Friday, June 24, 2011

Relating to the bad guys...

As X-Men:First Class wraps up we find ourselves watching the all too predictable reaction from the U.S. and Russian military; a joint attack on the mutants who have just averted World War III. Fear is at the very heart of the X-Men as a concept, running right alongside the themes of racism and equality, and the movie is no different from the comic book in that way.

What I did find different was my sympathy for Magneto (both for his lame costume and for the position he finds himself in!) In the X-Men comics I have always found it easy to understand Magneto as a polarizing figure who (depending on the writer) is either a megalomaniac rallying selfish, power hungry individuals to acts of evil or a misguided victim of extreme prejudice lashing out indiscriminately at the world that threatens his species.

In First Class, as he stood on the beach having just saved the world, I found myself relating to him more than I ever have before. Until that moment in the movie I had known that he was a morally compromised, emotionally damaged man who was hoping that vengeance would allow him to release the pain he had carried through his life. In that moment though, I saw him completely as a victim.

Would his reaction have been justified? Absolutely.

Would it have been right? Now that is a much bigger question.He had the power to defend the survival of his people, but was murdering others the same thing as defense? He had stopped the attack of the military completely, but in doing so he had also decided to retaliate. In a Jason Bourne movie I would have cheered the very idea that he was retaliating against people who had so egregiously done him wrong. Why wasn't I hoping for Magneto to do the same? Was it because years of reading the comic book and seeing him pitted against Xavier had cast him eternally in the role of villain for me? Or was it because I understood his power to have put him so far beyond the men and women who were attacking him that I felt retaliation should have been beneath him?

I'm not certain.

But I do know that in this movie I found myself more sympathetic to Magneto than I have ever been in comics. Mankind declared war on mutants, and he responded. Maybe I can take this position because he had not yet attempted the murder of innocents (contrary to Xavier's claim, members of the military engaged in an act of war are not innocent) and when that happens (in the next movie?) perhaps I will no longer find him relatable.

Until then though, I think I'm on Magneto's side.

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