Going to movies: X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class (2011) poster
X-Men: First Class (2011) poster

I saw X-Men: First Class (2011) on Sunday and all I can think of is how much I loved it and how deeply touching it was. I can think of no other movie where the threat of nuclear war is insignificant background noise compared to the sheer volume of feelings going on between the two main characters, in this case Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto. And this wasn’t a movie about action, it was a love story and a drama between those two and a story about hopes, ideals, and how they are crushed, and about abandonment.

This review is going to be full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read any further. The plot of the movie differs quite a lot from the canonised storyline so reading further will spoil the movie for you. So just trust me on this one and go see the movie. It’s awesome.

Why’s Mystique walking in your..?

Xavier (Laurence Belcher) and Mystique (Morgan Lily) meet for the first time in X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (Laurence Belcher) and Mystique (Morgan Lily) meet for the first time in X-Men: First Class (2011)

As I said, this movie differs a great deal from the canonised storyline so there is really no point in even pointing them out. I must confess that I hadn’t read any reviews about the movie and had no idea how different this movie was going to be. I thought that maybe it would tell the story of the first team of X-Men (Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast, and Marvel Girl) with a younger Charles hence showing the first X-Men as teenagers they were in the beginning or something similar. But nothing like that. The story begins from a Nazi concentration camp – of course – and then gives a glimpse into Charles’s and Raven/Mystique’s youth, who grow up together.

Emma Frost (January Jones) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Emma Frost (January Jones) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

The first mutants are alone, thinking they are the only ones with special powers and thus Charles and Mystique cling into each other seeking acceptance and support from each other. When the CIA agent Moira McTaggert finds out about the existence of mutants with super powers, accidentally discovering the truth about Emma Frost, she seeks assistance from the expert of genetic mutations, now Professor Xavier. While helping the CIA Xavier meets Erik, the future Magneto, who has dedicated his life to seeking revenge on the Nazis who killed his family. The main perpetrator being the leader of the Hellfire club, Sebastian Shaw – something that took me a while to put together since he looked very different from his time working for the Nazi. Charles and Erik join their forces to stop the evil mutants hoping to start a nuclear war to wipe out us normal humans.

Seeking justice, asking for equality, wanting to live free without persecution and discrimination

Xavier (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

The X-Men have always been about equal rights for all humans to be and live as we are without fear of persecution and discrimination. It’s a noble ideal, something I hope we all can agree on, but which seldomly manifests in reality. It doesn’t matter what your “flaw” is, all of us have been put down because of something arbitrary, be it the clothes you wear, how much money your family has, what colour is your skin, your gender, or your sexual orientation. We all know how it feels to be made to feel different and that’s Mystique of this story. Her powers make her look very different from all of us and all she hopes is to feel like she belongs. She keeps on appearances, she tries to accommodate to be accepted and when she finally meets Erik/Magneto, who tells her she is just fine being herself, the blue skinned woman with beautiful yellow eyes and fiery red hair (she is beatiful), she for the first time feels naked, vulnerable, defiant, and ultimately powerful.

Charles, having the ability to read people’s minds, devoting his life to helping others find peace within themselves, healing them and trying to support them, fails the one person most dependant on him – Raven. He can go into Erik’s mind, find the light from within himself, share the most personal aspects of him, and sets him free. And at the same time, having promised to stay out of Raven’s mind, he doesn’t notice how much she needs him and his acceptance and how much his words hurt her. And the great tragedy is that without his abilities he’s blind, unable to see things happening around him, when he’s so used to just reading people and seeing immediately what’s bothering them and fixing that problem. And with Raven, he lets her down flat.

Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) playing chess in X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) playing chess in X-Men: First Class (2011)

Erik has seen the lengths to which people are willing to go to take out those they see as different, the horrors that ensue from “just following orders”, and not thinking for yourself. He has learned to accept himself as who he is, a man driven by rage and revenge – but also caged by those feelings and finally finding his true potential when Charles frees him. But having lived his life in hatred, he can’t let go of his desire for revenge, and blocks out Charles. And in doing so he turns his back at him, abandons his dreams, his hopes, his ideals – and ultimately him.

