Monday, June 13, 2011

"X-Men: First Class": Bryan Singer's prequel, says those who are "different" change history; an interesting "take" on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

Anderson Cooper wrote a tweet recently recommending the latest “X-Men”, so Sunday night, after Pride and a big lightning storm, I went to AMC Tysons to see Matthew Vaughn’s new Marvel film “X-Men: First Class”, in DP, from 20th Century Fox.  (The nearby Regal was shut down by a power failure, but the website didn’t tell us.)

I’d seen the other X-Men movies a few years back, but the “superhero” theme seems to be catching on all the more these days (from Smallville to “The Event”, to “Sky High” and “Incredibles”).  This film is a prequel to the others, with a definite social and political bent.

In fact, the story is by Bryan Singer and Sheldon Turner; it took four screenwriters to transfer this intricate, back-and-forth story to the 130 minute film. It traces the origins of  Charles Xavier (James McAvoy as a thirtyish adult) and  (going back to the Holocaust) Erik Lensherr or Magneto (Michael Fassbinder), and several  “kids”, the most notable of whom is Hank McCoy, to become the Beast (Nicholas Hoult); these Xavier pulls together in his “school” for heroes (rather like Harry Potter).  The shift-shaping blue Raven is played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Kevin Bacon is his usual lean-and-mean as Sebastian Shaw.

The CIA brings the pieces together to counter the upcoming Cuban Missile Crisis. Actually, the film does a good job of setting up the factual history with the Soviet concern over American bases in Turkey in the early part of 1962.  (I covers this side of the conflict even more than New Line's docudrama "13 Days" back in 2000.) And as the crisis develops and Xavier (McAvoy plays the role with great charisma) deploys “the kids”, the film shows clips of Kennedy’s speaking and setting up the blockade, with the threat of nuclear war if the Russians cross it.  (I don’t really recall Americans restocking their fallout shelters; I don’t think my parents did much to react to it.)  I remember hearing Kennedy’s first speech while eating dinner in a George Washington University student union, attending classes at night while I was “hospitalized” at NIH for “being different”.

Now, I’ve told that story before on my blogs, but this film tracks to it in some personally bizarre and uncanny ways.  Hank’s “gift” is that his feet are really like hands; he can function as a biped or run on all fours.  He wants to be “normal”.  The film shows curious images of his foot-hands, with dense hair about the wrists that should really be just ankles.  Hanks gives himself an injection that should turn him back to a normal teenage boy (after all, he has his girl friend  (January Jones) and in his world it’s a least all right to be a nerd – it wasn’t in mine). He’ll just settle for hairy legs and maybe run track and field.  (All of this tracks to some bizarre notes in my own NIH records, pictures of which I have shown on the web – maybe they leaked into the script.)   The trouble is, the injection (of the green “promycin”, to borrow from The 4400) starts to work, then backfires and rebunds, turning him into the Beast (like a werewolf or Wolverine), resulting in a cameo by Hugh Jackman. 

The story winds up with a curious climax on a Cuban beachhead, which might have fit into the series “Lost”.  Missiles fall back on their perpetrators, and then Xavier has to show his own morality and protect both Russian and American sailors (including the gay ones). 

There’s no question that Bryan Singer intends the film to metaphorize the question, how should society treat those who are “different” (better than it does), and what are the moral responsibilities of those who are “different” in a way that would give them undue asymmetric power over others without running the usual risks and taking the conventional responsibilities that others must take, in order to enjoy projecting themselves from their own world of fantasy and unusual opportunity.  It’s facile to compare the “dangerous difference” to homosexuality; it seems that Hollywood these days knows that “don’t ask don’t tell” applies to extraterrestrial or other non-human origins.  You can’t really excel and make it on your own without being “one of them.”

Fox has an official site here

The music score, by Henry Jackman, sometimes recalls Hans Zimmer’s “Inception”  score with a similar ground-bass theme with shifting harmonies.

Here’s Byran Singer’s discussion of the evolution of his two main characters:

See my "disaster movies" blog July 14 2011 for a discussion of "13 Days" ("Thirteen Days") (2000) on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

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