Open Thread: X-Men: First Class

By Arturo R. García

So Latoya, Andrea and I did a groupchat last night in order to dicuss this movie, especially one plot beat that raised some eyebrows online.

Then the chat transcript got lost. But we’re working on reassembling our group review for later in the week. In the meantime, if you’ve seen the movies, feel free to weigh in.

Be aware: I’ll post some of the topics we covered under the cut, but after that, it’s heavy spoiler territory.

Okay, so if you’ve seen the movies, you probably twigged to all of the following:

  • The death of Darwin. Seriously, WTF?
  • The over-accelerated character arcs for everybody (this was my pet peeve; First Class should’ve been a two-film story.)
  • The rampant genderfail when it came to the depictions of Emma Frost, Angel Salvatore, Mystique and Moira McTaggert.
  • The use of marginalization language in the film – and, really, of the X-Men franchise as a whole.
  • The character choices: notice how the characters of color – Riptide (the wind guy) was played by a Latino, while Angel was played by Zoe Kravitz, Lenny’s daughter – sided either with Sebastian Shaw, then with Magneto?

Your thoughts, readers?

  • Guest

    having just viewed the film for the second time (and then reading this), I — to play devil’s advocate — feel compelled to point out that this is a prequel to the X-men franchise. The X1-3 had already explored the validity of the Xavier party line, so it’s not entirely unfitting that this film (and any subsequent sequel) should be willing to present the idea that Magneto’s perspective is not only valid but in some ways more pragmatic. Angel & Riptide (who is why I found this page…I had no idea who he was supposed to be…) being “evil” is only offensive if you accept that Magneto is “evil” (ok…Shaw IS evil, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that everyone on his side is as well). It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that the filmed an after credit scene, wherein Darwin is revealed to have survived, which was then discarded because of how little importance  the character was to the story. If he shows up in the sequel evil & spouting extremist “survival of the fittest” dogma a la Apocalypse, then I’ll be offended. As of now I’m just “meh”…although the whole ” ‘stay here’ my ass!” and then leading everyone on a frantic panicked dash is kinda twisting my testes…

    what I find interesting (and this has been explored in the source material as well) is that Erik explicitly stated that he (a jew) thought that everything Shaw/Schmidt (himmler’s wet dream of what a nazi should be) believed in was right. It strikes me as a well hidden stab at Israel in hindsight and creates some disturbing parallel’s between “the master race” and “god’s chosen people” that the creative writer in me would love to explore but sends all sorts of red flags flying for my internal casual viewer…

  • Shermel

    I almost walked out as well. My friend seemed like he wanted to see it to the end but I was thinking, “I give up. I can’t finish this.”

  • Shermeliumdotcom

    This was the corniest movie I ever saw. It was very half-assed and for some reason seemed like it was low-budget. I was bored, embarrassed by the lack of character development. If I had not read the comics or anything on the X-Men I would have been confused. I was extremely upset by the Darwin incident. What an anti-climactic way to go. I really think it took each actor one day to prepare for and film every scene they would appear in. It seemed like so much more could be done to make the film as exciting as the other X-Men films.

  • LeSigh

    I was so bothered by Darwin’s death that it really took me out of the film beyond that point. It was so incredibly cliche and ridiculous (“I adapt to survive” but couldn’t adapt to a bomb of sorts inside you?) I was wondering when Angel was going to meet her end. I joked with my sister earlier that the reason she didn’t die was because she was racially ambiguous – she can live but she’d have to be a villain. The only person I truly cared about was Magneto (yeah- considering he’s supposed to be the bad guy…) and the female portrayals were lukewarm, at best. This was just another example of milking a franchise and leaving story and intelligent writing in the wind. The producers of this flick were so sure that huge explosions and expensive special effects would distract us from the fact that they were selling us a weak script.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513626440 Laila John

    is nobody going to comment on kevin bacon. between him and fassbender that thing was covered.  was like no is that that skinny boy from footloose. everyone else was an extra. there was no need to kill darwin, he was a plot device and that didn’t advance the plot AT ALL. 

