A visionary by the name of Malcolm X once said, “I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I’m also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people.”
So this weekend I had an opportunity to see X-Men: First Class.
Synopsis: X-Men: First Class charts the epic beginning of the X-Men saga, and reveals a secret history of famous global events. Before mutants had revealed themselves to the world, and before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Not archenemies, they were instead at first the closest of friends, working together with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop Armageddon (being waged by one Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club). In the process, a grave rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-Men.
The thought that rang the loudest and repeatedly throughout the entire viewing of the film for me was, WELCOME BACK MR. SINGER!!!!!!! It’s clear that his absence is what has sorely been lacking in the X-Men franchise. It’s not happenstance that his departure resulted in X-Men 3 being all over the place with flashes of brilliance but overall reeking of heinosity while X-Men Origins: Wolverine was tepid at best.
Singer has consistenly produced the most cerebral of comic book films and transcended them from one-dimensional CGI laden action flicks to cinematic art. His distinct style of wit, complex characters and engaging plot, the multiple subliminal X’s, and the casting of sexy men (I’ll get to that later) shines through in the film.
As a gifted storyteller and a Jewish gay man, it’s no surprise that Singer beautifully illustrates how X-Men is an allegory to the Civil Rights (as I’ve previously discussed) movement and like the Civil Rights movement, X-Men has come to represent the struggles of marginalized people. With the story taking place in 60s, during the Civil Rights movement, Singer amps it up a notch. Being a queer POC, I definitely saw many of dynamics of minority play out on the silver screen while watching First Class.
The film explores why the equal rights struggle is not always black and white (no pun intended) and that there are nuances and facets that are often overlooked in the history books. You needn’t look any further than the relationship between Charles Xavier and Eric “Magnus” Lehnsherr. Afro-Dyte made the best point in that this film comes closest to illustrating how Xavier was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whereas Magneto was inspired by Malcolm X. However at the beginning of the film, Xavier is more akin to Booker T. Washington.
Whereas Magneto is a Holocaust survivor who knows the horrors of institutional oppression all too intimately, Xavier is a child of privilege. He’s rich, handsome, able bodied, brilliant, and if anyone is familiar with the X-Men comics, then they know that psionics tend to be on the highest pecking order as far as mutants go: Xavier, Emma Frost, Jean Grey, Cable, Nate Grey, Monet, Psylocke, the Cuckoo siblings, etc. The only non-psionics who are deemed equally as elite are usually those who are immune or at least have a high resistance to psionic attacks. and with the exception of Jean Grey, no telepath is more powerful than Xavier.
Xavier’s foolish optimism veers into naivete which results in critical tactical errors that nearly get his people killed. And while when left unchecked, Magneto’s extremism lends him to blind rage that’s equally as dangerous, he tempers Xavier’s blindness with a pragmatic and sobering insight in fighting bigotry. Xavier’s foolish arguments are very much akin to arguments I’ve heard far too often :
-Straight people hate us because we hide in the closet. If we out ourselves to the straight, we will be loved and accepted. Because being a visible minority always gets you accepted.
-If we ask nicely and watch our tone, and prove ourselves, then one day we might be deemed worthy to receive breadcrumbs.
-WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE WHITE PEEPUL?!!!!!!
-Now Eric, if you wanna progress, you gotta shuck and jive for massah.
-Why must you be sooooooooooooooooooooo angry.
-Violence is never the answer. Okay so your people got murdered, but you should be non-violent in your outrage and speak nicely too.
Or in the film’s case, Xavier makes the argument that if we prove ourselves to the humans, we’ll be accepted. Problem is black folks have been doing that for far longer and it hasn’t happened yet.
It was interesting to see Magneto’s transformation to the frightened Jewish boy who’s trying to protect his mother into becoming the very monster he had spent his life trying to kill, Sebastian Shaw. The imagery about that was very clear more than once, from Magnus facing off against Shaw who wore the very suit and helmet that he would inevitably assume. The movie also provides an interesting twist on the whole becoming the thing you hate when Magnus acknowledges that Shaw is right in his crusade and agrees with him and he did in fact make Eric the man he is now but that whole killing his mother business is the only reason why Magnus has to take him out.
