“X-Men: First Class” was a fun movie and the best X-Men film since X2. With its historical setting, it also provides a lot of grist for the blog. The film, like the first X-Men movie, starts with a scene showing the young Magneto at a concentration camp in Poland. We then see (SPOILERS) Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) experimenting on Magneto, as Nazi doctors like Josef Mengele did on twins and others in the camps. The movie seems to draw inspiration from the 2009 Star Trek reboot, opening with scenes of the young Magneto as well as the young Charles Xavier.
Most of the film is set in 1962, during the early years of the civil rights movement. As I mentioned in the previous posting, Professor X/Magneto clearly reflect the Martin Luther King/Malcolm X divide from that period. This is perhaps unconsciously accentuated by the fact that the film shows Xavier growing up wealthy and comfortable, a condition somewhat akin to King’s middle-class upbringing as the son of a minster in Atlanta, while Magneto ‘s life in the camps and loss of his mother is closer to the more difficult upbringing experienced by Malcolm X, whose family was broken up after the death of his father.
The film refernces a number of historical phenomenon. We see Magneto's post-Holocaust revenge campaign, pursuing Swiss bankers, whom were discovered to have kept money deposited by survivors. He follows German war criminals to Argentina, which was the real-life hiding place for a number of prominent Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann.
The backdrop for the movie is the Cold War of the Kennedy years and the film clearly reflects the sensibilities of the early Bond films (The first film, “Dr. No”, premiered in 1962,). Shaw, who is the films’ villain, is the prototypical Bond villain who uses the US/Soviet conflict to promote his own megalomaniacal plan. He comes complete with the kinds of gadgets and technologies that Bond baddies from "Goldinger" to the Daniel Craig films have had.
Shaw’s plan is to get the world to destroy itself by manipulating the world into the Cuban Missile Crisis, which occured in October 1962. Besides the fact that mutants were not actually involved, the film does get at the basic essence of the most dangerous moment of the Cold War (and one could argue, of all human history). The U.S. placement of Jupiter missiles in Turkey, which is depicted in the film, was one of the provocations for the standoff. JFK did order a blockade of Soviet ships going to Cuba, as a middle ground between accepting the missiles or ordering an invasion of Cuba(all depicted well in Kevin Costner’ s 2001 film “Thirteen Days”). The film shows the Russian and U.S. ships meeting “eyeball-eyeball” as they did before the Russians withdrew.
Some of the historical analogies became heavy-handed as Xavier pleads with Magneto not to destroy all the ships that are firing upon them because there are "thousands of good men on them following orders" (a common refrain from the Nuremberg trials). Of course, Magneto responds that he has been at the whim of men following orders his whole life, declaring "Never again."
Still, I'll definitely see the sequels.