Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Stars: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Michael Fassbender
X-Men First Class is an enjoyable, action-packed, summer blockbuster that tells the tale of the origins of this iconic group of superheroes and villains who have come to comprise the franchise. First Class is a prequel, providing us with the background of Charles Xavier, Magneto, and other characters who feature prominently in other X-Men films.
Overall, the dialogue and story of X-Men First Class is compelling and dynamic. It is an action film worth seeing. The film engages theological and philosophical concerns that should be of note for Christians, including human origins, community, and good and evil.
The Controlling Paradigm: Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory
The X-Men franchise is undergirded by Darwinian evolutionary thought. While this should not be enough to deter Christians who reject this idea from viewing the movie, it is an important concept of which to be mindful. In the X-Men series of films, the central characters have experienced a genetic mutation, resulting in extraordinary superhuman power, such as telepathy (Charles Xavier, Emma Frost), the power to control metal (Magneto), or the power to shape-shift (Mystique). Mutants represent the next step in human evolution. Unlike Spiderman, these powers are not the result of a freak accident or misguided science, but are rather inherited aspects of each person that are discovered and integrated into that person’s identity. X-Men, then, provides a springboard for Christians seeking to discuss human origins and human nature.
The Search to Belong, Unique Giftings
Because of unique mutations, each character in First Class struggles with an identity crisis. They know they are different. Mystique and Beast, in particular, portray the deep struggle to belong, and for a teenage audience that has consumed the comics and frequented the X-Men films, these themes resonate. They too know what it means to be different, to long for an accepting community, and to ponder deeply how their unique gifts might find expression in a meaningful yet powerful way.
As a long time youth worker and volunteer, I have had discussions about identity, belonging, and unique gifts with many teens. Yet I know these concerns are not unique to youth, but extend to adulthood. Christians can offer both meaningful community and a way to understand and exercise our uniqueness in ways that give witness to our being created in the image of God.
Good and Evil, Heroes and Antiheroes
The relationship of Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) is central to the narrative of First Class, and McAvoy and Fassbender’s portrayal of these two characters is excellent. The character development, the dialogue, and the profound depth of difference between these powerful mutants, possessing very different visions for the exercise of their powers and the future of humanity, is profound.
Scarred by his experiences in the concentration camps of World War II Germany, power and dominance is extolled by Magneto, who envisions mutant-kind as superseding and eliminating humans. Xavier, on the other hand, believes that humans and mutants can realize a new future together, and offers himself as a bridge between two differing communities in a spirit of servitude and humility. The stark difference between these visions, and the conflict that ensues, drives the story.
Christians are called to engage, shape, and speak to our world while remaining distinct. Jesus prayed that his followers would be in, not of the world. X-Men First Class is a film that Christians can enjoy and critically engage, using its story to point back, to highlight, and to contrast with our own story, so that we might better know our own identity and calling as the people of God.
As art, X-Men is an enjoyable film. As a conversation partner, Christians should find points of agreement and disagreement.
Originally posted on June 15, 2011