And speaking of Shaw, he’s been one of my favorite X-Men villains for many years and while Kevin Bacon wouldn’t have come to mind (at least from a physical standpoint, I would’ve envisioned a Titus Welliver or better yet a Richard Burgi), I knew as an actor of legendary status, Bacon would do an excellent job in the role.
Does mentioning Kevin Bacon on this blog now make me fall within six degrees of Kevin Bacon?
The film also explores the privilege that often play out in marginalized groups and mutants being no different. For instance, there’s a privilege dynamic between mutants who can pass for human: such as Magnus and Xavier and those who are visibly a mutant: Mystique and Hank. It’s not unlike dark-skinned blacks and light skinned blacks. Or the issue of the one drop rule and biracial and multiracial POCs who can easily pass for white. Or in the LGBTQ community, white queers of privilege vs. queers of color or trans people. It goes back to another point I’ve stated for years. Just because you’re marginalized in one respect, doesn’t mean you don’t have privilege in another.
And my thoughts on the actual mutants of color (and no, I’m not referring to Hank, Mystique or Azazel).
Like others, I caught the camera pan to Darwin when the enslavement comment was made. While other POCs mileage may vary, I respect why Darwin’s decision just as I respected Angel’s decision. Both perspectives had equal merit.
I believe Darwin chose to stay and fight for a government that fears and hates him for the same reason Jackie Robinson played baseball for an all-white team. For the same reasons blacks have served in the military and fought to protect a nation that actively oppresses them. Or for that matter gays who aren’t even allowed to be visible. It’s easy for us to say they were stupid/wrong to make those decisions but the truth is, Darwin wasn’t blind or naive like say Xavier. He knew the score and understood the dynamics. I surmise he believed that his sacrifices would make things better for future generations or at least gain ground in the struggle for equality. He was fighting for an ideal that he would improve things for blacks and mutants. I can’t fault him for that because his motives and methods were noble (which is the only reason I’m giving the deadbrowalking the benefit of the doubt). I’m not saying that his decision should be the universal standard but I can’t fault him for it either.
Just as I can’t fault Angel for abandoning the government to side with Shaw and later Magneto. She gets denigrated for being a woman, a person of color, and a mutant, even by the CIA agents who were supposed to be protecting her. Why the fuck should she stay and fight for a nation that should burn in hell? She’s not wrong for saying fuck that noise and siding with her people. It’s not unlike black folks and other POCs who say fuck America. We aren’t wrong for feeling that way. And you can’t oppress a people and then expect loyalty out of them. Slavery is over. Whipping POCs and then expecting them to grovel for mercy and love has passed. She is not wrong for wanting to be loved and treated with respect and if America had been doing that in the first place, she wouldn’t have gotten the hell on.
Can you honestly blame her? And I have to say there’s a double standard. Magneto was right but Angel was wrong. Fuck that. Besides I’m not mad at her. Taking shit from sexist, racist, mutant phobic white folks or sipping champagne with Kevin Bacon’s fine ass. His power is he can take it and dish it back out. Do you know what he can do in the bedroom. We all saw Kevin’s bacon in Wild Things. We know he’s packing. There’s a reason why Kyra Sedgwick has a permanent smile plastered on her face on the Closer and every pic I see her in. Go on sister, I’m not mad at you Kyra. You too Angel. Work it girl.
I’m hoping that with only three members of the team left, this will open doors for new characters (namely POCs) to join the X-Men in the sequels. At least that better be the case.
One of the dangers of going back to do the prequels is that you begin establishing relationship dynamics that should exist in the sequels but don’t get referenced or acknowledged. Case in point, Xavier and Beast’s relationship with Mystique. Of course the argument can also be made that by the time the first X-Men movie has rolled around, there have probably been so many battles between Xavier and Magneto and so much turmoil that previous relationships don’t have to be acknowledged. If anyone can pull this off effectively, it’s Singer. By the time the first X-Men film rolls around Mystique is essentially a female enforcer, just as Emma was for Shaw. I suspect that Emma will have a hand in grooming Mystique into becoming the femme fatale that she eventually evolves into.
And speaking of Mystique, as AD mentioned, Mutant And Proud. Sounds like that other MLK that never gets quoted. Can’t imagine why.
