X-Men: nth Class [2011]

One of the cool things about the iPad is the way you can read comics on it. You can get page-by-page and panel-by-panel, and you can dial up individual issues and they’re just there. One thing that having access to this range of materials means is that you become absolutely clear on the availability of different, for want of a better term, streams of the comics. Comics, rather than being a linear narrative, are like a braided stream. Fundamentally they cross, intersect, diverge, meander and re-cross heading forwards in time. New titles are often like tributaries, eventually reaching the braided channels to cross-contaminate.

Quite aside from the deliberate “what if” episodes put out, there is generally more than one “authoritative” narrative available, which nevertheless inevitably influenced by the other versions of the story. Looking at the “X-Men” franchise, there are several major options for a narrative. There’s the original X-Men serial, which continues more-or-less seguing through various sub-titled works. Then there’s the classic ’90s cartoon, which was my, and I’m sure many of my contemporaries, introduction to the world. The X-men also received a treatment in Marvel’s “Ultimate” reboot series. And probably eclipsing all of these in terms of current public consciousness, the three recent movies.

None of these are really different, but none of them are exactly the same. One significant point of interest when picking up any new version is a compare/contrast about the differences: what was changed, and for the better or worse?

I recently complained about Hollywood’s dependence on the origin story, and my main problem with Heroes was this same stifling inability to let characters go, cycling and recycling the same tired characters into different roles and stories. But I may have missed the mark entirely, because I can see now that this is actually a structural feature of the creative/artistic world of Comics. And not only that, but actually this is a not-uncommon feature of most creative/literary endeavours, including Chaucer and Shakespeare, the two greatest creative forces in English literature to date.

Disentangling X-Men: First Class, from its mass of antecedents and alternates is impossible for someone with my level of exposure to the X-Men mythos, because first and foremost, that is deliberately what it is: an entanglement of references and mythos. In both its use of the “original” material of the comics, and its references to the chronologically later films, it is designed and intended to be taken as one perspective on the familiar history of Professor X and Magneto.

Naturally some changes were good, some bad, some references pointed, some far too blunt, and inevitably small continuity errors crept in. But crucially, unlike the execrable Last Stand, this film is as strong as its sources. It adds, in my view, very little. It does not challenge or critique that material, but if you like the story its based on, if you like the key players in that material, this film should happily pass a few hours for you. Go see it: you won’t regret it.

P.S. Many people have been saying it is better than X2, and I can see why: it has far more verve and better pacing. But I think that for me the crucial difference is that at moments the characters in X2 pushed beyond being recitations of the X-men story into being agents in their own internal lives. Just moments: it was, after all, a hollywood blockbuster. X:FC never gave me that feeling, which I think it certainly could have. In part, I thought its very strength, of energetic pacing, robbed the film of those necessary moments of introspection and revelation that could have elevated it to being the best X-men film in my opinion.

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6 Responses to X-Men: nth Class [2011]

  1. jarratt_gray says:

    I get what you are saying. I haven’t seen the film yet but I know things will irk me. Emma Frost being cast in this movie set in the 60’s when Cyclops and Jean Grey don’t yet exist is one of them. I’m just too close to source material and some of the great stories that exist with these 3 characters that deviations will bug me.

    In contrast I have little to no exposure to Batman through the source material. I, like many movie goers, loved The Dark Knight, but I know of at least one Batman and DC fan (I’m definitely not a DC guy) that didn’t dig the movie for source material related reasons.

    I’ve heard a bunch of people say that FC is great, and my low expectations (I actually wasn’t interested in it at all, while I was really exited for the Thor movie) actually started turning into high expectations and a desire to see it ASAP. I’m glad your review brought me back down, but I’m also glad it gave me an opportunity to ponder.

    Also January Jones seems timid and weak and while I admit that is absolutely her character in Madmen, I cannot imagine her as anything other than soft-spoken. How in any possible way is that Emma Frost? I get casting for looks, and maybe she will surprise me, but I my expectations are low.

    If you haven’t already figured, Emma is my favourite X-Man.

    • mashugenah says:

      One of the things about the dc universe, is it often feels like there’s been a lot more tinkering, where marvel seems to have it’s franchises to an author for a longer period. I suspect that for heroes like superman, batman and wonder woman there have been so many different creative agendas brought to bear that you can find some level of support in the source material for any new interpretation you want. X-men, not so much.I think though at the end of the day, you’re never going to have a retelling go exactly the way you want. Do you remember the outrage about Gwen stacy’s death not quite happening to MJ in 2001? But as the biggest spiderman fan that I know, I moved past that to enjoy what the film got right. 🙂 just a pity about the two sequels.

      • jarratt_gray says:

        I’m not really a Spiderman fan and didn’t really enjoy the films that much either. I thought that for both 1 and 3, the films were constrained by an attempt to use comic book storytelling for a feature film. It is far more noticeable in 3 where there is a cliffhanger every 15mins or so and giant plot swerves, but the first one suffers from it too The 2nd one has a better feature film structure but lacks some emotion.

        Marvel is happy with new author interpretations, but always within the ongoing story. Again I don’t really follow DC, but certainly what you are saying is true with Batman. The interpretations are basically all in new books, one-offs and stuff. Marvel is more soap opera, the issue hangs while the emotional entanglements are dealt with, while DC tends to be more sitcom (though serious), the issue is dealt with while the emotional entanglements stay in a status quo. This is of course a broad generalization and possibly way out of date as both companies have evolved a lot since their inception.

      • mashugenah says:

        I think that’s a nice way of comparing them. 🙂

  2. Having seen it pretty much an hour ago, I’d have to say I disagree with the better pacing statement. Something about the pacing of First Class really bothered me, and I think it may have been how little is seen of the intervening years between ‘Erik Meets Sean & Charles Meets Raven’ and ‘Erik Kills Lots Of People & Charles Hits On Random Women’.

    I can understand wanting to get to the meat of the film, especially since some of it is so much fun and admit it, seeing Frost ice up was cool, but leaving the gaps in Xavier and Mystique’s relationship, arguably one of the most key in the film seemed to make it…empty. We see a bit of coldness between the two, but so much is left underdeveloped – especially with Xavier’s statement ‘I made you a lot of promises over the years’ – that it made their plot seem either pointless or poorly planned, which was sad to me. Likewise, the build up of his relationship with Moira was nonexistent, much like Moira’s character in general, when in the comics she’s actually very interesting and tragic. AND SCOTTISH, DAMMIT.

    So yeah, pacing, not my favorite part of the movie. As always, of course, YMMV.

    • mashugenah says:

      The film had lots of problems – no doubt!

      I think that they would have created space for a lot of the stuff you talk about if they hadn’t felt the need to “check all the boxes” for what had to be established by the start of the original film. (Cerebro, the plane, the helmet, Xavier’s injury, etc)

      I think that the pacing problem you identify is possibly tied into a lack of focus too.

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