By Nathanael Griffis
Let this be a lesson to anyone who hastily makes a bet. I had to re-watch X-Men: First Class, and now I have to say nice things about it.
When this film came out, it was hailed by some critics as the best comic book film ever. Both Vanity Fair and IGN proclaimed the film as the best Marvel had to offer at the time, putting it over Iron Man, which had been released several years earlier. Still, there are many positive things to take away from X-Men: First Class.
For some years, blockbusters had been moving away from the rich traditions of older films. One of the richest traditions that has been relegated to B-movies, horror films, and straight-to-DVD releases, is the death of the black guy. It used to be you could predict the death sequence of most films. They weren’t complex. We knew the darker the pigment of your skin, the earlier you’d disappear. After that it was determined by morality, and the quality of chiseled chin. Now, though, it’s all surprises, and sometimes the good guy dies, or Gary Oldman sort of dies and resurrects himself midway through. Thank goodness then that X-Men: First Class has returned to such rich tradtions. Does the black man rise up and have a strong role in this film? No way, he gets blown up by having an absorbed laser hula hoop shoved down his throat by Kevin Bacon, managing to reference rich traditions and create new ones in the same moment.
Professor X is a well respected moral teacher. The kind of man you can respect. He is a calm teacher who occasionally makes mistakes, but handles them with dignity, a Jean-Luc Picard type. Boring right? Sounds like a man who needs some depth. The kind of person you want to see using his telepathic powers to get laid. James McAvoy shows an amazing acting ability to take a beloved, distinguished character and spit on it all with boyish defiance. It’s as if he’s saying, “Screw it, Professor X is an insensitive sexist braggart!” Sure, from time to time he’ll teach his students something, but somehow miss all the emotional turmoil and crazy anti-mutation serums they’re developing. Why? Because that’s depth of character: alcoholism, pick-up-lines, and selfish, insensitive teaching. It really creates a whole new level of respect for the character.
Michael Fassbender is cool as Magneto.
Finally, we see a glimpse of hope for international democracy. The U.S. and Russia, mortal enemies since Teddy Roosevelt called Tsar Nicolas II a stupid onion head in 1906, band together against a common enemy. A clear thematic turning point reminding us that no matter the gap of culture or history, it can be breached by an eternal hatred of rowdy teenagers and their chaperons on a beach. (Take that, spring break.) Never before in a comic book film has the existence of threatening superheroes united discordant forces together for peace. Why, you’d never see such a tactic in Watchmen or The Dark Knight. And sure, it might feel rushed and unreasonable. But without it we wouldn’t get to see that frozen missile shot of Neo — sorry Magneto — stopping all the shells from various battleships.
I can say with absolute certainty that after having watched X-Men: First Class for a second time that it is, like Custer’s last stand, worth remembering.
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