    • Anonymous

      (Overheard at the NYC movie theater where Andrea (AJ) Plaid and best friend saw X-Men: First Class)

      AJP: Wow, that Footloose fella is looking particularly pimptastic in that coat!
      BF: (rolls on the floor, laughing)

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  • NL

    I initially had the same reaction to Darwin’s death, but in the comics, he’s brought in as a character who was presumed to have been killed in one of the X-Men’s first adventures. It turned out that he had converted to pure energy and in fact survived, only to be recovered by Beast. So, hopefully he’ll be back in the sequel, but that would probably be giving the movie too much credit

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t find that hard to believe. Nazi didn’t only target Jewish people they also targeted homosexuals, blacks and those with handicaps. 

  • Anonymous

    LMAO! Yeah, she did! But again, I’m not sure if it’s because she truly was annoyed (considering how jainky her character is treated, I would be, too), or if it’s a weird acting “quirk” of Jones’. I’ve seen her in Taken and in a PSA for shark preservation. If as if she mistakes “irritated” for “badass” or “concerned.” Like I said, she rocks that as Betty Draper, but it doesn’t translate in some of the other roles I’ve seen her in.

  • Anonymous

    There was that throw away line — I think it was Mystique — “We don’t even have a body to bury,” that made me wonder if MAYBE Darwin actually converted into pure energy or something (like he did in the comicverse, yeah?) and we’ll see him in the next movie.

    … Maybe :/

  • Facebook User

    Everything I would’ve said has been said except this film made me incredibly sympathetic to Magneto. If I were asked, I’m not sure I’d stay with Xavier. Considering the time period and what the women & poc had to be going through. I don’t know if Xavier’s rhetoric would appeal to me.

    • http://twitter.com/Afrodyke Name

      I would have had the same response to Xavier as did a certain cameo, “Go fuck yourself.”

  • Spaboogie

    Also, why did Angel have to be a stripper (not so in the comic) and pimped out by Magneto? Is there a medium that can be found between the regal Storm (done shittastically by Halle Berry) and her? Ugh. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TK7TRSHVOGS6NWVJBVAU2PT654 Anthony Lee

    I agree, Andrea. Does anyone find it ironic that the guy who’s motto is “I adapt to survive” is the only one that died? My friends and I were trying to figure out what his power was afterwards, and none of us could clearly describe it.

    Amazingly enough, I could have excused the fact that the characters of color and most of the women ended up siding with Magneto in the end, I felt this was a deliberate move on the part of the writers to put the ‘outsider’ characters with Magneto (who is Jewish) to draw a parallel with real world Otherism. That was my generous interpretation. That, in the end, Magneto is the villain may be more problematic. So I’m not sure where to go with that. 

    More disturbing was that the Angel character started out as a stripper. To me that is a reflection of the hypersexualized WOC stereotype. In the wikipedia article for Angel she did not start out as a stripper and never was one, as far as I can tell.

    • Anonymous

      ::ducks head in::

      Say what?!?

      Angel *wasn’t* a stripper in the comics? 

      ::throws down glass punch bowl, Florida Evans style::

      Damn! Damn! DAMN! Damn! Damn! 

      • Anonymous

        Angel in the comics was an awesome teenage girl who had some “attitude problems” mostly caused by going to a school full of rich White kids with mostly gender-normative powers, and feeling like an outsider among outsiders.  I always read her as Grant Morrison’s attempt to deal explicitly with the problem of “X-Men As Oppressed Minority” trope and the real-world oppressed minorities that erases.  It’s unfair that her character carries so much there, and there’s a little stereotypes that bleed through, but it is better than a lot of places.
        Her storyline is one of the three main stories in those books; she’s not even a bit player.  She’s also one of the few women who have directly offensive mutant powers, and her body type and costume aren’t as hyper-sexualized as some other characters.  I was really excited to see her in the movie, because her character was one of my favorites (and those books; they have their problems, but they do seem to struggle with them instead of just glossing them over).  But like Emma Frost, I suspect doing her justice would have taken too much time that they wanted to spend on the Erik/Charles relationship.

