I loved this movie! It was fantastic. There was so much CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT! It was probably more enjoyable having seen the trilogy that this film is a prequel for, giving us perspective on things like the young Charles Xavier’s drinking beer and trying to pick up chics in a bar, when we know he grows up to be the carefully reserved and proper Professor X. We also get to see how Mystique came to embrace her mutation, how complex Magneto’s intentions and goals are, how deeply the pain of losing his mother still affects him. There was one scene in particular that nearly moved me to tears. And the acting, all-around, was wonderful, (with the exception of January Jones as Emma Frost). The score was exciting enough for the film but not something I would want to listen to on it’s own, it was a little too repetitive.
What are the messages of this story? Well, macro evolution is pretty much essential to the plot, explaining why the mutants exist, and historical evolution is repeatedly referred to, (in terms of homo sapiens outliving and possibly killing off Neanderthals), as a way to describe the inevitable conflict between the mutants and the humans. But none of that is really the point of the story, so if evolution bothers you just pretend there is a different explanation for the existence of the mutants. It’s not like that’s really how evolution works anyway. (A genetic mutation that makes you suddenly able to grow workable wings and spit flaming embers?)
Much more the focus is the other-ing of any ‘different’ group of people by any other. This has been a theme in all the X-men movies, but it’s very clear in this one particularly because of the inclusion of Magneto’s holocaust experience. When Charles tries to convince Eric not to destroy the ships that have just fired on them, arguing “there are thousands of men on those ships, good, innocent men, they’re just following orders!”, he counters, “I’ve been at the mercy of men who were just following orders. Never again.” He also voices his concern that their mutant location project will only lead to persecution of their kind, saying identification is “the first step” towards marking off a segment of the population for persecution, like the yellow stars his family was once forced to wear. We see that the newly CIA-recruited mutants have undergone harassment due to their conditions, former stripper Angel so much so that she states she would rather be objectified, naked, then get the looks people give her when they know what she is.
Going along with this theme is Mystique’s journey towards self-acceptance. In the beginning, she is reluctant to let people see the ‘real’ her, as her naturally blue, scaly skin and yellow eyes are considered freakish by normal humans, and even some of her fellow mutants. She detests her appearance so much, she is initially excited about the possibility of a ‘cure,’ but by the time Beast has developed one positive reinforcement from Magneto has enabled her to embrace her true form, and by the end of the film she is repeating a mantra that she scoffed at earlier, “Mutant and Proud.” In this instance it appears that Magneto is the better man, recognizing Mystique’s insecurities and supporting her self-esteem when Xavier, her close friend for many years, seemed insensitive and unsympathetic.
It’s not so simple, in this origin story, to label either Eric or Charles as “good” or “bad”. When Eric takes his lethal revenge on Shaw, it is Charles that telepathically freezes his friend’s victim in place, not letting go even though he had passionately argued against the murderous outcome that was only possible with his involvement. Is Charles just as culpable for Shaw’s death, then?
That leads to the third theme that can be found within X-Men: First Class, one that echoes a sentiment spoken by the wise Professor Dumbledore at the conclusion of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Although the humans at one point make a decision to regard all mutants as a threat, (an attitude that develops into intense mutant persecution in chronologically later films), Shaw and his ilk are clearly villainous while Xavier’s band is clearly heroic and Magneto’s position somewhere in between. It’s wrong for the humans to lump all the mutants together, just as it is wrong for us to characterize any particular group as sharing the same quality of character. That the mutants have abilities doesn’t make them good or bad, threats or assets; it’s how they choose to use their skills that informs those categorizations.
We shouldn’t be so quick to judge. We should be willing to view all people, (including ourselves), as equally valuable and unique, with something to contribute to the world, and examine our own motives to ensure we are not misusing our gifts, even if ours don’t include flying, telepathy, controlling metal or producing super sonic sound waves.