. It's not as if I am expecting X-Men: First Class to carry a deep message and make me think, but the scriptwriters, producers, and director knew that the story going in was going to be just as much cerebral as action because of Magneto's character arc. Giving a bit more time to exactly why Magneto decided that Kevin Bacon was his future course would've helped the plot (and the climax, and the conclusion) to have at least a bit more consistency.
Final rating : 2.1