The Culture Beat

June 5, 2011

Mad (X-)Men

Filed under: Comics,Movies — Alex @ 10:08 pm

(After a hectic several months of Spring semester, I’m a little freer to post again-it’s good to be back. Is anybody there????)

This has been a very good start of the blockbuster season. Thor, Marvel Studio’s opening volley in a double feature along (with this July’s Captain America: The First Avenger), has made over $400 million. Last week’s Kung Fu Panda 2, though not spectacular at around 85 million thus far, was still a worthy and great looking sequel to the Dreamworks animated film. And the hits continue with the revival of the Marvel mutant franchise, X-Men: First Class, which takes a risk by resetting its continuity by doing a team origin story beginning in 1962, or actually earlier if you include the 1940s, when we see the future supervillain Magneto, a teenage Eric Lehnsherr, in a replay of the 2000 X-Men scene when the victim of the Nazi regime is separated from his parents and his mutant magnetism manifests itself. And in a safer locale, young Charles Xavier makes friends with another young mutant who thinks herself alone. Both Eric and Charles are beginning paths that will define two approaches to dealing with mutant persecution, Charles by seeking peaceful co-existence and Eric by learning to hate and attack his persecutors. The film is a splendid origin story and remixes the themes of the earlier X-Men films into an epic and stylish period piece set in the Cold War, coinciding with the era when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first created Marvel’s Merry Mutants.

This is the best X-Men film yet as it balances three major characters, Charles, Eric and Sebastian Shaw, energy wielding leader of the horrific Hellfire Club, who plots humanity’s destruction to make way for the mutant homo superior species. Lehnsherr watched Shaw kill his mother, an act intended to release Eric’s rage and thus his powers and has sought revenge ever since. Charles seeks a more peaceful way and functions as Eric’s conscience as the two work together to discover more mutants and recruit them for the CIA. Here the title of the film comes into effect, as one-by-one, teenagers, secretly aware of their powers but terrified of being different find a (temporarily) refuge with the US government.

The film’s period setting is even more amusing with Shaw’s associate, Emma Frost, a telepath like Charles, played by Mad Men‘s January Jones, who didn’t have to change her hairstyle for the part, but seems to have stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue,if they had existed then with her skimpy white costumes. The well-structured script allows various characters to smoothly soar through their dramatic arcs as each must wrestle with which path they will take toward humanity. There are several effective moments of warmth and poignancy that ground the story in what made Marvel stand out from traditional superhero comics in the 1960s “Silver Age,”characters readers could relate too because these superpowered beings had essentially the same problems they did. Yes, for years, “mutant” has functioned in X-Men as a floating metaphor for all kinds of prejudice and alienation and the dialog’s repeated chorus of “Mutant and Proud” underlines these themes.

By the end of the film, the stage has been artfully set for further X-ventures, new recruits on both sides and a powerful jolt to several acting careers, particularly Michael Fassbender, who marvelously evokes one of the comics best supervillains, Magneto, who almost makes being a mutant terrorist justified.

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4 Comments »

  1. I enjoyed the film, but was a little underwhelmed by the conclusion. I had hoped for something a little more bold and surprising.

    This kind of treads on the idea of my expectation intruding on what the movie actually offers, so maybe it’s a moot point. (BEWARE, READERS — SPOILERS FOLLOW)

    When Magneto raised his hand in the air and stopped all those munitions from coming at him at the film’s climax, my mind had a surge of thought:

    “He’s gonna blow up those ships. That’s gonna be tricky, considering this is set in a well-documented and recent place in history. Maybe the writers really are going to try and create an alternate history for future sequels. That’s a dumb idea. But then, he can’t fail here, it’s too predictable. Charles can’t just, you know, stop him. But he can make everyone forget…what if Eric really does blow up those ships…and Charles has to wipe the incident from everyone’s minds via cerebro…such a powerful display of his power would certainly cause him to lose his hair…”

    So yeah, that was my own creativity intruding on the work of the filmmakers. But for a moment, particularly as we watched Eric lose and regain his manipulation over those munitions, I kept thinking, maybe the filmmakers are really gonna go for it. So it felt a little bit like a cheat.

    But that’s such a small caveat, really. I enjoyed the film, and I hope we get to se more.

    And yes, someone is still here…

    Comment by taj — June 8, 2011 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks, taj! I somehow was able to remain open to the unfolding of a surprisingly sustained climax. There were enough other character elements alongside Eric’s that I was happily following the conflict’s resolution. Once you grant mutant powers and conflict, you can’t worry too much about this alternate history of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was sort of like seeing that a James Bond story was inserted into an historical account, since pitting of East against West for a third party’s benefit was borrowed from that series of films. Unlike the Star Trek reboot, events didn’t feel so contrived in order to create new narrative space for future films–this is the rare prequel that had suspense and character drama.

    Thanks again for reading!

    Comment by Alex — June 8, 2011 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

  3. Since we’re on the subject of comic books (in a way), have you read the piece in the Weekly Standard about the Comic Book crash of 1993 and how it relates to the housing markets? Fascinating stuff…seemed like something you would enjoy.

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/crash-1993_573252.html?nopager=1

    Comment by taj — June 8, 2011 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  4. Ahh, yes, overspeculation leads to a crash as greed outstrips the love of the object itself. Thanks, I’ll read it.

    Comment by Alex — June 8, 2011 @ 7:30 pm | Reply


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