The first message was confusing. It arrived sometime in the spring of 1980, in the lunchtime playground of Sheredes Junior School. The usual preteen chaos bounced around the tarmac, hopscotching and hula-hooping and Trevor Brooking in the service of entropy. I was busy repairing an android – an obsolete model, all cogs and flywheels, its maintenance bulb insistently recommending a positronic upgrade. That would have to wait: a rough-and-ready patch-up job was all I had spacetime for. These asteroids wouldn’t mine themselves, after all. I rolled up my genetically modified sleeves and got to work.
I’d barely started unscrewing the chest plate when I felt a silence spreading slowly around me, a cloud of inactivity. Pigtails and snot trails froze in mid-air. I began, imperceptibly, to glow. Uh. Did something happen? What?
The android repaired itself. The message came through loud and clear. The words, though, made no sense.
The playground came back to life.
Perhaps Professor Charles Xavier peered briefly through my eyes, saw no wheelchair ramps, and bailed out muttering. Understandable. In those days children with disabilities tended to be segregated in schools, and mutants hid. Disabled mutants were most certainly not welcome in Tory Broxbourne. (I think she was in Debbie Does Dallas, but I’m no expert.)
X-Men: First Class positively goads you into titling a review “X-Men: Second Class” or opining about the price of stamps these days (46p! Cameron’s Britain, ConDemNation, har-de-har, etc, etc). And as you’ll have noticed I’ve given in to temptation. I don’t think it’s a classic film or even a classic genre film, but there’s nothing wrong with a 2.1. That’s what I told myself when I wore my Darth Vader cape to collect my degree from
Chancellor Palpatine Baroness Warnock.
The film’s 1962 setting – around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis – gives it an interesting if slightly clichéd edge. As many have said there’s a strong feeling of Dr No about it, plus a nod towards the war room of Dr Strangelove. (All it needed was Dr Kildare and Doctor Who for the full house.) Toss in a few cheeky references to the earlier films (set in this film’s future) including a couple of show-stopping cameos, and some gags about hair loss, and mix with bucketloads of bangs and crashes, and you’re done. It’s not afraid to laugh at itself and is confident enough to play to the audience’s knowledge of the franchise in its varied forms. It takes a few liberties with some characters, naturally, but X-Men and comics continuity in general is notoriously malleable. Another year, another reboot. A slice of retcon, a spoonful of alternate universe. ANTIHULK UNSMASH! Happens all the time.
Xavier’s second message didn’t reach me for another couple of years, until a run-of-the-peppermill Tuesday afternoon in Home Economics. A laugh, a joke, an innocent pair of tongs. An unequivocal sign. “Don’t trifle with these powers,” said Xavier, which was odd as we were making a flan.
I put away childish things, and the tongs. I didn’t want to speak to Xavier. He was old, bald, and liked hanging out with younger guys. All a bit creepy if you ask me.
In the film Xavier is young, hirsute, and James McAvoy out of Shameless and a Narnian Wardrobe – like David Tennant, a Scot who’s often professionally English. Adding to the accent confusion is Nicholas Hoult, once About a Boy and later of Skins, expanding his acting chops from 1962 All-American totty in A Single Man to 1962 All-American mutant totty here.
Other mini-mutants appear, little x-boys and x-girls, as Xavier trawls the world sniffing out the talent: looking for that elusive X Factor I suppose. Hmm – Simon Cowell: alias Supreeno, special power Hypnosis of TV Executives, costume The Gentleman’s High-waisted Trouser.
The film’s plot ostensibly concerns the nascent X-Men battling a Big Bad called Sebastian Shaw – Kevin Bacon bringing himself home in splendid cackly fashion. His opening scenes are really rather unsettling, almost entirely – and bravely – conducted in several flavours of non-English. In those scenes we discover exactly how the young Magneto – Magnetini? – learns the extent of his powers, and what drives him and the main thrust of the movie.
The film succeeds for me by meshing both the BANG CRASH and subtler stories. The effects-laden set pieces window-dress the underlying
human mutant tensions of the leads. The heart of the film is the heart of the X-Men franchise in comic and film form: the story of Professor X and Magneto, of Charles and Erik. Friends and enemies.
Xavier tried to get through to me regularly in my teens, never defeating my psychic block. He failed again in my college years, despite a cunning flanking manoeuvre at the Societies’ Fair.
It might have been different had he sent a representative. I knew there were other mutants; I knew where they gathered. Had one approached me I might have embraced my mutation much sooner and answered Xavier’s call (his ringtone was mental).
Or I might not. Mutations can take a time to mature, to ripen. The trigger that finally unleashes the power can occur at any time, in any place. In my case, the trigger was Batman. Well, actually, Robin.
Marvel versus DC – as it was, so shall it always be.
Avaragado’s rating: one blueberry muffin