Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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movie: x-men first class

I've been trying to figure out how to review this without gushing on archetypes and good intentions, because in a surprise twist, our archetypes are mixed and not very archetypical and good intentions aren't even in the running when the intention is survival.

It happened like this.

Note: practical recap of movie below. Spoilers. Lots of spoilers. For pretty much everything.

It's an old story; a basically good but misguided antihero trips down the good intentions path toward doom, leaving the too-good, priggish BFF to sigh in disappointment and tearfully move on while former BFF threatens him with death, and the sad BFF continues on his straight and narrow path that he finds so natural he can't understand why anyone would choose otherwise, cry unhappy tears into his pillow at night, because if only, if only former BFF understood. It's obvious. Why would you choose anything else?. Which X-Men was all about with Charles and Erik; you could practically hear the rising music.

I tend to be more sympathetic to the villains at that point; I mean, it's one thing to be like, evil, but man, your plans fail, you're locked up, and that's not punishment enough? Like, you have to have Sad Priggish Former BFF radiating disappointment at you, too? And we wonder about supervillian recidivism; it's not like that shit gets you hot to join the Way of the Light.

This isn't that story.

On a stretch of deserted beach surrounded in warships on the cusp of an apocalypse, Erik Lensherr killed Charles Xavier, slowly, deaf to the sound of his screams, his sobbing pleas, as he looked into the eyes of the man who was his best friend and watched him die and changed the course of destiny that would have cemented a partnership unlike anything the world had ever seen and created a world where human would be a filthy word.

This? Is a much better story.


Charles is many things, but priggish, no; brilliant, hilariously young and not good with people, a little arrogant, intensely loyal, surprisingly intense when mutants are concerned, sweetly intentioned, basically good, and still not sure who he is. Contrast to Erik, who is brilliant, intense, focused, extremely good with people when needed, and knows exactly who he is; he just has another mission before we get to that.

Note: I've often had problems with how, in general, the concept of telepathy is treated in terms of extrasensory powers, contrast to how it's treated if you have, say, super sensitive smell or a tail. One of the few shows ever to even attempt to examine it is, of all things, TNG, when Deanna Troi lost her empathy briefly and it was finally--finally--acknowledged that it's a fundamental part of their makeup and living without can be like losing an entire sense you've had all your life, it hurts and it doesn't exist in a vacuum where the brain doesn't realize the wrongness of not being able to do that when the brain is wired to do that. And it's just as mutilating to lose that--or be required not to use it--as it would be for a person born with sight to be required to live most of their lives with their eyes closed except for brief instances when other people permit them to briefly use their own goddamn sense.

Charles does not have this problem; it's refreshing. Unmalicious, casual, easy use, integrated into his daily life like any other sense; it was not even jarring, it was handled so smoothly and competently, as a sense instead of a power. Charles is shaky on who he is, but not so much with himself and what he can do. Hilarious, adorable, using genetics and mutation as a pick-up line (hello, Charles, your geek is fucking hot), casually and innocently connecting heterochromia iridum with what he is, what Raven is, combines a terrifying kind of innocence and an interesting (and possibly instinctual) need to appear harmless to normal humans. Interesting because Charles does not yet consciously think "I don't trust humans" and that's fucking dangerous, because he's living it as much for Raven as for himself.

And he doesn't really realize it.

Charles meets Raven as children in his kitchen; she takes the shape of his mother, and Charles' blank look when she offers hot chocolate if he goes to bed ("My mother has never been in a kitchen in her life. If she wanted me to have hot chocolate, she'd get a maid to make it." Telepathically spoken, btw, and I want to say the actual sentence is "She'd yell for a maid to do it" but I'm not sure). Being below the age of reason and so busted, she transforms into her correct gorgeous blue form. Charles' utter delight is obvious; a mutant! Like him! Blue! (From experience with kids that age, the obvious response; who doesn't want a cool neat-colored best friend?) From the beginning, Charles finds all mutations equally awesome; auburn hair, differently colored eyes, blue skin. Being a kid, of course he wants his new best friend to move in so they can play together forever; being Charles Xavier, he pulls that shit off in ways unknown.

