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Cinema in Focus: Marvel’s ‘X-Men: First Class’ Is First Rate

When Marvel created the X-Men, it made something special; the prequel reveals why

3 Stars — Entertaining

The popularity of the X-Men series is based in part on the universal experience of not feeling accepted for who we really are. Although we may not be mutants, whatever unique abilities we do have can still isolate us. Such isolation can come from our own insecurities, others’ jealousy and at times a mutual fear because of our differences.

Identifying these powerful human emotions, Marvel creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the X-Men in 1963. Building on their creation, Director Matthew Vaughn takes us back to the beginning of the story with X-Men: First Class and creates an exciting action film with deep human factors.

At the center of the action are two characters who create an uneasy alliance. Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher at age 12 and James McAvoy as an adult) and Erik Lehnsherr (Bill Milner at 12 then Michael Fassbender as an adult) come from opposite ends of the social strata. Xavier is a privileged wealthy Englishman while Lehnsherr lived through the horrors of Nazi Germany as a Jewish child. But they share the fact that both are mutant humans with unique powers. Xavier can both read and influence minds, while Lehnsherr can control metal.

We won’t disclose how their alliance develops except to say that they are not the only humans who have mutated. In this first class of the X-Men, we also have Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz); Emma Frost (January Jones), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Havok (Lucas Till). For true X-Men fans, there is also a cameo appearance from Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

For all who know the X-Men sagas, the moral lessons are obvious: Power is a great corrupter of the soul unleashing a murderous domination; vengeance devours the soul and leaves us only with anger; fear and prejudice can make even governments genocidal; and wars are often the result of manipulations by those who hope to gain from the battles. Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) embodies the self-serving, cruel antithesis of all that is good.

On the other side of the message, X-Men also demonstrate the power of love and respect to create a counterbalance to the evil of this world. But such a balance requires courage and self-sacrifice, something that comes from our spirit within us. This spiritual place, where the struggle between love and hate occurs within each of us, is at the core of the saga as the story continues from this first class. It is, in fact, the struggle of all humanity.

Discussion:

» If you realized that you are a mutated human with special ability, would you hide it to be accepted by your peers, or would you reveal it? If you would reveal it, would you show it to all or only to trusted friends? Why?

» The evil of Sebastian Shaw only uses the Nazi regime to further his individual lust for power. Where do you think such evil resides — within the mind or the soul, or both? What do you believe is the solution to such evil?

» The attempt by Professor X/Xavier to stop the retribution of Metallica when the navies attack costs him his legs. Do you believe this sacrifice is the cost that must be paid to stop evil, or is it a freak accident of the moment? Why?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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