A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

X-Men: First Class (2011)

The latest installment of the X-Men movies is quite likely the best one. Not that I consider myself an X-Men aficionado but I've seen all the films including the mildly interesting Wolverine origins story. When I say it's the best one, I'm referring mainly to the laser-like focus of the story and the captivating performances of the two leads.

The biggest difficulty with most of the X-Men films is the hoardes of characters that take up room in the narrative. Peter Jackson did a generally commendable job in the Lord of the Rings with the myriad of characters that graced the screen. What he did have, was time. In previous X-Men movies, mutants A, B, C, D, E, F, G all competing for screen time could potentially sink the story and turn the show into a parade of supers. X3, which was soundly panned, suffered from a bad case of bloat. I suppose the script is the partially the problem... the two hour format can't have helped and direction must be another factor. While I enjoyed the earlier films (even the much derided X3) and it seemed to me that the characters (apart from a few exceptions) were more or less showcased like chess pieces rather than real people.

This prequel avoids many of those pitfalls by focusing on the origins story of Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr, who later become Professor X and Magneto respectively. They are both charismatic and powerful mutants drawing an increasing number of followers but what drives them is their rabidly opposing views of mutant evolution. Xavier wants desperately to co-exist with "normals" while Lensherr, coloured by a bitter brush with anti-semitism, holds a vehement "them or us" philosophy. They exemplify two sides of the evolution coin in constant tension.

 (Credit: IGN AU)

For me, evolution is a deeply problematic theory of origins, and as a philosophy of life it often comes across as being overly optimistic or horrendously brutal. Either humanity is evolving to a higher state of being or it's a case of survival of the fittest. Neither of which fits comfortably with the biblical worldview that I hold. After several thousand years of recorded human history, it behooves us to face the reality that man is deeply flawed and no amount of window dressing is going to make him better.

 As a morality tale, X-Men feels uneasy because of its biological determinism. A world without fear of God looks for alternatives. Biology may answer some questions but it cannot meet humanity's deepest spiritual concerns. Biology, as we see depicted here, certainly cannot be the arbiter of what's right or wrong.

Xavier believes, naively perhaps, that humans and mutants can live together without fear of one another. Given enough education and time, this could happen. Eric, on the other hand, thinks that "normals" and mutants can't co-exist. Self-interest always rules. Since mutants are a superior form of humanity, it doesn't matter anyway because at the end of the day "might is right".

Both positions are extremes and therefore, untenable. The rule of law must still serve to restrain the appetities and flawed nature of all men. At the end of the day, mutant evolution as depicted in these films only serve to remind us that a man may gain mastery over the elements and even over the minds of others. But at the end of the day, if he cannot master his fallen nature, he is not much more than a weapon for the destruction of himself and others.

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