(I have a theory on that if I'm right about the implications of the movie about Charles' childhood; mind-whamming Mummy and Daddy was probably not even necessary. Charles came down to the kitchen with a baseball bat and was really startled to see his mother and not just because she was in the kitchen; when he asks why she didn't tell him she was there, the implication is her presence in his life is the thing that's unusual. They probably never noticed the blonde girl that appeared in their son's life; maybe they assumed they just had a second child they forgot about slightly more thoroughly than they did the eldest one. Charles from the first had the feeling of someone who had no idea he was supposed to be taken care of; it's far more natural, even at ten years old, to care for others.)

In this, Charles never changes consciously; all mutations are beautiful and fantastic. Raven switching forms in front of him is as casual and unremarkable as his use of telepathy; nothing to worry about. Right up until it's in front of other people, years later in Oxford, and that easy casualness vanishes when Raven switches eye color in front of a girl he's hitting on; a girl, by the way, who is baseline human with interesting eyes. His first instinct isn't to play it off, or get away from Raven to break association, just in case; his first instinct is to grab Raven and get the fuck away from there because yeah, humans and mutants must live in peace but that doesn't mean he understands that means he might have to trust them. And he trusts humans, but only when they aren't a threat to him and his.

Erik's life from the day of the bent gate does not get better. He meets Sebastian Bacon--er, sorry, Sebastian Shaw--who embodies the stereotype of the middle aged, fussy scientist for whom knowledge is so much more important than people and on first glance the kind of professor who might sacrifice all in the Pursuit of Science. Fussy and impatient, he tries to make Erik move the coin in his slightly claustrophobic, cluttered office; Erik fails, fails, fails. Muttering to himself about how the Nazi's suck but hey, their methods, not terrible, two guards come with Erik's mother between them and the scene pans open as we stare blankly at a side profile of Erik standing too-thin and helpless in front of that desk and now see the glass wall and doors that show an operating room the likes of which even Dr. Frankenstein could not have entered without horror, white walls and flat cold medical beds, gleaming chrome and chilly glass and a neat line of gleaming metal knives of every size imaginable.

Sebastian isn't a Nazi and a scientist he will never be; he doesn't need the excuse of an organization or a passion for his evil. He's perfectly happy to carry on by himself.

Erik has to the count of three to move a coin or his mother dies; the coin never moves, even when everything else did when the bullet ended her life before his eyes. Sebastian watches in breathless joy as Erik's consumed by his rage and grief; afterward, he wraps an arm around Erik and shares his conclusions: Erik's power comes from rage and pain and walks away to plan Erik's future with a smile, leaving the coin pressed to Erik's palm, letting the failure of gravity illustrate his point.

Erik never really had a chance.


After Charles gets his doctorate in genetics--and God, his geek is ridiculously awesome--he's approached by Moira MacTaggert, a CIA agent who on a stakeout at the Hellfire Club Stripper Night Special infiltrated the club and watched them manipulate a general into planting missiles in Cuba. She asks Charles about mutants, him being the leading expert; with a charming lack of boundaries, he examines her memories and Charles, Raven, and Moira make for the US to sit in a room with the CIA, meet Stryker (oh, lovely), and attempt to reveal himself as a mutant; surprisingly, telepathy isn't convincing; Raven takes matters into her own hands, and immediately, The Man in Black Who Is Played By Oliver Platt offers to take them to his research facility when the CIA wants to take them into custody.

"Custody" and "Research Facility" of course does not sound encouraging: a human would be terrified and panic; another mutant might attack; Magneto would shove their fillings down their throats. Meet Charles Xavier, who uses his telepathy like he breathes and only trusts humans when he doesn't have to interact with them.

Moira's partner gets frozen at a water fountain while Charles guides her to the parking garage, where he Man in Black Who Is Played By Oliver Platt (Oliver!MiB for short) protests until Charles changes his mind with an amused flicker of guileless eyes, because he trusts humans, really, but only when he can control them.

Meanwhile, a Swiss banker frowns over a suitcase filled with gold from a potential investor, but the frown is only for form; it's origins are an atrocity, but for the right price, even atrocities are forgivable. The suitcase is the extent of Erik's subtlety; when the banker won't use his mouth to answer his questions, Erik borrows it for instruction in one of the ways that suitcase was filled with gold and how it was stolen from the bodies of his people. Erik doesn't want or need the distance of weapons to hurt someone; he's already a weapon, and he needs to feel their hurt, even though it can never, never ease his own.

