X-Men: First Class
The great thing about prequels is that it includes everybody. You don’t necessarily have to be a big fan of the “X-Men” comic book series to understand what’s happening---and, hopefully, it doesn’t disappoint the die-hard fans too much if the backstory doesn’t meet all their high expectations.
It does, of course, feel comic-book-ish, because it is. The early narrative bumps and skips along almost as if we’re progressing by quarter-panels rather than video. It feels like there are big gaps in the character development, but remember, this is about the action; the plot is just a vehicle. And, because of CGI technology, we can be almost as creative as a comic-book drawing in demonstrating the super-powers of our action heroes. But, we’ll like them better if they’re a little human, too. It’s just that they’re so many of them that our synopsis has to be brief:
“The Professor” is James McAvoy, a “mentalist” with the power not only to read people’s thoughts, but convey his own thoughts telepathically. He’s eager to work with the military, but desires to use his powers for peacemaking, not domination. Erik (Michael Fassbender) endured the ravages of a cruel Nazi torturer, Sebastian (Kevin Bacon), so his metal-bending skills, as “Magneto,” come with a load of anger and desire for vengeance. MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is the CIA agent who doesn’t have any superpowers at all, but serves as valuable liaison to the always-suspicious government bureaucrats. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) can easily morph in appearance, but is insecure about her “natural” state (like a blue character out of “Avatar,” except creepier), and becomes enamored with Magneto for his unconditional acceptance. Then there’s Angel, who has cute little fairy wings, but breathes fireballs, and the brainiac who fixes a self-help potion and turns into a Beast (hate when that happens). There’s Banshee with the rock-splitting voice and Darwin with the adaptability to survive almost anything, and Havok who can hurl thunderbolts but needs practice with his aim (there’s a moral there somewhere about refining whatever skills you may possess). Let’s see, on the bad guy side, Sebastian has henchmen, too: Azazel, the disappearing devil who can transport others with him (well, that would explain Luke 4), and Riptide, who can create a tempest at will (which would explain Mark 4), and Emma, who also has telepathic powers, and is an ice queen, besides.
Whew. That’s a lot of characters to keep straight, and part of the struggle is about who will join up with whom (well, you have to have both good guys and bad guys, because they define each other, right?). Since this context is the 1960’s, we get to jump in on the Cuban missile crisis, and either try to save the humans, or help them wipe each other out so the mutants can take over, but either way, you have to choose which side you’re on.
Ah, comic books. We can make up all manner of fanciful tales, let our imaginations soar, and then when the story is over, walk away with conscience clear and mind uncluttered. You could do a lot worse at the movies.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas