X-Men: First Class
By Keith Uhlich and Jeff Reichert
The things we do for movie love: I haven’t checked in with the X-Men franchise since 2003’s X2, which I found to be as “meh” as 2000’s first installment, only a half-hour longer and with the gay suprasubtext taken to a few hilariously limp-wristed extremes. (“We love what you’ve done with your hair,” sayeth the ham McKellen, scaly-blue fag hag Mystique at his side, to Anna Paquin’s Rogue.) Would that I believed in the defiant queerness, but like all of the movie series’ shout-outs to human rights struggles of various stripes—with the mutants as ever-present minority—it just came off as a sop to significance in-between all the bustling and deadening special effects. By the time Brett Ratner, the Cobra Commander of crass über-hacks, took over from Bryan Singer for 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, it was easy for me to decide to spend my money elsewhere. Ditto 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (from the guy who made . . . Rendition and Tsotsi!?).
So why my interest in X-Men: First Class? Two (lasciviously pronounced) words: Michael Fassbender. And not just because his re-chiseled, post-Hunger torso made Fish Tank’s faux-kitchen-sink inanity bearable. With his perfect mix of presence and essence, he’s blessed with something more elusive: he’s a star and an actor. (Best. Rochester. Ever.) And dammit, he gives a performance in First Class as the intense, vengeful, and significantly de-gayed Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto. He’s fairly exhilarating when doing his “Simon Wiesenthal: Nazi Hunter” act in the film’s first third (even though here the character seems to be enacting a wish-fulfillment reprise of Fassbender’s doomed critic-cum-spy arc in Inglourious Basterds). A scene set in a tavern, where Mags kills two of the men who oversaw his concentration camp imprisonment, is like a B-side to Tarantino’s film—though Matthew Vaughn’s direction is strictly ballooning-budget Z-grade. Continue reading.