Making the extraordinary into the ordinary
June 8, 2011
This fifth “X-Men” film installment is a prequel/sequel/reboot serving as an origin story for several X-Men, and X-Women. The script’s first half engages viewers by depicting co-writer-director Matthew Vaughn’s fondness for developing troubled mutants. However, during the story’s latter half, he rewrites the Cuban missile crisis, and drops the bomb that shatters his screenplay.
The film opens in the 1940s at a German concentration camp where young Erik Lehnsherr discovers his telekinetic power for moving metal objects. He instantly becomes the prize research subject of Dr. Schmidt (a gleeful, eerily young-looking Kevin Bacon). A minute later, 20 years have passed when we meet the adult Erik (Michael Fassbender). He’s destined to become Magneto, but first there’s the nasty business of hunting down and killing the Nazi criminals responsible for the death of his parents. Erik’s globe-trotting eventually brings him to both London and the U.S., where he hopes to find the escaped Dr. Schmidt, now reinvented as Sebastian Shaw.
A parallel story depicts the unlikely meeting of pubescent mindreader Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and the shape-shifting Mystique (a surprisingly dull Jennifer Lawrence), when hunger drives her to make a late night appearance at the Xavier London Estate kitchen. Needless to say, the two mutants are peas in a pod and instantly bond.
We are firmly rooted in the 1960s when we find Dr. Schmidt/Sebastian Shaw, attempting to bring about the downfall of ordinary men. He employs his own mutant powers, and that of several recruits, to coerce politicians into orchestrating a nuclear standoff between Russia and the United States. On Shaw’s team are lingerie-clad Emma Frost (January Jones), whose body becomes indestructible when she encases herself in a diamond coating, and the appropriately named Azazel (Jason Flemyng), a red devilish dude transporting enemies to distant destinations, simply by touching them.
For reasons that shall remain unknown to us and, I suspect, to the screenwriters as well, CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne wearing a perpetually concerned expression), is certain that those gifted with extraordinary powers walk among us. In pursuit of her quarry, she willingly parades around a men’s club clad only in her skivvies.
With Moira’s help, and that of her new CIA boss (Oliver Platt), Xavier soon gathers his own crew of mutants who voluntarily hole up in what appears to be a well-appointed employee breakroom, but is actually a protected location at the center of a heavily armored government facility. While passing time here, a condescending scene shows a half-dozen mutants playing a game of “I’ll show you my power if you show me yours.”
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Repeated mutant-on-mutant clashes become mind-numbing time-fillers, that have little to do with the film’s mission. We are meant, after seeing this, to better understand Xavier’s evolution into the guardian of good and right, while persecuted Magneto’s anger transforms him into a crusader intent on bringing the human race to its knees.
Rewritten world event, innumerable disposable characters, repetitive action and a humorless script, are major detractions from what ought to be message-free fun. The strategy provides little new material to “X-Men” fans, and is unlikely to convert the rest of us.