  • JJ

    I thought it was very odd during the scene where he is trying to get them to side with Sebastian and he says something along the lines of “would you rather be free or in slavery?” and then the camera panned to the 2 black characters for a long time.
    There was a lot of subtext going on. Given the time period (late 60s) and the constant “mutant and proud refrain” it seemed like they were trying to make a parallel between the Black civil rights movement and mutants? They all kept saying “it’s ok to be different.” But what they meant was as long as you are white or a color not found in nature. None of you brown people need apply for hollywood jobs

  • JJ

    I thought it was very odd during the scene where he is trying to get them to side with Sebastian and he says something along the lines of “would you rather be free or in slavery?” and then the camera panned to the 2 black characters for a long time.
    There was a lot of subtext going on. Given the time period (late 60s) and the constant “mutant and proud refrain” it seemed like they were trying to make a parallel between the Black civil rights movement and mutants? They all kept saying “it’s ok to be different.” But what they meant was as long as you are white or a color not found in nature. None of you brown people need apply for hollywood jobs

    • kay

      I laughed at that part. I don’t know how many times (being the only black student in the class) when issues of slavery come up in class when the teach didn’t look directly at me waiting for me to depart words of insight into the brains of the black people. It could have been a history class, American Lit., it didn’t matter. And I’m long past being offended by typical ignorance.

    • DeanG22

      I laughed so hard at that part, and no-one else in the cinema even got the slavery “joke” or slip-up…

  • http://twitter.com/ss2player Cavan Bailey

    What was up with Shaw talking about the humans “enslaving” mutants, then cutting to Darwin, the token black character? ON THE NOSE MUCH?!?! They exploit the guy THEN kill him, yikes.

  • http://twitter.com/ss2player Cavan Bailey

    What was up with Shaw talking about the humans “enslaving” mutants, then cutting to Darwin, the token black character? ON THE NOSE MUCH?!?! They exploit the guy THEN kill him, yikes.

  • Nina

    Overall, I really liked the movie. I was both fascinated and annoyed by Darwin’s destruction. I think we all saw it coming. But watching Shaw’s demise, I had to chuckle because this genre toes the line when it comes to mortality/invincibility.  Also, Halle Berry’s performance as storm was SO repugnant to me, that when I saw what could be interpreted as a “young storm” in one of Professor X’s Cerebro visions, I sucked my teeth aloud. January Jones was…lackluster at best, and she had so many good lines and such potential to be…interesting, but she was flat at best, naked or not. Rose Byrne, whom I usually enjoy, was more of a symbol/prop than a character. And I have to admit that I liked Jennifer Lawrence.  And that I ADORED Michael Fassbender. FINE as frog’s legs AND gave the best performance of the movie? Shucks, I was cheering for him. I would’ve been one of the POC joining him at the end. And not just for political reasons. I can see how the movie played up the idea of the marginalized not trusting “regular people” to make good choices. But really and truly, I don’t, and I haven’t survived a holocaust, segregation or ethnic cleansing. “Never again” actually sounds like a really good slogan to me…and I have to fight my fear that popular opinion isn’t swing back towards those days every time I see/hear another presidential candidate announced for 2012.

  • Nina

    Overall, I really liked the movie. I was both fascinated and annoyed by Darwin’s destruction. I think we all saw it coming. But watching Shaw’s demise, I had to chuckle because this genre toes the line when it comes to mortality/invincibility.  Also, Halle Berry’s performance as storm was SO repugnant to me, that when I saw what could be interpreted as a “young storm” in one of Professor X’s Cerebro visions, I sucked my teeth aloud. January Jones was…lackluster at best, and she had so many good lines and such potential to be…interesting, but she was flat at best, naked or not. Rose Byrne, whom I usually enjoy, was more of a symbol/prop than a character. And I have to admit that I liked Jennifer Lawrence.  And that I ADORED Michael Fassbender. FINE as frog’s legs AND gave the best performance of the movie? Shucks, I was cheering for him. I would’ve been one of the POC joining him at the end. And not just for political reasons. I can see how the movie played up the idea of the marginalized not trusting “regular people” to make good choices. But really and truly, I don’t, and I haven’t survived a holocaust, segregation or ethnic cleansing. “Never again” actually sounds like a really good slogan to me…and I have to fight my fear that popular opinion isn’t swing back towards those days every time I see/hear another presidential candidate announced for 2012.

