Twelve Things about X-men: First Class
12. This is going to be a wordy "Twelve Things" post (So what's new?), but for those who like their reviews short and sweet, I offer this one word to stand for everything I feel about this movie . . .
Okay, you may stop reading now. =P
11. Some of my recent activities have convinced me that it takes more creativity and skill to answer the question, "What happened first?" than the more conventional one of "What happened next?"
Prequels are very easy to screw up. (Just ask George Lucas.) But when they are good, oh, they are very good. This one is very good. Even those who have little idea who the X-men are can go to see it and be edified.
10. X-men: First Class is the story of the two most influential leaders in the X-men universe: Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, who would later be Professor X and Magneto.
This idea of a deep bond between sworn opponents is an honoured convention in storytelling, but especially in SF/F: Superman and Lex Luthor . . . Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker . . . Peter Parker and Harry Osborne . . . Tod and Copper (LOL!) . . . I would not be shocked if it turns out that Dr. Doofenschmirtz was the one who raised Perry the Platypus from a pup.
9. What I love is that this film takes this old trope and makes it new and vital again.
"We're brothers, you and I."
It's just so hysterically appropriate that I can't remember which of them said it to the other.
Charles and Erik aren't just friends who've had a difference of opinion; they are the mutant Cain and Abel. But which is which?
8. The acting, by the way, is superb. James McAvoy made me see Professor X, Michael Fassbender made me believe in Magneto, and their chemistry is beautiful to behold. Remember when X-men got the classically trained Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen and everyone thought that was the casting coup of the century? Well, that was a footnote compared to this.
7. But let's face it: this is really Magneto's movie. Nobody watches a prequel to find out how the hero became the hero. All we care about is how the villain became a villain.
It's not just George Lucas's influence, either. He didn't start the trend as much as hit the existing mythmaking nail on the head.
6. Now what of the other characters? After I stopped wishing for a miraculous change that would give us a lineup of Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Jean Grey, I found myself really enjoying everyone else.
I hadn't realised, for instance, how much I had missed Banshee and Moira. And for the first time in my life, I could relate to Mystique. There's also a lot of sweet schadenfreude in the thought of how the writers will twist themselves into knots to explain how this Havoc is also Cyclops's brother. But my favourite character, hands down, was Beast. (Pun not intended at all!)
5. Hank is obsessed with being "normal," hearing cruelty in Erik's teasing "If I looked like you . . ." joke and completely tuning out Mystique's appraisal of him as "perfect." She plays her insecurities off him for a while--as she does at the beginning with Charles, and later, when Hank proves to be a dead end, with Erik. I think the way Hank tells her she will never be beautiful cuts her more deeply than we see in that scene.
And we should see it--because we're the ones whose eyes both of them are so afraid of.
At the end of that storyline, Hank pays dearly for his blind spot. Are we, the non-mutants, ready to hear the price we might pay for our own?
4. This is the point at which it's worth reminding ourselves why the X-men are unique among superheroes. They are the only heroes whom the world thinks of as villains. Even those who are villains are just trying to protect their own from extinction; and those who protect us from them have the most thankless job in the world.
I bring this up because I think it's what Bryan Singer completely lost track of when he directed the first X-men movie. His activist vision of mutants as a metaphor for homosexuals might have made great propaganda, but it did not make a good film--much less a good start to a whole franchise.
It took over ten years for X-men: First Class to find the plot once more. The new political parallel to the X-men's struggle is . . . our own Cold War. Anyone who remembers how "Us vs. Them" it was understands why this is an eloquent juxtaposition.
3. It's also an excuse for some art direction and costumes straight out of classic James Bond! Unfortunately, it's not a very consistent aesthetic--and one that shows up more around the villains than the heroes. (Oooh, that groovy submarine!)
2. Yet Singer's influence remains. Take the forced funny involving a CIA agent and the scientist colleague he hadn't known was also a mutant. After the latter is "outed" by an unwitting third party, he explains sheepishly, "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell." (Sigh!)
1. Pride seems to be the new X-men theme. "Mutant and proud!" one character declares--and we're supposed to find that empowering. But then the same character is among the first to fall.
Was this just something the filmmakers failed to catch--or did they actually get the point this time? I'm holding out hope for the latter and highly anticipating the sequel.
Image Sources: a) X-men First Class poster, b) X-men First Class screencap, c) X-men First Class Charles poster, d) X-men First Class Erik poster, e) X-men: First Class cast