The magnificent cast

Cast from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Cast from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (James McAvoy) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Xavier (James McAvoy) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

This movie’s greatness lies solely on the shoulders of its cast. Without the heartbreaking performances of the main cast this movie would have been just another superhero movie and nothing spectacular. But really, with the emotions flying high and ideals crashing, the threat of a nuclear war was like a mosquitoe’s piss in the ocean.

I would have never thought that James McAvoy would find himself from the shoes of Xavier. He’s an excellent actor, but I assiciate him to much more serious roles from movies like Atonement and Last King of Scotland. But he can portray the range of feelings this role required and his presence makes him a believable mentor to the others.

Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

At the very beginning I had trouble accepting Michael Fassbender as Erik and I did think he was just a man with one face, but luckily I was proven wrong. Also I think the earlier three X-Men movies were also haunting me, because Ian McKellen‘s Magneto was so different than in the comics and somehow my idea of Magneto has been transformed to remind him rather than the stern faced, muscular, dominant Magneto of the comics. Fassbender’s Magneto was a return to the original. And I must admit that he was also perfect for the role. Very stern in his beliefs, ruthless and yet easy to accept there was goodnes in his heart and that he really was a friend to Charles and that Charles was able to find that friend and that goodnes from within him.

Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

Another great performance came from Jennifer Lawrence who was cast in the role of Mystique. Despite her young age she’s already a celebrated actress with many nominations and awards and I can see why. She played the role of Raven to perfection with all her insecurities, how she finds her self-confidence and how deep within her she’s just a normal teenager who just wants to be normal. And I bet if you have the blue skin and everyone else looks normal that feels even more important to you.

There were also other great performances, but it would take ages to list them all. All in all this is a wonderful cast. Need I say more? Well, actually I do! I must also point out the movie had a wide range of good old actors playing very minor roles. Like Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, Oliver Platt as the Man in Black, Ray Wise as Secretary of State, and Michael Ironside as the US captain. Also a small role for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine telling Xavier and Magneto to *beeb* off. :”D

Emma Frost (January Jones) and Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
Emma Frost (January Jones) and Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

Well surely there must have been something bad?

Well, of course. The main plot concerning the threat of a nuclear war was a quite minor part of the movie, but who cares.

The first X-Men: Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Moira Mc Taggert (Rose Byrne), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Xavier (James McAvoy),and Havok (Lucas Till) from X-Men: First Class (2011)
The first X-Men: Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Moira Mc Taggert (Rose Byrne), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Xavier (James McAvoy), and Havok (Lucas Till) from X-Men: First Class (2011)

Also the main bad guys were quite boring, but who cares. This was a movie about Charles and Erik, not about battle between good and evil. But still, the “bad” mutants Riptide (Álex González), Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) were very one dimensional and needless characters. Well, Azazel was at least good at giving the young mutants a good scare at the CIA headquarters (or maybe the Pentagon?). And Angel was needed because she needed to change teams. Riptide’s existence in the movie was just pointless, but I suppose they needed someone to accompany Azazel who, by the way,  seemed to be doing a very good job on his own.

Also that survivor mutant’s (Edi Gathegi) role in the movie was quite needless. I suppose in the earlier script his role and death must have been bigger motivators, but I suppose in post-production they must have shifted the focus more on Charles’s and Erik’s relationship. But then again, there are always those characters in the comics who appear only to die a few panels later.

“It’s better than bad, it’s good!”

Emma Frost (January Jones) looking quite unhappy knowing where she'll be heading next. From X-Men: First Class (2011)
Emma Frost (January Jones) looking quite unhappy knowing where she'll be heading next. From X-Men: First Class (2011)

Yes, I just couldn’t think of more things to complain about, but came up with one more important bonus for the movie. I loved the fact that all the female characters were treated as whole persons and as strong actors in the movie. And even though there were some sexist remarks in the movie like when Sebastian Shaw asks Emma Frost to go and fetch him some ice to his drink, when Emma has to make the russian official believe she’s going to bed with her, it’s clear from Emma’s face what she thinks of these incidents. She loathes it. Good for you, Emma! Btw, she also wears more clothes than her comics counterpart. Yay for Emma! And if things go well, in the next movie she doesn’t have to put up with that kind of crap anymore since Shaw is replaced by Magneto, who for example in this movie doesn’t take advantage on Raven and handles the whole awkward situation with so much class and empowers Raven in this situation that could have turned very embarrassing for her. I’d marry him for that if I already weren’t.

