X-Men: First Class was a unique case in that every single problem the movie had was the director’s fault. This is strange, because at it’s worst; direction is something most viewers won’t even consciously notice. But really, the screenplay was fine, if not extraordinary, and most of the acting was phenomenal. All of my complaints came from the clumsy, oftentimes inept direction handled by Mr. Matthew Vaughn.
The first red flag that went up for me was the opening scene, where Magneto reveals his power to the Nazis. The scene was lifted nearly shot-for-shot from the original X-Men movie. “Really?” I thought. I understand this is vital information for the audience, but isn’t it the point of a reboot/prequel to show us things we’re familiar with already in a new and interesting way? I shrugged it off in the hopes that it was just a minor misstep for the film, but I soon realized this scene was the least of the movie’s problems.
I don’t think there was a single scene in this movie that didn’t make me laugh. Between cheesy reaction shots, hilariously awkward exposition scenes, or bizarre choices as far as actor handling, the entire film had an uncomfortable, humorous vibe. It was so excessive in fact, that I began to wonder if Mr. Vaughn had intentionally decided to adopt a campier, more retro tone to fit with the 1960’s setting. That would have been fine, but if the director doesn’t let the audience in on the joke, then the joke is on him. It’s never a good thing if the audience can’t tell if a movie is trying to be funny or not. And considering the hundreds of repressed chuckles I heard during the scene where Magneto’s mother is shot in front of him, I’m going to assume Vaughn didn’t know he was being funny. The kid who played Magneto might have been a fine actor, but even Daniel Day Lewis himself couldn’t make actions like these not hilarious: “Okay kid, I want you to shout ‘AAAARGH!!!’, pause, turn, then repeat three or four times. Action!”
Vaughn also struggled to convey a coherent narrative for the audience to follow. During certain points of the film, it would suddenly occur to me that I had no idea what was going on. “Kevin Bacon bad, Xavier good” was about the extent of the information I absorbed. Any other details were lost in a myriad of dull conversations and laughably obvious exposition scenes, where we would awkwardly cut to two generals presenting a few lines for the sole purpose of setting up the next scene.
As I said, if not for the incompetent direction, First Class could have been a very enjoyable film. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were perfect as Xavier and Magneto. I had no trouble believing that these two could grow up to be the Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen versions of the characters I was familiar with, but at the same time they brought their own traits to the roles, and made the characters more three dimensional in the process. It’s just a shame that the man in charge of them couldn’t direct his way out of a paper bag.
Oh, and one more thing. SPOILER ALERT.
Even the movie’s “best” moment could have been tweaked to make it a hell of a lot better. The scene where Hugh Jackman appears to turn down Xavier for the first time was undeniably funny. So why did Vaughn feel the need to ruin the joke by staying on Wolverine for about thirty seconds too long, just to watch him order another drink? It’s as if Vaughn was afraid people wouldn’t get it, so he beat the cameo over our heads just to make sure, and made the one enjoyable scene awkward in the process. Thanks Vaughn. Thanks a lot.