First Class Entertainment with Professor Charles Xavier

Please hold while I squeal girlishly.

Alright. I think I’m good.

Now that I’ve seen the film twice (the midnight premier was glorious, by the way), I think I’m ready to chat. Don’t expect too much objectivity, though–I’m a teensy bit obsessed. Also, there be ***SPOILERS*** ahead. Big, juicy, shark-ridden waters of SPOILERS! I think you’ve been sufficiently warned.

Hello? Is anyone there? Great. Now no one’s reading this.

So, to start off, a slight complaint. Mainly with this poster:

Where is Banshee?! Maybe I’m prejudiced because I have a little thing for gingers, but the rest of First Class is there (sans Darwin. More on that later), so why is Banshee AWOL? And why is Havok so teeny-tiny in the background there? Did they do something wrong? Are they not worthy?!

But seriously. Banshee is awesome. He kicks serious ass, and he’s funny to boot. And Havok! HAVOK!! Scott Summer’s younger brother who is mysteriously already a young adult in 1962! Yeah, I’m not even going to touch the continuity errors–I’m sorry, choices–made in this film. Let’s get back on track. Havok and Banshee are awesome, and they deserve a little more face time.

That’s more like it.

Let’s take it from the top. From the first scene of X-Men: First Class onward, we know the film is going to be a rollercoaster of  intense emotions and fantastic film flashbacks. First Class begins with the same opening scene as the 2000 film X-Men–young Erik Lensherr being separated from his parents during a Nazi operation in Poland. The scene was re-shot with Bill Milner as young Erik and  Eva Magyar as his mother, and the detail is exquisite. The scene plays differently enough (it’s shorter, filmed at different angles, etc) from its counterpart in X-Men to engage the viewer, but it’s similar enough to make those of us who are X-film fans say, “I’ve seen that before! I know what’s coming!” And, let’s face it. We like to feel like we’re in the know.

And it’s all uphill from there. We see a Charles Xavier who is young, full of life, vastly intelligent, and just plain thrilled by the possibilities presented by the mutant evolution. It’s a portrait of a brilliant young man who is just beginning to find his footing in a world that has no notion of his true potential, and the older, wiser Professor X we know and love is just beneath the surface, waiting for his younger counterpart to finish growing up. And over the course of First Class, Charles certainly does.

We also see a lot of familiar faces and hear some names that are important later in the X-Men saga. William Stryker is mentioned, Charles flashes on a very young Ororo Munroe (Storm) during his first go at Cerebro, we meet the ever loquacious Logan (Wolverine), and we get the back stories of some of the characters we’ve always wondered about–namely, Mystique and Beast. I’m sensing a blue theme.  And First Class introduces the team sensibility for which X-Men is famous. The characters’ abilities create a bond between them that allows them to work well as a unit, even before Charles’s intensive training week.

What did you do this week?

Oh, I went shopping, worked, the usual. You?

I mastered my mutant abilities and averted World War III.

Right. Must be Tuesday.

When Shaw and his minions come for the mutants, Darwin and Alex need only to make eye contact and engage in some manly shoving to come up with a plan to save Angel. You’re looking skeptical. Is that because things went sideways and Darwin sort of–yeah? Yeah. That was sad. But my point still stands. Teamwork.

Now, I gave a spoiler warning (did you see it? It was ***surrounded by symbols*** and BOLD) so I think it’s only fair to give an I’m-going-to-talk-about-religion-and-emotional-experiences warning as well. Prepare yourselves.

Every time I watch the opening sequence of the original X-Men film, something inside me clenches up with an odd kind of empathy. That boy, that young Erik Lensherr, could have been me, had I lived half a century or so earlier. Okay, no, I wouldn’t have been able to bend metal with my mind, but I might have been a frightened young woman forced to wear a yellow star on her chest, separated from her family. I grew up in a Jewish household and spent my formative years at religious school learning about the Holocaust and the atrocities done to the Jews, the gypsies, the homosexuals, and anyone else of whom Hitler wasn’t particularly fond. And I’ll admit, I’d grown a little jaded. There are only so many documentaries, photographs, and statistics a young person can be exposed to before those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis become first the stuff of nightmares and later something I attempted to forget I’d ever seen. And that’s just plain wrong.

If there’s one thing I believe to be true, it’s that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Hell, we repeat it even when we do remember it. And maybe it sounds a bit far fetched, but the X-Men films have reminded me how important it is to remember the Holocaust. Erik is tortured at the hands of the Nazis. He sees his mother murdered before his eyes and watches his people enslaved and slaughtered. And he craves revenge. I don’t know how his story would affect me were I not a Jew, but I am, and as such, I watch Erik’s spiral into darkness with sorrow in my soul, because it shows me that hatred breeds hatred, heartlessness begets heartlessness.

The reason I learned about the Holocaust in religious school was because the Jewish community cannot let the memory of what happened to our people be forgotten, and Erik’s story reflects that sentiment. We see a man in pain, a man who only knows rage and revenge, and it shows us just how far reaching the damages of persecution can be. Erik harbors a cold, desolate kind of loathing for his tormentors. He is not self-righteous, he is purposeful. He says, “I’ve been at the mercy of men just following orders. Never again.”

And thus, one of the most dynamic comic book villains of all time is born. No more black and white, no more evil masterminds for us. No, we’ve got something much more powerful. We’ve got Magneto. He might not fit the classical definition of a tragic figure, but his transformation is most certainly a tragedy. Magneto is a cautionary tale. His rage turns him from victim to oppressor, and he begins to view non-mutant human beings in the same way the Nazis viewed their victims during the Holocaust. To anyone who has ever been persecuted it says, “Don’t let your anger turn you into that which you hate.” And to the few left over who have never faced prejudice, and to those that have been prejudiced against others, it says, “This is what hatred does.”

It seems like an easy lesson, but one needs only to pick up a newspaper (okay, fine, to read an article online) to realize it is a lesson the human race is only beginning to learn. X-Men: First Class is more than just a comic book movie, it’s a film with some rich social commentary, and a lot of grey.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Feel free to voice them. This is a film that deserves our attention, full of issues that bear discussion. (No, I don’t work for 20th Century Fox. Promise.)

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