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X-Men: First Class
June 6, 2011 - Stephen Browne
Took the family to see X-Men: First Class, and has it really been 11 years since the first installment?
So with the caveat that if you don't like genre pics, this isn't for you, I'm glad we saw it.
Another caveat, in a brief cameo with Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman played strictly for laughs, he invites Charles Xavier/Professor X and Eric Lensherr/Magneto to... perform an anatomical impossibility on themselves, in explicit language. It was very brief, and it was kind of funny. I don't think my nine and four-year-olds caught it, but I'd rather have forgone the adult joke in a movie we take our kids to.
Theme: of course the mutants are a stand-in for oppressed-minority-de jour. Ian McKellen, who played an older Magneto in the first X-Men movies explicitly stated he viewed his relationship to his character through his experience as an openly gay man. Magneto's origins as a Holocaust survivor are fleshed out in First Class, and he's given a revenge tale back story/sub-plot.
What's not to like about it? Every brainy nerd loves the "nerd as persecuted mutant superman" genre, and most everyone loves a good revenge tale done right. (The origins of the "brainy nerd as mutant superman" genre go back to A.E. Van Vogt's classic SciFi novel "Slan," first published in 1940.)
Plot: the mutants organize to stop an evil mutant trying to provoke World War III, culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The former-Nazi mutant murdered Eric's mother as part of a lab experiment to bring out young Eric's powers. The fiction parallels real-life Dr. Joseph Mengele, the "angel of death" of Auschwitz and the post-WW II rumors of Mengele leading a shadowy "Fourth Reich" organization in South America. (In the real world after Mengele's death was confirmed it turned out he'd lived a life on the run of obscure poverty and full of fear. In short, exactly the life he deserved.)
By the end of the crisis the mutants have all rallied around either Professor X or Eric. The X-Men making the decision to try to live in peace with a world which hates and fears them, Eric's followers deciding they are "The Coming Race" (in Bulwer-Lytton's phrase) and must inevitably destroy and replace normal humanity.
You won't miss the point that Eric has completely adopted the sort-of Nazi ideology of his erstwhile tormentor, "I agree with you completely. But you killed my mother..."
The action is great, the special effects spectacular, and the message doesn't get in the way of the entertainment.
Legendary film maker Sam Goldwyn said, "If you want to send a message - use Western Union."
Message films are very hard to do well and very easy to do badly. They most often come off as heavy-handed, preachy, and boring, unless you're one of the True Believers already. But lately, in my humble opinion, we've been getting some pretty good thinking persons' entertainment in SciFi, fantasy, and even comic book adaptations. (Anybody else notice Battlestar Galactica was a long discourse on how a free society survives under prolonged stress at a time we were debating things like the Patriot Act?)
And why is that? (I hear you ask.)
Well, my theory is that these days in the very repressive and fearful atmosphere of our public discourse on certain sensitive topics, that's the only place we can talk about them frankly, without fear for our reputations and careers.
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