Bring on the franchise

X-Men: First Class

Show me some skin, film critics.

Show me some skin, film critics.

Rated 3.0

I enjoyed X-Men: First Class, but to be honest, I’m not impressed.

I must point out that it is this franchise we have to thank for the numbing proliferation of comic-book superhero movies in recent years. Accordingly, I think we should hold it to a higher standard. And so, like professor Charles Xavier scolding his first colloquium after a spate of adolescent superhuman rowdiness leaves the house a mess, I expect more.

What I want is simple. I want all the superheroes together in one movie. And I mean all of them. I think it is time. And I want at least one cool trick and at least one good one-liner from each of them.

If anyone could make that happen, it would be X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn and his mighty screenwriting team, whose collective credits also include Kick-Ass, Thor, the first two X-Men films and even, if IMDb is to be believed, a “production polish” of Snakes on a Plane.

X-Men: First Class is onto something with James McAvoy as the mind reader Xavier and Michael Fassbender as his friend and rival Erik Lehnsherr, later Magneto, but it does get a little carried away. Being back story already, for how they became Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, respectively, it needn’t go all the way back. Yet here we are reiterating Magneto’s formative boyhood trauma at Auschwitz, along with a very young Xavier befriending the reluctant shapeshifter Raven, later Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), with precocious, progressive promises. These scenes are flavored with a lot of corn and Kevin Bacon.

It’s much more fun to get with the brainy, randy young-adult Xavier, picking up pre-mod Oxford birds with his nobility and genetic appreciation, while Lehnsherr extracts information and dental fillings, hunts down hiding Nazis and suavely brushes back that one dislodged lock of hair. It’d be fine to spend the whole movie with just these two, each already well adapted to an aura of Ian Fleming-style espionage presided over by Rose Bryne’s CIA agent, who sets a tone by stripping down to lingerie in her very first scene. But no, we have a class to assemble, and Xavier and Magneto’s competing styles of tutelage to discern. We have characters and subplots and new franchise trajectories to establish, mutant superpowers to demonstrate (prehensile toes, dragonfly wings, weird fiery hula hoops), and January Jones’ already baffling career to further enable. (Just know that she plays a woman made of diamond.)

So why not just bring them all on? The Marvel superheroes, the DC superheroes, all of them. You may think that once we’ve done it, it would be over. Well, that’s what somebody thought about threats to civilization after World War II, and then came the Cold War, as X-Men: First Class reminds us, with its pointed “Just following orders!” and “Never again!” refrains, and its restless ongoing recombinations of allies and opponents. As it also reminds us, there will always be room for more origin stories, and prequels, and reboots.

The 1960s setting does allow a sense of the movie’s apparent main priorities: apocalyptic brinksmanship and groovy clothes. But remember, there was also that whole civil-rights thing going on, which should matter to the mutants. If this world has room for Magneto and Professor X, it also should have room for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

X-Men: First Class doesn’t disappoint, exactly, but it doesn’t raise the bar, either. I know I’m not alone in hoping for the superhero movie to end all superhero movies. I can almost see it already. The X-Men. The Avengers. The Justice League. The Watchmen. The Green Lantern. Spider Man. Superman. The Toxic Avenger. The Greatest American Hero. Pluto Nash. Howard the Duck.

Stewie Griffin, Cartman from South Park. Aliens, predators. Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker. And to cap it off, how about Neo from The Matrix? He’d see everybody else and be like, “Whoa,” and we’d all just lose it.

Of course it can work. Let all the lawyers figure it out. Then kill all the lawyers. Oh! And then how about some characters from Shakespeare, too? No, OK, right, too much. Let’s not get hoity-toity here. Let’s maintain some integrity, right?