And of course I’m giving the side-eye and the finger to a lot of white folks who are running around screaming that Magneto was right. These are the same people who will praise Magneto for fighting back against his oppressors but then in the same breath will denigrate black folks for being angry about racism. That’s right. Too many white folks would sooner empathize with a fictional race rather than showing any modicum of human dignity to the people whose stories they’re watching.
Magneto wasn’t the villain of the story. In fact that’s why he’s the X-Men’s most dangerous adversary. Not because he’s the most powerful, because the X-Men have faced far more powerful threats than the Master of Magnetism but because like them, he’s genuinely fighting for a better world and in the back of their mind, the X-Men are always wondering is he right? They walk a tight rope between being a threat to humans and their own people. Magneto is their greatest threat because he is at least in part right about the argument.
Xavier told Magneto throughout the movie that if he can find the balance between his rage and serenity, he would have a power that would be unparallel. That’s very true and I also think that applies to why neither Magneto or Xavier or for that matter Malcolm X or MLK could win the battle for equal rights singlehandedly.
Dr. King wouldn’t have been as successful as he was if there hadn’t been the militant black power movement. White folks realized that these issues weren’t going away so they would much rather with the “good Negro” who was about peace and love as opposed to the “mean angry one.” I believe King was aware of that the struggle was being fought on multiple fronts which is why he was able to go the nonviolent route. While I doubt the creators intended this, I suspect this dynamic also holds true for X-Men. Xavier plays the role of the good minority because he knows he’s the preferable alternative to the mean angry mutants. Good cop, bad cop strategy. That’s why Magneto and Xavier have never really tried to murder each other once and for all because deep down they know they still need each other to achieve some semblance of progress.
The two provide that balance and in the process the power to incite change. I strongly think that in the comics Cyclops is going to be the best leader for X-Men and mutants because he’s the best of both worlds as far as Xavier and Magneto goes. He has Xavier’s idealism and still continues to fight for a peaceful co-existence. However he also has Magneto’s pragmatism and isn’t above handling business by any means necessary such as forming a black ops team: X-Force.With only a few hundred mutants left, he doesn’t have time to fuck around which I think it’s cool seeing the boy soldier come into his own.
To a certain extent, we’ve also seen that with Storm. For the lack of screentime she endured, I enjoyed the fact that in the third film she was finally recognized as being a powerful leader and it when things got dire, I loved when she checked Wolverine’s ass and told him that they didn’t have time for his angsty self-absorbed loner bullshit. If he’s gonna stay and fight, then stay and fight. But quit fucking around.
And speaking of X-Men alumns, keep your eyes open because a few make a cameo appearance in First Class.
Now let’s talk about the really important element of First Class. LUCAS TILL!! HELLO BLOND YUMMY GOODNESS!!!!! MY GAWDS COULD HE BE ANY HAWTER?!!!! Little known fact, he was the reason I ALMOST considered seeing Hannah Montana The Movie in theaters. I swear those Summers boys. Scott, Alex, Nathan, Nate. They’re more effective than any blue pill.
But he wasn’t the only eye candy? Nicholas Hoult. Who would’ve guessed the geeky kid from About A Boy would’ve grown to be a bonafied stud. I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that said geeky kid was bad boy Tony in Skins.
And this is why talented gay storytellers such as Singer and Russell T. Davies should do all casting from here on out. Because it’s no coincidence that sexy men keep getting cast in their films and shows. It’s no surprise that the homoerotic subtext gets amped up. Because you know the slashers are having a field day with the scene with Charles and Eric in bed with Angel watching them. The camera shots on Fassbender’s ass, the tight catsuit, or even those flimsy jogging outfits they were wearing. Singer, you ain’t slick player. And I thank you and love you all the same.
X-Men: First Class is definitely one of the smartest comic book films I’ve seen in recent memory. And if Singer is back and more content like this is being produced, then I eagerly look forward to seeing what comes out next.
And to end this post on a high note, let’s have a First Class installment of Random Hawtness. Y/Y?
My God is she beautiful.
I may have to make a macro out of this pic. Because that “IS U SIRIUS?” glare is priceless.