X-men: First Class is an action-filled sci-fi movie that tells a story of a group of mutants trying to survive in a world where humans consider them a serious threat to the society. The movie is part of the X-men series and this installment is about the history of two mutant leaders who were once good friends, but will eventually become mortal enemies. Before they were known as Professor X and Magneto among the mutant community, Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr were working together to stop the threat against their kind and the worldwide threat that humans brought into this world: an impending nuclear war which the United States and Communist Russia demonstrated during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The real life events depicted in the film make the story even more relatable and in a way give viewers an alternate reality where the problems we are facing in our real world can be fixed by heroes. Failure to deliver the expectation from the government makes them look useless and incompetent. People look up to other sources for relief, fiction or reality. Thus, we indulge ourselves to the different fantasies made available for us to see if it can appease our anxieties and fear. Looking up to superheroes became the measurement of the status of the social issues and problems, and the initiator of the needed change when the government and other authorities continue to fail their roles as the liberator of the marginalized members of the society.
2011: The Year that Was
The movie was released in June 2011, a year when America was going through a lot of financial reforms after the 2009 Great Recession. Financial matters and national budgets became the main agenda in legislative assemblies that is being addressed among other national issues. National leaders also have to contend with the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, reforming the state pensions, worsening unemployment rate, immigration and illegal aliens, foreclosures of homes due to delinquent mortgage payments and jobs for American workers. These national issues are on top of the world crisis brought about by the European debt crisis, the narcotic war in Mexico, the nuclear threats being instigated between Pakistan and India in the Kashmir region, and the concern of the United Nation and the World Bank that the dollar was losing its value as a world currency. Many of these problems and crisis happening around the world were an influence to the plot of the film’s story. Movie goers would have been aware of the film’s storyline, mostly influenced by what they have been going through in real life, from the financial crisis at home to the overshadowing nuclear threat happening on the other side of the world. Basically the director and writers of the film would highlight some of the current issues in the society to put credit on the plot of the movie.
The Superheroes and the Society
Reading fiction is a wish-fulfilling fantasy that makes us follow the stories of individuals who secretly held superhuman powers going around the city to keep it safe. We see these superheroes as champions of the poor and the marginalized who are always seen as the disadvantage and the powerless members of the society. They are the bringer of justice to those who are discriminated and unjustly treated. Superheroes or any individuals with superhuman capabilities are always depicted to act outside the rule of law and they can deliver peace or revolution, by force or by diplomacy, when the government and the concerned society cannot. They are seen as scapegoats and a motivation to rise above the anxieties and fear of the society when people have started to lose their trust in their government. People will look for other ways to fight these oppositions. Watching a hero defeat a villain who characterized those fears and anxieties allow the movie viewers a liberating experience that the challenges in life can be overcome. Basically, a subliminal feel-good experience after the movie is what is worth it before reality again sets in.
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The movie X-men: First Class is a clash between two groups of mutants who have the same objective to save their kind from human aggression. They are locked in a battle of survival where humans are meant to destroy their kind as they are different and are considered a threat to the world. They were also experimenting to find out what exactly are their powers and if they can be used as a weapon to fight enemies in battle. This was highlighted at the start of the movie where it shows a Jewish concentration camp during World War II. The holocaust was an event depicted by the extermination of the Jewish race has moved the world to ensure that this experience shall never occur again. Despite the horrible experience and the commitment, the movie is telling us that humankind has never gotten over that behavior and is doomed to repeat it. The mutants, considered as an evolutionary freak of nature, but is actually a genetic advancement that needs to be understood is the main plot of the X-men series. Superior than their human counterparts, they still have to struggle for their survival.
Their battle for survival was led in two fronts by two prominent mutants: Professor Charles Xavier, or Professor X to his students, and Erik Lensherr, also known as Magneto. One group, Magneto’s Brotherhood, takes an aggressive approach against humans whose objective is to destroy them in order to survive. The other group is led by Professor X, who wished to make the humans understand that their genetic mutation needs to be understood and that they are not a threat to mankind. His group, the X-men, is the protagonist in the film and they are the depiction of superheroes who seek justice for those who are in need. These two leaders arose from different background, thus creating different behaviors when they need to deal with aggression. The mutant who would be known as Magneto grew up from a harsh environment during World War II. A Jewish who, as a child, survived the Nazi’s concentration camp and experimentation of his power, He also witnessed the death of his mother at the hands of the Nazis. His past life experience led him to be violent in front of any aggression. On the other hand, his best friend, Professor X who eventually became his arch nemesis in the X-men franchise grew up from a rich family who have supported and taught him well. He was a product of a society whose environment encourages education as a foundation of one’s intellect. He understood collaboration, relationship, and decision making based on a higher level of moral standard. He produced a group of mutants reared with good education and a friendly environment. These two sets of contradictory mindset became the focus at the end of the movie by which an individual is free to choose on what they wanted to be.
Good versus Evil
Understanding the relationship of X-men and the society we live in today is a depiction of social difference in a multicultural environment. This was inherent in the 60s and 70s in the American society, of which is the same time when the X-men superheroes in the comic books were conceived. The movie was released in 2011, but still carried the same social issue of national identity. The film was produced to explore how it was suitable to look into the topics of identity and belief as the world was fighting a war on terror. The terror in the movie was the nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but in the real world, our society is fighting the war on terror brought about by religion which was about identity and belief. It was about recognition and survival. This became inherent after 9/11 where the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism threatened the American society. This new development created a new kind of anxiety and fear in the American consciousness and is translated into the creation of superhero films fighting basically the same kind of terror.
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In another perspective, a superhero, or a villain for that matter can signify a “god-like” status, able to make decisions without following any rule of law or any moral and social considerations that needs to be approved by the government or a moral organization (97). These institutions are considered irrelevant and useless and we look up to these superheroes as empowered individuals. The X-men in the movie carried a spiritual symbolism, much more divinity, as they mutated beyond the scientific knowledge we knew of. They are obviously more superior to an average human being, carrying American values, considering that this is an American movie production. American movie viewers would be seeing themselves as a more superior citizen and has the ascendancy to instill good among humankind. On the other hand, there are those who will depict themselves as the marginalized members of the society, but yet capable to undermine the interest of superheroes. The antagonists in the film represented that idea. They were nurtured and educated in a different manner, underwent a different experience growing up thus, they perceive things differently. This behavior divided them, especially the relationship between Magneto and Professor X as well as common allies like Raven, who decided to side with Magneto instead of Professor X at the end of the movie.
One of the reasons why we enjoyed watching superheroes on film was our familiarity of their characters since we grew up with them, reading their adventures in comic books. They also relate to us that their superpowers help them overcome evil and they are there to keep everyone safe. In as much as we are entertained and actually enjoy the action-filled fantasy, it has allowed us to immerse with the fact that we come out fulfilled after watching these films. This is true when we can relate to the story, especially if there are social issues involved or events that have somehow affected or influence a part of our life. The film X-men: First Class touched several of these issues that are close to our culture and belief. Humanity, discrimination, loneliness, multiculturalism, indifferences, nurtures were prominent in the story. There is also the nuclear threat event and the prosecution of the Jews that remind us so much that it built up to our anxiety and fear when we were growing up. All these are social issues and problems that are real and unfortunately, continued to exist for decades. It has not abated and we gave up expecting our government to come and fix it. Subsequently, we find solace in entertainment films. Superheroes became the solution to our perennial problems.
- “The Superhero Reader”, edited by Charles Hatfield, Jeet Heer, & Kent Worcester. University Press of Mississippe, 2013.
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