Unsurprisingly, exodentia by smile is convincing; Sebastian is in Argentina.

Around the time Charles is meeting Moira and contemplating the CIA, Erik stares bitterly at a picture of Sebastian in Miami at an Argentinian bar with three men who weren't born anywhere in the southern hemisphere. Hearing one say he was from Dusseldorf, Erik realizes that you can have three birds in the hand and go after the bird in the bush later. It's not like he has anything else to do.

So that ends well.


Their first meeting really is the action-adventure equivalent of a meetcute--see Erik try (awesomely) to kill Sebastian and company with a giant goddamn anchor (this is the coolest thing ever). See Charles leap from a perfectly good law enforcement ship into the ocean (Christ, Charles, you do remember you're telepathic, right? Could have yelled from the ship first? Right, never mind, carry on). See Charles grab Erik and drag him toward the surface fighting every inch of the way and telling him the obvious (hello, you can't breathe water--I don’t think?) and more obvious (there'll be other chance) and completely unspoken (mutations are so hot--wait, did I think that out loud--no, Charles, don't worry, we got that from context, trust me) and the new and impossible (You aren't the only one. You aren't alone. You will never be alone again.)

It actually takes very little--and I mean, like, no--persuasion to stop Erik from wandering off again, and I'll be honest, Charles is charismatic and awesome and leaning sexily against a building, but I'm going to say it wasn't the world's least effective recruiting sentence (that was so not a speech) that convinced Erik to turn around but part three of that sentence, because that was not a recruitment speech.

Raven, Charles, and Erik go to meet Oliver!MiB's scientist, Hank, who a.) Oliver!MiB did not know was a mutant (thanks Charles!) and b.) has awesome feet and c.) is ridiculously stupidly hot and d.) is weird about his feet. Which--okay, seriously? You are self-conscious about a part of your body that you can hide with some decent footwear? Whatever. After showing of a bit, we get taken to Cerebro Mark I, which is a colander attached to thick spaghetti (…why are you putting that on your head, Charles? Erik thinks you are adorable. He already sees you need supervision like whoa, you get this, right?) and lo, Charles can see all the mutants in the world (and you are having…fun there, Charles? Righty-o, carry on). And he and Erik will go get them.

Remember what I said about Charles not yet sure of who he is? During a meeting with Oliver!MiB, Oliver is all WE SHALL RECRUIT which Erik brings to a screaming halt; their own kind should get them, emphasis theirs. Charles, who hadn't had any particular feeling on the subject before that instantly agrees; their own kind should. Humans need not apply.

(Erik also does not use great recruitment techniques, but you don't need them when your audience already has the same beliefs you do. Y'know?)

We end up in a strip club to recruit Angel (thank you for that bed scene forever), and meet Wolverine (hilarity), see Havok in prison (IDEK), Darwin driving a cab (subtle, Erik, very subtle), Banshee traumatizing fish because a girl turned him down (that's--freaky), and add Hank the Wonder Feet and we have a team! A terrible, terrible team who makes Rogue look totally in control of her powers (think about that one). Tossing them in with Raven, Erik and Charles go off to talk about Serious Adult Things Happening in Russia (where Sebastian might be) while the kids get to know each other. This leads to mass property destruction, at which time Erik and Charles come back to stare at them all disapprovingly and the kids defiantly stare back at their parents, because kids these days have no respect for their elders.

In Russia, we learn just how comfy Charles is with his powers.

a.) makes them all invisible with the power of his mind.
b.) takes over someone's mind near the--big big mansion house?--to watch and listen to events.

When it turns out its' not Sebastian but Emma Frost (this is so depressing, IDEK what they were thinking with this role, unless they were going with Sebastian's theme of child abuse fucked Emma up forever, which I think is likely with her reactions through the movie if he got hold of her at a young age) and everyone is ready to pack up and leave, Erik leaps into action because fuck this, not Sebastian but like I said, Erik subscribes to getting both the birds in the hand and the birds in the bush. Charles, proving that leaping from perfectly good boats into water is not the exception but the rule, runs after him, pausing to knock out a panicked guard wrapped in barbed-wire beforehand (this is the first time I've seen Charles' active altruism in action when it's not personal; interesting) and show off insta!lingualism which Charles speaking Russian is so hot I can't even stand it. Once inside, we find Russian Guy eagerly enjoying the favors of Emma's mental projection of herself while she waits, bored, for I guess this particular interruption.