Emma Frost wearing lot of clothes.
Emma Frost wearing the most clothes you can find in the comics.

I don’t know, maybe the movie was really just very good instead of something between excellent and amazing? I really don’t know, but as of now, two days after seeing it, I’m so happy, glad, empowered, and loving that movie, I really couldn’t care less. Good job, everyone. <3

She died, but all I could do was think of a synonym for private eye

Ryhmä-X 8/1985 Cover
Ryhmä-X 8/1985 Cover

In Ryhmä-X 8/1985 the Dark Phoenix Saga finally comes to its end. Jean Grey, the young telepath, who sacrificed herself to save her friends and returned to life as Phoenix. After meeting Jason Wyngarde/Mastermind she began to find out more about her almost unlimited powers, growing ever more powerful and unstable. The last straw was when she witnessed the love of her life Scott/Cyclops die in a vision created by Wynegarde. The last locks in her mind cracked open, letting the Phoenix Force loose. Except this time she emerged as the Dark Phoenix, the destroyer of worlds, the manifestation of hatred and anger. In her rage she destroyed a whole solar system, attacked a Shi’ar battleship, but after battling her friends, the X-Men, she was returned back to her normal self. Now it’s time to pay for what she did.

The Plot

The X-Men are kidnapped by the Shi’ar, who want to destroy the Dark Phoenix, which in turn would mean killing Jean in whom the Phoenix Force resides in. Since it seems Jean is back to her normal self the rest of the X-Men including Xavier feel this to be an unjust action and Xavier makes an “Arin’nn Haelar” challenge which means the X-Men will fight over the life of Jean. The Shi’ar have no option but to accept the challenge and the X-Men are taken to their quarters to prepare for the battle for the following day.

During the preparations every X-Man is given a chance to think about his/her relationship with Jean. The most touching ones are those of Jean herself and Wolverine. Being the badass rebel of the team with rough edges, Wolverine is still the most sensitive and deep person in the team. He takes a shower and thinks about his feelings for Jean and how he is going to stand next to Jean no matter what. Jean asks her servant to bring her her old outfit which just emphasizes the fact that she and the Phoenix Force are different entities and at this moment she is but a Jean Grey, the Marvel Girl of the past. It’s going to be a battle for her life and yet at the same time it’s a battle to save the universe from the threat of Phoenix.

Ryhmä-X 8/1985 Wolverine naked
Wolverine takes a shower and thinks about his relationship with Jean.

The following morning the X-Men are transported to the battleground. Ironically the person who made the challenge, Xavier, is sitting safely inside the Shi’ar headquarters from where he can watch the battle. In the battlefield things do not go as smoothly and comfortably. The X-Men are very soon defeated, except for Jean and Scott. Suddenly Jean starts to feel the pressure and she senses how Phoenix is trying to set herself free once again. Jean takes Scott into the tunnels and captures him with her powers. She says her goodbyes a to Scott, as a hidden defense weapon rises from the back of the tunnel and shoots her dead. She’s gone. Realising her Phoenic Force was getting loose once again, she decides to sacrife herself in order to safe the universe from the wrath of Phoenix.

Ryhmä-X 8/1985 Jean dies
Jean kills herself in order to save the world from Dark Phoenix.

At Jean’s funeral Scott lets the others know he’s going to leave the group. Without Jean he feels there is no reason for him to stay.

Spiderwoman, the private eye

Ryhmä-X 8/1985 Spiderwoman starts her career as a private eye.
Spider-Woman starts her career as a private eye. Notice the Egyptian statue of Horus on the shelf.

