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VIRTUALLY NORMAL | Xavier (James McAvoy, top) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) team up to fight a common enemy in the smart, savvy prequel ‘X-Men: First Class.’

Mutants-as-metaphors? The pro-gay message is unmistakable in ‘X-Men’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

2011 is becoming the summer of supers. And it is a Marvel.

We’ve already had Thor, and before July is over, we’ll have Green Lantern and Captain America. But it will be remarkable if any manage to outdo X-Men: First Class. More than a kiddie version of an established franchise, this prequel has the scope of a Bond film and touches on serious issues like Nazi camps, nuclear annihilation and homophobia. First Class is that rarest of summer movies: A socially conscious superhero comic.

In 1944, pre-teens Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier are leading vastly different lives. Charles lives in a castle on Long Island with his wealthy family, using his psychic powers to carve out an academic career. Meanwhile, Erik finds his ability to control metal with his mind is put to sick use by a Nazi doctor Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) while his family is butchered in a concentration camp.

Eighteen years later, Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) team up, united in their efforts to stop Shaw (himself a mutant of intimidating power) from starting WWIII, in a sophisticated good cop/bad cop routine where they recruit new young mutants to join their cause.

The X-Men have been about outsiders not fitting in since the comics debuted in the 1960s, but it has been since the film series started in 2000 that the obvious parallels between mutant and gay have been most apparent. That’s true even in First Class, set long before the gay rights movement began.

“I didn’t mean to out you,” one character says to a secret mutant, who justifies not telling his boss by saying, “You didn’t ask, I didn’t tell.” “I’m not the only one who is different,” one confesses tearfully. There’s just no way that’s a coincidence.

Especially not with Matthew Vaughn directing. The last four X-Men movies have been directed by capable but quick-to-go-commercial directors, but Vaughn is a savvy, thoughtful director who composes more than he stages. Vaughn has an artist’s ethos, as he proved with his debut feature, Layer Cake, and demonstrated subsequently with the smart, edgy actioner Kick-Ass last year. His style oozes classic craftsmanship (one scene, set in a bar, generates incredible tension as Tarantino did in a similar set piece in Inglourious Basterds, though in an abbreviated version).

There’s an efficiency of storytelling, couched within the conventions of the superhero “origins” format, that’s admirable. It took George Lucas three full films to explain what circumstances made Darth Vader who he was; Vaughn does it in two hours. Of course, Lucas was hamstrung by having to use Hayden Christensen as the conduit for telling that story; First Class benefits from Fassbender’s sexy bravado as Magneto.

For the film — for the series — to work, you need to like Magneto a little to understand how he became a villain. Fassbender is sympathetic and reckless, and when he finally begins to believe in how the cause of mutants must supersede those of humanity, it’s difficult not to detect traces of Larry Kramer and ACT UP! in his passionate, separatist radicalism. It’s enough to make you wanna hold up a sign saying “Mutant and proud.”

Bacon is an unusual but effective choice as the supervillain, though January Jones, in a sexy, Bond-Girl-with-Balls cheesecake performance, more than holds her own.

Ultimately, it’s the message of being virtually normal — that is, redefining the baseline for what normal is — that makes the entire X-Men franchise resonate so strongly with modern, enlightened audiences. That’s especially true here. First Class is just that … in every sense.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Does it matter who sent Leppert’s anti-gay tweet when his website says he opposes civil unions?

Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein, from left, his mother Shirley Schlein, Laura Leppert, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and LCR Treasurer David Keeton are shown during the group’s Christmas Party at Schlein’s home in 2009.

An anti-gay message sent last week from the Twitter account of former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert wasn’t written by Leppert himself but by “an overzealous campaign worker,” according to Rob Schlein, president of  the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans.

Speaking at Log Cabin’s regularly monthly meeting on Monday night, Schlein said Leppert called him just before the meeting to apologize for “the tone of the tweet.” According to Schlein, Leppert said he wasn’t the author of the tweet and agreed to meet privately with Schlein later this week to discuss the issue further.

The tweet, sent on the same day that Leppert announced his resignation as mayor to run for U.S. Senate, criticized President Barack Obama for his decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. The tweet said, “We need leaders in Washington to stand for the principle of marriage between one man and one woman.”

Many in the LGBT community have said they feel betrayed by Lepppert because he was supportive of the LGBT community as mayor, including hiring an openly gay chief of staff and appearing in two gay Pride parades.

Leppert’s Senate campaign spokesman has failed to return multiple phone calls from Instant Tea seeking comment.

Schlein spent several minutes at the start of Monday’s meeting reading a sternly worded, heartfelt letter he wrote to Leppert about the tweet. However, the guest speaker at the meeting, Leppert political consultant Carol Reed, declined to comment on the issue. Reed said she’s advising Leppert on his Senate campaign but is neither his chief consultant nor his spokesperson.

“I’ll let him speak for himself,” Reed told Log Cabin members. “I have nothing to add.”

In his letter, Schlein slammed Leppert for being the only candidate in the race for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat who’s tried to use gay rights as a wedge issue. He also said Leppert is the only candidate who’s posted social issues on his campaign website. In the Issues section of his website, Leppert states that he opposes both same-sex marriage and “government-sanctioned” civil unions.

Schlein said he’s supported Leppert on many key issues — including the convention center hotel and the Trinity River toll road. And he said Leppert attended numerous Log Cabin events as mayor, including the group’s annual dinner and holiday parties at the home of Schlein and his partner.

“With all due respect, nobody likes a flip-flopper or a political panderer,” Schlein said as he read his letter to Leppert aloud. “You’ve left many friends in your wake. This is truly a sad day.”

Below are screen grabs from the Issues section of Tom Leppert’s Senate campaign website:

 

—  John Wright

What will Carol Reed say about Tom Leppert’s gays-under-bus-throwing tweet at Log Cabin?

Then-Mayor Tom Leppert at gay Pride in 2009.

Rob Schlein, president of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republcians, sends along word that political consultant Carol Reed, who’s currently working on Tom Leppert’s Senate campaign, will speak at the group’s regular monthly meeting tonight.

“Many of us have questions about Mayor Leppert’s tactic to lurch rightward in his efforts to run for Senate,” Schlein wrote atop an invite sent out over the weekend. “This has upset many Log Cabin’ers as well as others in the general LGBT community. Carol will answer your questions about his decision, and many others. This should be an interesting meeting!”

Undoubtedly Schlein is referring to the anti-gay message sent from Leppert’s twitter account last week, in which he threw the LGBT community under his Senate campaign bus. Leppert’s campaign hasn’t responded to our messages seeking comment about the tweet, so perhaps Reed will try to make it all better tonight.

The Log Cabin meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at Mattito’s, 3011 Routh St.

—  John Wright