Recognizing Charles as the telepath she'd sensed before Erik's Great Anchor Adventure, she turns to diamond (very cool) which means he can't read her but doesn't mean Erik can't tie her up with metal and start to choke her with it; even diamond can't stand up to Erik's rage, apparently. When she changes back, looking slightly less bored, Charles proves he is the badass telepath whom all other telepaths fear as he opens up her mind and a disturbingly fifth-grade-esque map appears to carefully explain--with tiny toy ships exactly what Sebastian is planning. This would be World War III: The Mutants Take the World.

Charles does not find this groovy at all.

Meanwhile at the ranch--or the CIA--people abruptly vanish to fall out of the sky. This is probably one of the more unsettling things I've ever watched, I'll be honest; that was terrifying. As Azazel creates a rain of men, not so much hallelujah, Sebastian and Riptide (tornados at command) engage in mass murder to find the mutants and Shaw make an even less convincing recruiting speech than Charles (which is saying something). Angel, former stripper with butterfly wings turned CIAesque operative, is up for it; Darwin fakes it long enough for Havok to try and destroy everything and is killed by Sebastian in again, one of the creepier ways I've seen (it's not easy to describe and not impressive either when written; watching it is pretty horrifying).

When Charles and Erik get back, they have no research facility and a team down two players; Charles, of course, wants to call the whole thing off. Erik, for whom there is no stop, ever, disagrees. Raven backs them up, citing Darwin's death, but like I said, Charles is not one to need recruitment speeches and was there with Erik's first disagreeing frown.

Training then commences at Charles' house, the future home for Xavier's School for Gifted Children. Its' kind of horrifying (best. Thing. Ever). Methodology is somewhere between "Be inspiring" and "Push them from windows and tops of satellites" and "Give curt speeches about loving yourself" and "Go get 'em, tiger, as soon as I get the fuck out of the room", while Erik hopefully gives Charles a gun to shoot him with and Charles looks at Erik like Erik just told him he really only likes girls after all. But! Better idea!

Move the satellite

(The satellite is the size of a high rise. It's fucking huge. It's like, the satellite that other satellites talk about crushing them in their sleep and makes them feel inadequate. It's huge, okay? Fucking huge.)

Erik looks at Charles like Charles just stated a preference for anyone in the world but him, but tries anyway, because convincing Charles is not, but adorable he is. Charles thinks anger isn't enough to lift submarines or move gigantic satellites; what we need is the perfect place between rage and serenity! And he knows how to do that!

(People trying to shove their hands down my jeans have been less subtle than this.)

Charles makes a vague "I want to be inside you" gesture like Erik's expression isn't already "Yes, please" and Charles pulls up one of Erik's oldest, sweetest memories of his family; coming out of it (reluctantly), Charles and Erik wipe tears away while Erik casually moves the satellite and looks at Charles with an obvious "yeah, it was good for me."

Eventually, Banshee learns to fly, Havok is equipped with a thing that controls his powers so he can use them and not kill everyone, Mystique attempts seduction of Erik in several forms, but he's only interested when she's blue, and Hank comes up with a way for he and Mystique to control their physical mutations but not hurt their powers. Mystique isn't too sure about using it; Hank says she's only beautiful when she's shifted into a more human looking guise and wanders off to shoot up like the idiot he is.

This also does not end well.

Coming back the next morning, they get hilarious uniforms and wait for Hank in the hangar where a completely unexpected plane is waiting for them. Hank eventually shows up and in a shocking turn of events that couldn't possibly have been predicted by any theme in this movie, has turned blue and furry and I feel weird saying this, but really hot because I was trained by Wolverine to find growling bullet-proof. He's also goddamn badass; Mystique is delighted (genuinely, not scheudenfreudly, but radiating the same generalized "mutations are awesome!" thing that Charles does so well), while Erik mentions he looks great, which leads to Hank snapping out a hand to strangle him (I hate myself; this is really hot) and growl about not caring for people making fun of him. Havok, who up until now has found Hank boring and kind of lacks filters or the ability to fake anything, says he looks badass with such sincerity I immediately love him more than anyone ever. So, I think, does Hank. Hank could do worse; Alex is very pretty.

