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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

‘The Closer’ cast, Kevin Bacon supporting GLSEN’S ‘Safe Space Kit’ program

I have long been a big fan of The Closer, Kyra Sedgwick‘s show on the TNT network. Now I have even more reason to like the show, Sedgwick and the rest of the cast — and her husband, Kevin Bacon.

The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network — aka GLSEN — has started its Safe Space Campaign, through which individuals can donate $20 and get one of GLSEN’s Safe Space Kits placed in the high school of their choice. The kit, according to GLSEN, “provides educators with tools and resources to address anti-LGBT bullying and create a safe and affirming space for LGBT youth.”

GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey shows that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT youth experienced harassment in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and nearly two-thirds because of their gender expression. The survey also found that having supportive educators drastically improves the school experiences of LGBT youth.

Considering that schools can be such a breeding ground for and hot bed of bullying, I think anything that can help stop the bullying there is a good thing — especially for schools in areas where there aren’t organizations like Resource Center Dallas and Fairness Fort Worth helping get anti-bullying policies and programs in place.

Jonathan Del Arco is the gay actor who plays the gay coroner, Dr. Morales, on The Closer. Del Arco is the one who got Sedgwick and his other castmates to get on board the Safe Space train, and they did it by recording public service announcements encouraging people to support the campaign and donate to it. TNT has posted the PSA on its website.

Then Sedgwick and Bacon went a step further by joining together to film a second PSA about the Safe Space Campaign.

The Closer isn’t the only show to join the Safe Space Campaign, and its stars aren’t the only celebrities involved. You can watch more PSAs here. And even more important, you can donate here to send a Safe Space Kit to the high school of your choice. I’m sending one to my alma mater; I can’t think of a better gift this holiday than to help make LGBT students safer in their schools.

—  admin