Thursday, May 26, 2011

Top 5 Things I Like and Top 4 Things I Hate About X-Men: First Class

So X-Men: First Class is finally coming out. It feels like it was just yesterday that I was watching this film come together. Conversely, it seems like an eternity that I've been dreading it.

In all honesty, I'm conflicted. It's almost as if it were worse, it would be better, but because it has the potential to be really good, all I'm going to see is wasted potential. At least with the Catwoman movie (one of the few comic movies I haven't seen), you could tell just by seeing her in the costume that it would suck.

Now, none of my friends are X-Men fans like I am, so they are very excited by the trailers, which in all fairness are excellent, but I'm still not sold and I have good reasons for this. So without further ado, these are the top five things I like and the top four things I loath before ever having seen the film.


Set in the sixties

I think the idea of setting a comic movie as a period piece is an awesome idea, particularly if that period is the same period when the characters debuted. X-Men #1 came out in September 1963. If the film starts at that precise time, I'll get a giddy little thrill out of it (based on this image, I guess not... but so close!). More than that, I hope it references to the context of the time more than the actual comics ever did. The comics were written by old men who were writing fairly conservatively because of the comics code and aiming at a prepubescent audience, so it never really explored the Vietnam War, civil rights, or the hippy movement in the way this movie could. Hopefully they'll do this effectively and not just with a few forced jokes that fall flat.


As a fan, I'm glad they have the Blackbird and I'm glad that it looks just the way it does in the comics. I guess they had this in the previous movies, so it shouldn't come as any surprise, but it would be easy for them to throw on another fin, give it a paint job, add bright neon lights and other things to make a more marketable toy. Thank god this isn't being directed by George Lucas...

Xavier & Magneto together

One of the most compelling things about the X-Men is the relationship between Xavier and Magneto. They are both larger than life, heroic men passionately dedicated to the future and protecting those, like themselves, who have been unfairly discriminated against. Yet while Xavier favors education, patience, and tolerance, Magneto favors decisive action, demanding change... The thing is that neither of them are wrong. In fact, I have a close friend who could very well be the Magneto to my Xavier, if we were in similar circumstance. I'm glad that the movie will be exploring this, although based on the previews I've seen, I expect to be disappointed. More on that later...

The Hellfire Club

The X-Men universe is one of the most expansive franchises of all time, right up there with Star Wars and Star Trek. So far, the movies have done a poor job reflecting this, but in this film, they are introducing The Hellfire Club. This organization gets their name from a true historical society dating back to the foundation of our country and an earlier with history in England, Ireland, and the United States. They are just another society for rich hedonists where they scoff at conventional morality (or in fact, any morality) with quasi-satanic rituals and self-indulgence. They are pretty much the same in the comics, but they also plot to expand their power, often by inviting or coercing mutants. Where Xavier and Magneto represent two sides of a moral dilemma, the Hellfire Club represent complete selfishness and social Darwinism. I'm curious to see where they take that...


It's also nice that my favorite X-Man will be in this film, played by a young person rather than the stuffy Kelsey Grammar. They are including the pre-fur version of the Beast with his creepy hand-feet and that's just wonderful. Unfortunately, they are also including his transformation into the furry version of the character... which seems like they might be trying to do too much. I'm also not convinced they got the character right, as the Beast I came to know and love is much more jovial and exuberant.


The rest of the X-Men cast

When I heard that they were doing X-Men: First Class, I got excited that this might be a somewhat faithful interpretation of the original X-Men, since that is what the comic, X-Men: First Class, was about. This would mean seeing Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast, and Angel. When I found out that Magneto would be working with Xavier, I had hopes that his children, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, would be involved. Instead, we get the most hodge-podge lineup of second and third stringers I have ever seen.

Aside from Beast, we have a young Mystique, Banshee, Havok, Darwin, and Angel (who is not the classic Angel, but a new version of the character who barely was in the comics). Since this is most definitely a prequel to the previous movies, I will guess that Havok has been recast as Cyclops' father rather than his brother. While these are all characters from the comics, two of them are incredibly new and not even remotely popular while the others are... again, second string. Will Banshee join Magneto? Do I care?


Speaking of unpopular characters who were forced into this film, let's talk about Azazel. Azazel appeared in the seven issue storyarc called The Draco and he has not appeared again since. This story was written by the "winner" of my worst X-Men writer ever award and he won largely based on this particular story. In the comics, it has long been established that Nightcrawler's mother is Mystique. Although ignored in X2, this will likely be established in X-Men: First Class. Originally, Mystique had sex with a random German lord and when she gave birth to a deformed mutant baby, she had to flee and abandon the boy to be raised by gypsies. In "The Draco," Nightcrawler meets his real father, Azazel, a demonic mutant who has lived since biblical times and is confused with the actual devil because he acts like it. The story was so despised that no one has ever mentioned it again... until this movie.

Professor X has hair

In the comic books, Professor Xavier's hair started falling out at puberty when his powers developed as though the power of his mind was killing his hair follicles. I always liked this idea because it reinforced that mutants aren't just gifted with powers, they often come at the cost of being a social outcast. Sure, early male pattern baldness doesn't seem that traumatic nowadays with kids shaving their heads intentionally, but for a twelve year old in a New England boarding school in the 1940s or 1950s, it would be hell. It seems like a small thing, but I'm mystified that they would change it and I'd really like to know why. Did Professor Xavier have to look younger? Did he have to look sexier? I don't understand...

Magneto still seems too one-sided

Although this is supposed to be a movie about seeing the relationship between Xavier and Magneto develop and fall apart, I can't help but feel that what we are going to get is... well, you remember the Star Wars prequels? You remember how they kept having moments when you would see Anakin act whiny or selfish or angry and it was supposed to be like a flash of evil... like a glimpse into his destiny as Darth Vader? It set this tone that Anakin could have been good, but he had evil DNA.

Hollywood, I know you want me to subscribe to this idea of absolute good and evil... but I have a brain. I think about things. I also have compassion and I'm open-minded enough to realize that when someone disagrees with me... they probably aren't evil, but they look at things in a different way. For example, I see homosexuality as diversity which enriches our lives while others see it as a weakness and a perversion of the natural order of things. I'm not right and they aren't wrong; it is just a different viewpoint. These viewpoints are somewhat incompatible and cause us to fight in a public forum over specific issues like gay marriage and why it should or should not be recognized.

Magneto shouldn't be evil. He isn't Doctor Doom or Lex Luthor or the Joker. He's a divisive figure representing an extreme and frightening ideology, but he isn't wrong. The tragedy of Magneto is that his vision is incompatible with Xavier's. They are both men of conscience and conviction who passionately care about making the world a better place, but they disagree about how to do that and it is their methods, not their goals, which are ultimately incompatible. It is the age old battle between idealistic pacifism and pragmatic militarism... and the line between them is razor thin. The tragedy is that they are so close to being friends and allies, but just different enough to be mortal enemies. If you paint Magneto as a stock villain, you will lose all of that tension... as they did in the previous X-Men films.