    • Anonymous

      I really didn’t get January Jones’ interpretation. At. All. 

      I mean, I get that she plays vapid/frustrated/selfish early 60s housewife rather well on Mad Men, but it seems she carries that into some other roles I’ve seen her in, like Taken and now this. It’s as if she’s typecasting herself.

      I always liked Magneto, be he young Fassbender or older McKellan. But, as I said in the lost chat with Arturo and Latoya, I felt the movie was also setting up Magneto as almost mentally disordered for not wanting to assimilate or, at least, make peace with humanity. (Remember when Charles had to talk Erik out of pursuing the sub, least he drown?) Sort of how the media and some other folks play into/off of the schism between MLK and El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, as if to make MLK seem “reasonable” for wanting integration because, goes the script, El-Shabazz’s “by any means necessary” rhetoric is downright lethal foolishness in comparison.  (Of course, Charles and Erik, I think, are supposed to represent the MLK/El-Shabazz dialectic.)

      • http://twitter.com/robinskull Meg

        I think you’re right on with comparing Charles/Eric to MLK/El-Shabazz, but I actually wasn’t sure who the movie wanted us to root for.  The expected answer is that we root for Charles because he’s “the good guy” but I actually felt like, if nothing else, this movie was about humanizing Eric.  He’s the one we end up empathizing with; Charles just kind of comes across as naive and privileged.  I LOVED the exchanges between the two of them when Charles takes them to the mansion in Westchester, and the little signs of Charles’ own bigotry towards those with visible mutations.  In the end we not only understand why Eric kills Shaw we’re almost rooting for it, we want him to have that catharsis. 

        Though I don’t really know if the movie was doing that on purpose or if The Fassbender is just REALLY good at emoting :)   

        • Anonymous

          I’ma say it: Fassbender owned the flick, full stop. I love me some James McAvoy, but I didn’t quite get, in the way Charles was developed in the film, how McAvoy becomes Sir Patrick Stewart, whereas I completely could glean how Fassbender became Sir McKellen. Because of that, I couldn’t quite figure out how McAvoy and Fassbender were in a friendship of equals, whereas Sirs Stewart and McKellen displayed that equality/counterweight almost immediately in the first X-men flick, and the love/hate/compassion developed from there in the other two sequels.  It was that study of friendship that actually got me through the mutant mosh pit/hot mess that was the third film.   

      • Nina

        Okay, see that whole parallel between MLK and El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, I got something different out of it. I may have been projecting. Magneto was less than radical for his beliefs, he came across as…sensible. He even seemed to be the “good angel” on Mystique/Raven’s shoulder telling her to really be herself–even if it was just for her own safety. Xavier came across as not only hypocritical but compromised (and literally crippled) by his wish to assimilate. I mean, it took all of…30 seconds for the boats to turn their missiles on the mutants after they “saved the world.” Magneto barely had time to say, “Told you so.” Furthermore, Havoc was also a silent, less developed part of that conversation. He “preferred” isolation and requested solitary. Because he saw himself as a danger? Maybe. But back to Xavier, as others have said, he had the least development of the main characters. He had this half-baked overrationalized “pitch” about acceptance that he was trying to root in “established” norms in a time where people still were not accepting of each other based on appearance. His “rap” to women at the bar about how they were mutants too? Painfully bad. Even his suggestion that mutants cold be seen as assets (or worse, weapons), was  sad. Like he really had something to prove. I understand that may have been his method of disarming the fear that would almost certainly come from those who realized that mutants were powerful, but it was like he was begging to be seen as human. And he was a rich, white male in the US that looked “normal” and had a power that he could control. How was that method supposed to translate for someone like Beast? “Oh, but Boss, he really smart. Yessir. He could make a machine take the seeds clean outta the cotton.” But I digress. I think that Xavier’s polar opposite was actually Shaw. He wasn’t thinking about acceptance, assimilation, amalgamation, peaceful cohabitation, separation or isolation. He wanted to dominate and move evolution forward. And I bet beyond that he would keep tabs of everybody’s power that rivaled his own. Like Darwin.