The magazine also contains another story, featuring Spider-Woman. In the story she goes to see Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. asking for him to sign her a license to work as a private eye. In the following two pages her whole background story is told. How she found out about her powers, joined HYDRA, and finally when ordered to assassinate Fury, decides to leave the group and join S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury gives her the license and leaves the name for her to fill in herself. Doesn’t even he know who she really is? Quite surprising. I would have thought he has extensive knowledge on all the superheroes on Earth. In the last two panels she’s shown hanging her license on the wall of her office. I hope this will not be the last we hear of her in the Finnish Marvel magazines. And should it be, at least they have published a small softcover book full of her adventures in Ihmesarja #9.

She might have died, but I wiped off only tears of joy

Whenever I’m at a funeral I either cry my eyes out (happened once at my grandma’s funeral) or I can’t stop laughing (every other time). I’m sure it must be something to do with nerves. All of a sudden many people sobbing around you is the funniest thing in the world. The priest’s voice is hilarious. Old people sing with high pitched voices. And by the grave when they lower the coffin I always start spotting the weirdest things. My favourite funeral still being one which included all the above and finally by the grave, to my utmost horror and shock, I noticed a real human jawbone with a few teeth sticking from it lying on the ground right next to the family grave. When people took turns to lay their flowers on the grave they kept stumbling on the jawbone and for the whole time I just stared at the bone being kicked and trampled on and thought if I should go and pick it up and take it elsewhere or just hope nobody else noticed it. That part wasn’t exactly funny at the moment it happened, but it made an unforgettable story to share with all friends.

This issue of Ryhmä-X was the most touching one so far and you’d have to be blind not to sense the dark undertones of the whole issue. Already in the last issue, Ryhmä-X 7/1985, Jean had begged Wolverine to kill her in order to save everyone else. Every member of the X-Men reminesces their past with Jean and are willing to fight to save her life no matter what she had done as Dark Phoenix. They know Jean would not harm anybody, but Dark Phoenix will. Is it ok to sacrifice an innocent young woman to stop Dark Phoenix?

It must have been the dark undertones and the feeling of impending doom which made my brain turn to funeral mode. I tried to keep serious and concentrate on the story but I could only see those little details. And I suppose there is no excuse for me, I’m just one dirty mind trapped inside a female body, but quite soon everything began to look very suggestive and outright lewd.

I think the whole thing started when Wolverine walked out of the shower. He’s drying his back with a towel after shower so he’s standing naked on the doorway facing the reader. Neatly the light is coming behind him so his naked front is coloured black. …Except for that small circle. I surely hope it’s only printing error, but I was giggling like never before. (Yes, very childish, I know.)

Ryhmä-X 8/1985 Wolverine is naked
What's that?! I hope it's only a printing error. Please, let it be a printing error!

Very soon Hank/Beast meets an alien maid, who lets him know she’ll fulfill his every need. I think she ment something like change the sheets or bring raktajino, but looking at Hank’s reaction he interpretes the message quite differently.

Ryhmä-X 8/1985 Beast and a peculiar offer
Beast and a peculiar offer. Beast: "Who are you?" Alien: "I'm meant to take care of all your needs." I think she meant she'll bring him food and change the sheets, but I think Beast understood it wrong: "Well, oh my!" Just look at his face.

And last but not least, in the following battle the Shi’ar fighter Gladiator beats down Colossus – or at least out of the two, he’s the one who stays unharmed when the roof collapses on them. Xavier follows the fight from a screen back at the Shi’ar headquarters and has to witness Gladiator pulling Colossus out of the rubble. Although that’s not the only thing he’s doing. Xavier apparently can’t do anything else except repeat “no, no, no”, over and over again.

Ryhmä-X 8/1985 What's going on in this picture?
Xavier watches the X-Men and thinks: 1) "No." 2) "NO. NO. NO. NO. NO." 3) "Oh, my X-Men. I thought you might have had a chance. I could not have believed it would end like this. Please forgive me." I know how you feel, Xavier. I also had hard time to believe my eyes when I saw them.

And so dies Jean, one of the original X-Men, and all I can do is giggle at my infantile, ambiguous sense of humour. Sorry, Jean. No hard feelings, eh?