Hank states he is flying, and on question, looks annoyed; of course he can fly it. He built it. (And designed a serum that makes your mutation happen faster. Hmm. Cerebro now makes me even more nervous).

Our heroes are tossed into the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as it was actually caused by Sebastian (this makes a creepy amount of sense if you think about it) and the world is on the cusp of war. After Banshee locates Sebastian via yelling into the water (this is also pretty cool), Erik and Charles mindmeld in a breathtaking display of utter yes please more for Erik to grab the submarine and throw it onto the conveniently placed island. Grumpy, Sebastian goes to suck up power from his private nuclear reactor (yeah. I know) while wearing an eerily familiar helmet that blocks telepathy. Charles sends Erik, Havok, and Banshee to get to Sebastian while Mystique stays with him and Moira and Charles goes into Deep Mental Communion with Erik.

Erik finally gets to Sebastian's Special Nuclear Room and Charles gets cut off; Sebastian doesn't really get Erik's silly vendetta--they believe the same things. You are me! Which Erik of course has never denied; it's not about starting Mutant Supremacy at all; it's about killing Erik's mother. During the fight the room's walls crack, which means Charles stops going into withdrawal in the plane and abruptly, a single metal filament grabs onto Sebastian's helmet and jerks it off, leaving him vulnerable. He has a moment of horrified awareness before Charles freezes him in place, saying a little desperately that he can't hold him very long.

And Erik murmurs an apology and then puts on the helmet.


This is what happens.

In the ship, Erik takes out the coin that he couldn't move when his mother died. Flipping it into the air, he counts to three before it slowly, slowly penetrates Sebastian's head. In the plane, Charles begins to scream as Erik kills him, unable to let Sebastian go since that means Erik will die and therefore experiences execution in Sebastian's skin. As the coin exits, Sebastian and Charles both collapse, Sebastian's dead and Charles isn't, but I’m not sure Charles could tell the difference.

Erik breaks through the submarine walls to float Sebastian in Symbolism: Crucifixion style while preaching mutant supremacy. If Erik's timing is rather bad, it does get worse. The Russians and the Americans unite in terror in the face of all that mutant power and turn on them, sending a volley of missiles that Erik stops and starts to turn back on the ships.

Charles, still reeling from This Is Not My Afterlife After All (though it will be his hell, very soon), tries to stop him, desperate, as Moira emerges from the plane to begin shooting at Erik to stop the missiles. Instead of just jerking the gun from her hand, Erik, desperate to show off his imperviousness to bullets, deflects them and one goes straight into Charles' spine.

Charles' scream distracts him from mass murder and Moira; catching Charles in his arm, Erik removes the bullet and tries to kill Moira. Charles distracts him by telling him it's not Moira's fault, it's Erik's.

Erik lets him go.

Eventually, Erik calls for recruits and Raven, after unconvincingly stating she'll stay with Charles, joins him when Charles sends her away. Havok, Beast, and Banshee stay with Moira to help Charles, we hear Charles say he can't feel his legs; next thing, Charles is mindfucking Moira and going into hiding, and the movie comes to an end.

And here is where I get irritable with the writers for fucking up the ending as it made no sense in terms of everything.

There was no reason for Erik and Raven to leave Charles on that beach, not practically, not philosophically; there was every reason to stay. Erik's philosophy and Charles's are at odds, but not yet irreparably. Raven's relationship with Charles wasn't nearly strained to the point of abandoning him to die. There was no fucking reason in movie logic for this to happen. They split philosophically is not a problem; they mortal enemy because Charles, recently tortured and newly paralyzed, is a bit cranky and not interested in Philosophical Life Lessons is stupid.

