Dapper Dan’s SuperMovies Column

That's right, I'm continuing my pointless quest to see every super hero movie this summer. So no links today. And anyway, what would you want to know? The sky is falling, so let's go watch the real reason Marvel and DC keep publishing comics. Tuesday night I made Tim come with me to see a preview of X-Men: First Class because Dapper Dan sees these movies so you won't have to!

As you may know, this installment in the X saga is a prequel. Or a pre-boot. Whatever, it takes places in the early 1960s and shows us young Magneto and Professor X becoming the mutants that they are later on. It also introduces a ton of characters for, I assume, future sequels. What at first seems like it might be a kinda cute movie about two opposing mutants set in the groovy 1960s (by the way, the '60s stuff is done so badly that you gotta wonder if anyone even bothered to try google images or something. It's all mini-skirts and turtlenecks, but none of the visual inspiration, which is kind of a shame. In other words, there's no style in this thing.) just expands and expands like a checklist: The Holocaust, the Cuban Missile Crisis; go-go dancing; the CIA; The origin of Cerebro; the origin of the fancy plane; the origin of the Mansion; the origin of Magneto's helmet; the origin of the costumes. I'm almost surprised they didn't throw in a quick lesson on human reproduction ... wait, they basically do! And then all around these bits there are submarines and planes and missiles and Russian hideouts and even a scene in a bar in Argentina that seems like a direct homage (too soon?) to Inglourious Basterds. Oh man, it's endless.

It balloons so much that we even get an A-Team-esque (lord of prose forgive me for that) split screens of mutants training and high-fiving, frequent cuts to an enormous map of the world with cute little missile and tank symbols assembled to show the Cold War positions, and even this scene, which reminds me of the 1960s Batman TV show:

Yes, that's a guy in red make-up named Azazel, a la the TV show Angel, and poor January Jones, absolutely wooden as Emma Frost, steering a submarine. There are lots of shots of them steering a submarine. Hilarious. Couldn't Sebastian Shaw hire qualified submarine people? Like so much of the movie, it's incredibly goofy, but not intentionally. I mean, I wish it had been goofy and fun, but there's too much "Mutant and proud" talk and all together too much on the "tragic" bro-mance between Professor X and Magneto to really make it all together tongue-in-cheek.

There are some requisite crises, but there's no time to actually focus on anything because the director, Matthew Vaughn, keeps moving us from origin/set-piece/set-up to another. For example, the three images below, all shot the same way, recur throughout the film: Two people talking earnestly to each other. This gets old, since the dialogue is so cheesy.

Matthew Vaughn and co. just couldn't decide where to focus, and so the focus is nil. Couch talking to missile launching to beer drinking, all played the same, with no sense hierarchy. Just endless stuff thrown at us.

It's funny, at least the Iron Man-model films, including Thor, as well as the first two X-Men films, have a clear dramatic arc and a central narrative, but here there's just factoids. X-Men: First Class might be fun for trivia buffs, or if you have a macabre interest in "spot the swipes" but for the rest of us it's a bit of a chore. But, I will say I was relieved to note that I didn't spot a Stan Lee appearance. Tim says he will probably pop up in Green Lantern. Here's hoping! See you next time, faithful readers.

10 Responses to Dapper Dan’s SuperMovies Column

  1. Frank Santoro says:

    Well, here’s hoping that the retro thing catches on and when they reboot the Fantastic Four they will use James Sturm’s Unstable Molecules as the basis for the script.

  2. patrick ford says:

    Ben Katchor wrote a good book about these movies, it’s called The Cardboard Valise.
    “ours is a culture of beautifully tiled restrooms”

  3. alanstrend says:

    “Dapper Dan sees these movies so you won’t have to!”
    THANK YOU! Dapper Dan

  4. vollsticks says:

    “Magneto’s helmet”

  5. DanielT says:

    I get really tired of seeing articles about movie adaptations of comics on comics websites–especially sites that should know better. You don’t see the Kirkus Review agonizing over Infinite Jest casting decisions or snarking about The Corrections movie. And it never works backwards–like how Roger Ebert never reviewed the Ghost World or History of Violence graphic novels. Leave this shit to Comic Book Resources.

  6. Matt says:

    Stan Lee will not appear in Green Lantern because Stan Lee created MARVEL characters, and GL is property of DC ENTERTAINMENT.
    Now you know.

  7. Patrick–please send me your email address.

  8. Dan Nadel says:

    #because jokes never translate on the internet.

  9. Tim Hodler says:

    Wait a second. I thought Stan Lee created all of them… Does this mean he didn’t do Deathstroke, either?

  10. J Chastain says:

    You know you’re in trouble immediately when you move from this recreation of the solemn Holocaust scene from X-Men 1 to Kevin Bacon playing a kooky cartoon Nazi Doktor in an office adjacent to a torture chamber you’d expect to see in the latest Fangoria.

    Lee Smith of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was hired to edit this. Like those movies, it feels like one endless montage that never sits still long enough to exploit its best qualities (which are mainly the cast.) The are moments where you glimpse the film this thing had the opportunity to become. McAvoy and Fassbender are good, and the scene at the end with all the flying looks and feels like an X-Men mission ought to.

    The Hellfire Club, a shadowy conspiracy group whose reach touches Washington and Moscow, are four bad guys riding around in the sub from Batman ’66. Their leader, Nazi Kevin Bacon, drives the plot and he’s Magneto without any of the sense of real character or motivation that the Singer films worked to earn. They even give him a Magneto helmet, so you can’t tell the difference if you squint. In the final confrontation between the two, Magneto confesses that he’s exactly the same as Nazi Kevin Bacon but they can’t have a Supervillain Team-Up because Nazi Kevin Bacon killed his mother. Magneto sadistically murders the Nazi and steals his hat and absorbs his henchmen.

    This is the conclusion to Magneto’s adventure across the world, wherein we get to watch him perform several other sadistically violent acts. A banker illegally holding Nazi gold has a filling painfully extracted, which perfectly sets the tone for a scene in a bar designed deliberately to ape Tarantino’s recent Nazi-slasher. Whether you’re watching Tarantino or Vaughn, the message is the same: opposing the Nazis empowers you to adopt their tactics as your own. How this, in 2011, relates to anything outside of pure fiction depends on which present-day groups you want to perceive as the Nazis.

    Kevin Bacon’s murder is intercut with Xavier screaming, as if the audience will buy, even for a second, that Vaughn wants us to care about his perspective. Xavier is soft, idealistic, and ineffective. Nazi surrogate Magneto is an action hero badass who’s ultimately vindicated when the U.S. and Soviets launch a combined strike in hopes of eliminating the mutant menace. An explanation for why Xavier even believes peace between humans and mutants is feasible might have to wait for his next on-screen appearance, 11 years ago; in the meantime, darkness engulfs the present as the film conjures last-minute tragedy as an attempted distraction from the final triumph of Kevin Bacon’s brutal ethos. Magneto, in full dictatorial regalia, is our final image, our hero. The opening title’s depiction of the film’s X-logo as the opposite side of a swastika-bearing coin is less puzzling when you finally realize that First Class treats what it takes each symbol to represent with equal excitement and reverence. Small comfort that it’s a “movie swastika,” divorced from any real historical context and reinterpreted through escapist fiction as an abstract glyph of power.

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