      • Anonymous

        I did feel like the writers might not be aware that Xavier was essentially Privilege Denying White Dude personified.  I couldn’t understand for a second why it was totally cool for him to wipe someone’s brain when convenient but totally uncool for Magnito to kill Nazis.  I did feel like the actor captured that entitlement in a way Patrick Stewart hadn’t, and I appreciated that, but it still felt like the script was trying really hard to turn this odious character in to the hero.

  • patatsea

    On that last point- not for a second do I think this was done intentionally but I thought that it was actually story appropriate that it was only the mutants with white, male privilege that chose Xavier’s philosophy of assimilation.   It makes sense that those marginalized in society through gender or color in addition to their mutation would reject that for Magneto’s separatist vision.

    I’ll always love this franchise because its X-men, but for the movies to really bring us somewhere new with its themes they need to stop just using mutants as a metaphor for marginalization and oppression and start giving some actual PoC, or non-hetero, or female, or *gasp* maybe someone who is all three of those things to the forefront.

    • Hey

      X-men isn’t The Wire… Too bad :D

  • Joshuatree135

    I don’t think that Darwin is killable.  So i mean i guess if there is a seq he would still be alive.  One of the things i disliked the most.  He is supose to adapt to all.  Even a bomb put into his mouth!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/clairehummel Claire Hummel

    UGGHGHH yes.  I loudly cursed when it looked like Darwin was about to die in the first act. Absolute nonsense, and a move that made the film seem suddenly and starkly white- a few POC characters siding with the antagonists, against protagonists (and world powers) who are almost entirely white.

    Not going to start in on the portrayal of women lest I get carried away,
    -C

  • EH

    I rolled my eyes so hard when Darwin died for a second I thought I stroked out. How tired is killing off the sole black character??  Wasn’t too impressed with the movie overall. I was glad the storyline fit with the previous movies (although I don’t see Storm being that old in 1961) from what I could tell but everything felt so rushed. Not to mention apparently 95% of the mutants in 1961 are white.

  • Eme

    “The rampant genderfail when it came to the depictions of Emma Frost, Angel Salvatore, Mystique and Moira McTaggert”

    A-freaking-men. Apparently, women cannot do something heroic (or evil) without wearing lingerie, or some other skimpy ensemble. I am especially upset with the portrayal of both Emma Frost and Moira McTaggert. 

    Emma Frost plays a strong female character in comics. She has a bachelors degree in education with a minor in business and is founder and CEO of Frost Enterprises.

    Moira McTaggert has an intelligence that rivals that of Professor X. In the comics, she was one of the world’s leading authorities on genetic mutation. 
    She eventually creates a Mutant Research Center. She went to Oxford University, for fuck’s sake.

    They could have done so much more with these central female characters. But noooooo. All both of them did was prance around in short skirts, secondary to the male characters whom, if the movie stayed true to the comics,  they are supposed to be leading

  • Frustrated Fan

    Halfway into the movie I got really excited to see not one, but two brown faces as part of the team that was assembled: Darwin and Angel. Fifteen minutes later, one is killed off while another switches over as a villian.

    I was really upset at the end of the movie to see that the only main characters who didn’t die or become evil were not only all white, but also all men (I’m including Beast, despite the fact he can also be considered blue, and excluding Moira McTaggert, since she played an ancillary role throughout the movie). Really Hollywood? Really? Did you not notice what you were doing?

  • Martini-Corona

    So glad you’re covering this. All of this stuffed bugged me, esp. the first and last bulletpoints (Darwin-as-redshirt plus all the characters of color ending up bad). (I’m white, FYI.)

  • Anonymous

    The racial undertones of the movie were SO clear! I was so excited to see the movie because of all the messages intended for the queer community.  I wonder why the messages about race were not thought about nearly as mindfully…

  • http://twitter.com/robinskull Meg

    In the same vein as talking about X-Men’s appropriation of marginalization language, I found it doubly troubling that in all that they used it for mutants, there was no actual mention of the actual civil rights movement, which you know, WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING in 1962, the year the movie is supposed to take place in.  The country would be in the midst of freedom rides, sit-ins, forced integration, etc etc, but none of that is brought up.  Race is never talked about, not even with the inclusion of Darwin and Angel; they showed us the sexism of the sixties (“back to the secretary pool for you!”) but the racism was pretty much erased.

