Friday, December 2, 2011

X-Men First Class

The X-Men stories have always taken the super hero escapism and adventure and delivered unsubtle social commentary and, well… sermons. It stands to reason that Marvel Comics would eventually go this route, what with most of their heroes a result of radiation induced mutation. When they decided to have a whole slew of heroes whose mutation is a step in human evolution they had the perfect metaphor for addressing discrimination and intolerance towards those different in society. The fact that they came up with the concept in the 60s made it even more of a no brainer.

The series of X-Men films have all addressed serious issues while delivering diminishing levels of enjoyment. Some of the problems the films have are intrinsic to the story itself. The fact that the evolutionary mutations are occurring so quickly, haphazardly and with no limits other than each character generally has one special ability, push suspension of disbelief to the extreme—not to mention the huge cast of characters one must juggle.

The latest film is set at the beginning; the dreaded prequel. In many ways, however, this story is a retelling because too many details do not match up with the previous films. In any case, the direction, acting and story here are slightly better than anything they have done before.

The greatest message in this story is seen in the ways the two main characters approach the problem that their mutations cause them in society. Xavier, as a geneticist, understands their superiority over “normal” people. He wants mutants to help society and to champion improved relationships between mutants and humans. Eric Lensherr experienced the Nazi death camps and thus has a unique perspective on being a part of a minority that is seen as a threat. It is really a case of seeing the best and the worst of humanity; and both men are not entirely in the right.

It is the best sort of discrimination story because it doesn’t highlight the evils of racism at the exclusion of showing how groups and masses of people are capable of terrible evils.

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