I can’t remember the first time I picked up an X Men comic, or the first version of the animated series I saw online. I do remember though, that from the onset, these were my heroes. Sure I liked the competing spiels about great power coming with great responsibility; about Gotham’s dark knight; or even the Man of Steel – but it was always this ever-changing band of mutants that garnered my loyalty. A large part of this loyalty came from the parallels I could sense between the X Men’s fight with acceptance, from outside and within, and my own gradual acceptance of my homosexuality. The movies have been quick to mine this subtext – a scene in X2 where Bobby Drake tells his parents about his mutation could just as easily be a coming out sequence in a non-superpowered movie.
There’s a lot of narrative to tell in in X Men: First Class, with its attempt at giving us a true blue origin story. And by origin story, I mean that we get a glimpse of Xavier, Magneto and Mystique as kids; we see the birth of Cerebro; of Beast’s human self before the mutation takes over full throttle; and most importantly of how Charles and Erik become allies and then part ways. We start off in a Nazi camp, with a scene that’s a direct throwback to the first X Men film, before zipping through a series of man-on-rampage missions over the decades to land us in the movie’s Cuban Missile Crisis present.
What First Class gets – and this is no mean feat considering the plotlines it’s juggling – is the central conflict about acceptance and integration in the face of human resentment to all that is different. Do you try to blend in, stifle that part of you that is different – as Hank McCoy pre his beast conversion unsuccesfully attempts. Or do you cherish who you are, proud and unabashed, no compromises made? The beauty of this movie is that for a brief moment, it lets you into the mind – and generates empathy – of the other side. The side of Magneto, the story that humans must be conquered before they conquer the other. In a series of tremendously acted sequences by Michael Fassbender, you let yourself flicker, waver, for a brief second as you question the boundaries of right and wrong. “Those men are merely acting on orders” implores Charles. But, counters Erik – it’s the same way “those men” in the concentration camps were merely acting on orders. And for a brief second, before ration and reason and good human conscience came flooding back, I thought – well. Yes!
But enough of that. This movie manages to not only engage successfully with some of its weighty questions in a manner not insulting to a paying audience, it also manages to be a big blast of fun while doing so. There’s a great sense of momentum that powers it along, as it thunders through one plotline to the next. The effects are often spectacular without being too distracting, with the climactic fight over the fate of a couple dozen missiles standing out in particular. Instead of letting itself be bogged down in too much origin-exposition, Mathew Vaughn takes the route of the zippy montage every now and then – and carries it off well.
In a movie so packed with everything, atleast something had to be given shirt shrift – and here it happens to be the younger mutants. Not that they’re bad – just that there isn’t enough of them. in the bits that theydo have, we get the tiniest of arcs – here those being as simple as then developing their abilities. Oh well, we’ll leave more for the sequel?
In the end, for all that it does successfully, First Class still isn’t the best X Men movie made – that tag continues to be held by the wonderfully crafted X2: X Men United. It’s still a great addition to the X Men canon, and goes a long way in erasing the sour taste left behind by the extremely mediocre Wolverine movie.