Reporting Eric Henderson
All I ask of my X-Men movies is that at one point or another, one of the mutants has a grand “coming out” scene.
From the very beginning, director Bryan Singer’s interpretation of the Marvel Comics series has put an emphasis on the fission of self-discovery, on that moment when someone who was once ashamed of their “different”-ness hangs up their hang-ups and embraces their inner freak.
Even the otherwise horrendous X3: The Last Stand had one brief moment of high opera when Ben Foster’s Angel, strapped to a table and about to let surgeons hack away at his wings, spreads those white feathers and leaps gloriously out of a 32nd-story window. (Too bad the movie more or less forgot about him after that.)
X-Men: First Class doesn’t have any individual scenes to match Angel’s grand gesture, but in a way the entire movie is fueled by that sense of discovery. Here we get to experience the origins of the series’ most seasoned characters — Professor X, Magneto, Mystique — as they all gather and train to help defuse the Cuban missile crisis, which the movie posits was set up by a ruthless mutant hell-bent on taking over the world once the U.S. and Russia are done sending it into nuclear winter.
In a way, it’s almost too perfect that X-Men is getting the prequel reboot this summer, just a few weeks after Lady Gaga’s new album was released to a grateful army of little monsters. Just as her album’s title track insists her fans were “born this way,” First Class shows Charles Xavier/Professor X (here played with bottomless charm by James McAvoy) helping a bunch of tortured superheroes to stop suppressing the very which set them apart.
At one point early in the movie, the clairvoyant Xavier manages to discern that the bespectacled CIA lab geek Hank McCoy is, in fact, a mutant. He jokes to Hank’s supervisors, “You didn’t tell me you already had one of us working here.” Hank’s immediate, painfully embarrassed reaction indicates he hadn’t yet come out to his co-workers. He may as well have been caught kissing a boy.
In contrast, the rest of the mutants Xavier and brooding Magneto-to-be Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender, reliably sensational) recruit from around the world arrive at CIA headquarters and are instantly heartened to be among others of their own kind, no longer completely alone in the world.
Singer didn’t helm this new installment, but his marks as a scenarist are all over these scenes, and Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn brings a wonky touch to the effects sequences that are otherwise mired in the safe zone most nine-figure productions need to stay within to keep backers’ ulcers from flaring up.
But even if the movie doesn’t break any new ground, every mutant’s coming out is a special event worth acknowledging.