I have to admit, I have not been the world’s biggest fan of the X Men, either the previous movies or the comic book originals. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Marvel comics as a kid growing up, but I mostly focused on Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Captain America (who shows up in theaters next month) and the like. There were lots of different comic lines in the Marvel arsenal, and X Men, as far as I was concerned was down the depth chart. There were various reasons for that. For one thing, the original X Men mostly got replaced in later years by other characters I did not like as much. And sure enough this movie has those later incarnations of X Men, with the exception of Professor X, who I have always liked as a character (Charles Francis Xavier– a good Catholic name for a telepathic scientist).
Let us however for the moment consider the merits of this particular re-boot and myth of origins about the X Men. First of all, and surprisingly to me, Kevin Bacon makes a good bad guy. Who knew? And in the weird parallel universe of unexpected parallels, the name of the character Bacon plays is Klaus Schmidt, also the name of the real archaeologist I have just written 4 posts about on this blog on Gobeckli Tepe (which will appear shortly). In fact the cast as a whole is darn good— James McAvoy as Mr. X, Oliver Platt (of West Wing fame) as the CIA dude, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, to mention a few. The cast is good, and there is precious little fat in the plot line. It moves along nicely. Secondly, I like the setting of the story in the context first of WWII and then of the Cold War in the early sixties with clips from JFK. This is well done. Thirdly, for a movie with lots of CG and special effects, they are not intrusive, and it is a relief this movie was not in the gimmicky 3 D. I got a ticket to the early bird show for 5 dollars. Not bad.
The M.O. of the X Men stories is about those who don’t fit in or conform to normal human society and the travails of being such a person. But then this is a common Marvel theme (see Spiderman for instance). It is not a theme unique to the X Men stories. And to really like a story you have to like the characters, and for me, while these characters are interesting, they generate very little empathy in my case. They have interesting powers, but they are not very interesting as people, nor frankly very believable as characters. There are exceptions. I did think the portrayal of Raven made her a more approachable character, but most of the rest were one dimensional figures. Not so Professor X who is very engaging, complex, and highly principled when it comes to using his powers. He is not a teenager on the loose with superpowers to spare. I found it a bit trite and annoying the number of times the theme— ‘just be who you are, you have no need to hide’ came up. Actually mutants have good reasons to hide and to not be themselves. But in the age of omni-tolerance and ‘everyone is beautiful in their own way’ this theme no doubt plays well. Frankly however, as the character of Magneto shows, being yourself by which I mean acting on your genuine feelings is not at all the same as being your best self.
At 2 hours and 11 minutes and with a PG-13 rating this movie does not suffer from being either boring or offensive, but it is also not a genuine blockbuster summer film, despite some reviews. Think cherry bomb rather than atomic bomb if you wish to use the metaphor ‘this movie was the bomb’. Yes, it has some good scenes, but it is surprisingly lacking in humor or good one-liners. One could say this is a movie where the odd get even. But oddly, that theme plays unevenly throughout this film, and does not work as well as it should. Oh well, we can hope Captain America can come to our rescue next month.