Approaching it metatextually, it doesn't work; they aren't enemies yet. And the movie did a fantastic job of getting across that Erik's world view wasn't unreasonable and that Charles was a little too idealistic. What made Erik's worldview fucked up was a.) sacrificing Charles' sanity for revenge (Charles stated he couldn't hold Shaw very long, so Erik putting on the helmet to block Charles ability to possibly manipulate him doesn't make sense; blocking it so as to avoid listening to Charles screaming out what he was doing to Shaw? Likely. Especially since Charles couldn't get away from it without letting Shaw go and signing Erik's death warrant), b.) leaving (sacrificing) Charles for a philosophical point by abandoning him newly shot on the beach after being the one who caused him to be shot.

The thing is, Erik's' view of the world isn't entirely wrong; while Shaw was the one that tortured his mother specifically, humans in the form of Nazi's set the ball in motion; the worst things ever to happen to Erik Lensherr happened due to humans. Shaw just took advantage of human frailty and the horror of the apocalypse. He was tortured by Shaw, but because humans put him in that position, made him vulnerable to it, caused the death of his parents. Even if Shaw hadn't come into the picture, Erik's' family would have died, and likely Erik with them. Shaw, in a fucked up way, saved his life.

The thing is, Charles' view of the world wasn't entirely right, but suffered a dramatic and horrific change. Charles didn't trust humans and saw mutants as the natural evolution that would eventually (from how his thesis was framed) lead to human extinction. While showing a completely understandable pacifistic streak, Charles is ruthless when it comes to the safety of mutants under his care; he has no problem mind-whamming when necessary, and has a laudable lack of stupid scruples that are guaranteed to get him or someone else killed. Philosophically, Charles and Erik were divided only in terms of casualties; Charles would rather do it without a bloodbath, while Erik wasn't particularly picky. They were the better men, and Charles believed it, until Erik proved him wrong; they weren't.

The worst things that ever happened to Charles Xavier happened due to mutants, happened due to his best friend, his ally, happened to him by the direct hand of someone who claimed mutants were better than humans and then proved in all ways that the difference between mutants and humans was only in power; when Erik had power, he used it no differently, and while those men following orders was no excuse for their actions in trying to kill the mutants on that beach, Erik's life was no excuse for fucking over his friend for the sake of revenge, or abandoning him to die on the beach because Charles wasn't ready to lie.

And I am far more pissed with the movie for fucking up Erik's character, because the missiles made sense, but requiring a philosophical point he just proved false--mutants are not better--to be upheld by someone who just got a bullet in his back because Erik couldn't just get the fucking gun out of her hands instead of showing his god among menness--that makes no sense.

So I have a theory. It is not a good theory, but it at least works with Raven's characterization--seriously, writers, you fucked this one up--and with Erik's.

A.) They had no idea of the extent of the damage, as Charles was still both articulate and a telepath. Erik was still pissed at Charles for totally failing to see his point (it being a shitty point given at the worst time possible), and when Charles said he knew she wanted to go with Erik, he gave her a mental push to do so.
B.) Charles waited deliberately until everyone was gone but his allies to admit that he couldn't feel his legs.
C.) Erik will never be able to completely extinguish Charles' accusation as false, and can't forgive Charles for making it. That guilt combined with his own certainty means he has to prove Charles wrong; if Charles is wrong about mutant supremacy obviously he is wrong about Erik's responsibility for the accident--and it is an accident--and proving Charles wrong on the first leads directly to being absolved of responsibility for the second.
D.) Raven, once she realizes what Charles did, won't forgive herself for leaving and won't forgive Charles for making her do so when he actually did need her help. That he'll never admit what he did will never sit right. And they have forty years to let that shit simmer.

The bigger problem throughout the movie was that they really wanted to archnemesis tragedy it while also making everyone sympathetic; the more logical road is divide on philosophy with everyone still friends and then let the next movie bring more of the rancor.

Erik sacrificed his best friend for a philosophical ideal; he can't back down from that. So he has to prove himself right, because otherwise, he'd have to ask an uncomfortable question that Charles will always struggle with and will one day end up with Magneto strapping a seventeen year old girl into a device that will kill her and an entire city; the difference in philosophy that asks if there's a practical difference between murder and sacrifice when the life that hangs in the balance doesn't have the option to make a choice.

It started on a submarine, where Erik Lensherr looked into the eyes of his best friend who said, I don't want to be a murderer, and tells him with a helmet, Too bad. I'm going to make you one. that was longer than expected.

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Tags: crosspost, fandom: x-men first class, meta, movies
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