    And speaking of Darwin, I would have been more upset if I hadn’t seen it coming from a mile away.  Score one for incredibly low expectations?

    I think my main complaint with the film though was that it felt like I was watching two different movies.  The first, and demonstratively better movie, was Origins: Magneto where in Michael Fassbender schools us all with his gravitas and mad acting skills.  The second was like the live action 1960s version of  X-Men Evolution, it was all Wow!  Groovy!  Whats you’re power?  Lets come up with superhero names! 

    Personally I would have been fine just watching the first movie, with maybe some more Nazi hunting and Eric/Charles friendship moments and a little less of the high school shenanigans. 

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps the reason why the historical race relations in the Sixties is never mentioned is because the whole X-Men franchise is supposed to be a juggernaut of a metaphor for the race relations of that time?   

      Just putting that out there….::shrug::

      • http://twitter.com/robinskull Meg

        Oh no, I hear ya, I just don’t like it.

        It’s like why make this grand metaphor about how a minority group is oppressed and how terrible that is, but then ignore that oppression when the minority group your metaphor is based on, actually shows up in canon. 

        That coupled with the fact that the movie embodied some of the most
        blatantly crappy poc tropes, mainly Black Dude Dies First and Dark is
        Evil, and it’s just like, UGGHH.

        But I say this all as someone who did in fact enjoy the movie, and who is actually an X-Men fan, like an I’ve read 40+ years of X-Men comics and may or may not have owned an X-Men comforter kind of fan.  And I absolutley realize what a central premise it is to the franchise, I just wish they could do it in a away that doesn’t erase the oppression it’s trying to highlight.

        • Anonymous

          But I say this all as someone who did in fact enjoy the movie, and who
          is actually an X-Men fan, like an I’ve read 40+ years of X-Men comics
          and may or may not have owned an X-Men comforter kind of fan.

          My ten year old self wrote fan fic after watching the show. From what I can recall, silver braids and silver eyes and BFFs with Wolverine and Jubilee.  Clearly, no one here will judge you for a comforter.

          • Anonymous

            …hold on, Meg. Let me state for the record that, in the lost chat, I was teased by the Peditrix (combo of “publisher” and “editrix) herself about writing fan-fic because I said, to quote my gurl Sarah Jaffe, this X-men is a love story about Charles and Erik. Come to find out none other than James McAvoy said the exact same thing.

            ::does fan-fic writer’s dance::

          • http://twitter.com/robinskull Meg

            Heh, even the actor’s have slash goggles!!

          • http://twitter.com/robinskull Meg

            It’s moments like these that remind me why I love this place so much :)

  • http://twitter.com/danthrasher Daniel Thrasher

    I’m seeing it this afternoon, so I’m not really informed as much as I should, but it makes no sense to kill someone who’s power is purely manifested to keep him alive.  Make him quit the team when he can’t choose how it works, sure. that would be an easy way to write him out, but killing him?

  • Anonymous

    Hell, lemme start off the convo…all I could do was facepalm when Darwin dies.  I thought, “Really, movie X-men?! Really?!” It waw bad enough the franchise couldn’t make Storm righteous (even though she’s damn integral to the comics–and, to be fair, Halle Berry is half-responsible for that half-assed characterization of Storm). Then the writers employed one of the oldest PoC-erasure tricks in the books: Killing the Black Person.

    Just fucking done-zo.

    On the Dude Tip: Michael Fassbender. That man foined the shit out of that flick, didn’t he? ::fans self:: 

    • JHLazarus

      Does it make up any ground with you that he died trying to protect his friend? I did not like that they killed Darwin, not because he was a black character but because I wanted to see his power explored more. I think the characterization of these “kids’ as acting immature is probably pretty accurate as this is the first time they could ever let their guard down in front of others and it also lends itself to the whole realization when Darwin dies that they must train and be better than their enemies are. All of these origins stories must go through the same literary bildungsroman trek as any coming of age story and the realization of responsibility is one of the biggest parts and usually in comics a death for which the characters are at least partially responsible is part of that trek.

      • Anonymous

        Nope.