X-Men: First Class

Directed by Matthew Vaughn who also directed the highly acclaimed film Kick-Ass (2010), one of my favorite films from last year, this X-Men film is extremely effective and satisfying as a set-up film for the X-Men trilogy of 2000 – 2006 and explains how the whole rivalry between Professor X and Magneto began. Although there is not as much action in this film as in previous X-Men films, this one keeps you hooked into the story because of the great characters portrayed by wonderful performances from Kevin Bacon, from Apollo 13 (1995), Michael Fassbender, recently from Inglourious Basterds (2009), James McAvoy, recently from Wanted (2008)and The Last King of Scotland (2006), Jennifer Lawrence, recently from Winter’s Bone (2010), and Nicholas Hoult, recently from About a Boy (2002)and Clash of the Titans (2010), and soon to be seen as Jack in Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) directed by Bryan Singer who also directed the first two X-Men films, X-Men and X2: X-Men United, and wrote and produced the current X-Men: First Class.

 ‘We must adapt to survive’, says one of the mutants in the new prequel to the X-men trilogy that shows the beginnings of young Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). It is a time before mutants were known to exist to humans and to each other. Mutants are mostly just hiding their freakish abilities from the conservative society of the 60s and just want to fit in. But one mutant, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), has harnessed his abilities and is convinced that he and other mutants like him are the next phase in human evolution and that they could never exist together with humans who, he believes, are on the brink of extinction much like the Neanderthals before them.

Neanderthals existed for thousands of years in Europe and Eurasia before early Homo sapiens known as Cro-Magnon man arrived. When that happened the days of Neanderthals were numbed although it took another roughly 50,000 years after the Cro-Magnon man’s arrival in Europe, but during that time period when Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon co-existed together, we can only imagine what contact between these two very different species of humans must have been like. 

X-Men: First Class tries to answer some of those questions with their own version of an evolutionary mutation that will try to out-compete and displace the current human population to extinction. Not all mutants agree with this aggressive point of view. Some believe that peaceful co-existence with humans is possible. The humans on the other hand who foresee their own marginalization will do anything to destroy all the mutants.

The young Charles Xavier and Magneto make an astonishing discovery in this film due to Xavier’s telepathic abilities and a new invention that amplifies his powers. They realize for the first time that they are not alone and that far more mutants exist all over the world than they ever imagined, all with unique powers. They start to recruit mutants and create a school to help them learn to harness their abilities. But the mutants are of two minds and split up into two camps. Those that want to speed up the inevitable and take revenge for how they have been made to feel as outsiders, ashamed of their abilities, and hasten their demise, and those that want to protect, help and work with the humans.

The humans are also split into two camps, Communist and Democratic societies are at war with each other but when it comes to mutants they are united in their fear. Some humans want to work with the mutants but most would rather just get rid of them if they could. But there is the dilemma. Mutants are superior in every way to humans and humans can only hope that mutants will be merciful. And so it was with Neanderthal. Although Neanderthal appears stronger physically and better able to withstand extreme climates, they were not as smart as the weaker early modern humans and eventually they were out competed to extinction. It was our brains that gave us the edge.

The X-Men franchise has an opportunity here to show what might have occurred in this critical evolutionary phase of human history. Competition between people goes on in our daily lives every day. We are always competing for jobs, wealth, opportunities, education, fame, and there are always people who lose out and fall by the way side. Mutants have far more powerful and advanced abilities but alone they are isolated freaks. Our natural instinct is to cheer for the underdog and in the beginning we cheer for the lonely, outsider mutant but soon the mutants group their talents in gangs and become arrogant and just want to use their abilities to destroy mankind. Then we cheer for the mutants who help humans and fight against the more aggressive mutants. 

What I liked about the previous X-Men films is that mutants who started out in one camp would end up by the end of the film in the opposite camp. For example a mutant starting out in the Xavier or pro-human camp would decide by the end of the film to change to the Magneto or anti-human camp and vice versa. A previously known bad mutant would by the end of the film decide to join the good mutant camp. This new prequel film continues this trend and we see how some mutants can change, through ideology, from one camp to another, either because they feel sympathy for humans or because they admire someone in the opposite camp.

This movie franchise has been extremely successful so far and all the movies in the franchise are great as far as I’m concerned, including the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie about the origins of a popular X-Men character called Wolverine. If you are unfamiliar with the X-Men franchise and want to see all the movies this is a good one to start with.


1 comment:

Rishona said...

Excellent and interesting review; especially in regards to addressing the underlying politics. I haven't seen this movie yet, but I'm looking forward to it!