X-Men First Class (2011) – ****
X-Men Days of Future Past (2014) – **1/2
In the 1960s, some Civil Rights advocates chose to follow Martin Luther King Jr. while others decided to follow Malcom X.
King was a voice of peace, moderation, and reconciliation. He wanted to create an integrated America. And he argued that if Civil Rights workers acted more Christian and civilized than the segregationists, then average Americans would eventually rally to their cause.
Malcom X demanded equality by any means necessary. His goal wasn’t a color-blind country where black people were the same as white people. He argued that black Americans shouldn’t dream of becoming white people. Because black people were already better.
In every case where an oppressed minority group is fighting for its rights, there are going to be Kings and Xes – moderates who want peace and extremists who want to defeat their oppressors.
2011’s hit prequel “X-Men: First Class” is the best film I have ever seen about the competing philosophies of social revolution. And it’s as good as any super hero movie ever made.
The story takes place in 1962. The Martin Luther King of the story is Oxford Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). He is a mutant with telekinetic powers who recognizes that the ever-growing mutant minority is growing larger. He dreams of a future in which mutants and humans work together to build a better world.
The Malcom X figure is a Holocaust survivor named Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender). He is a mutant with the power to control metal and he has a very different take on the ideal future of the planet. Erik believes that humans will never tolerate mutants. The only solution is for mutants to proclaim their superiority and take their rightful place as overlords of earth.
The wonderful surprise about “X-Men: First Class” is that it doesn’t choose sides. Charles is not the hero and Erik is not the villain. They are two friends with different but equally reasonable points of view. Jennifer Lawrence plays a mutant named Mystique who starts off as friends with Charles but ultimately is won over by Erik’s mutant pride argument and joins the other side.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” has the same cast but a different director. And it’s not nearly as good.
“Days of Future Past” is a Terminator-style action flick about a violent, dystopian future and how all the X-Men banded together to save us from it.
Former enemies Charles and Erik send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 to prevent Mystique from starting the epic mutant vs. human world war.
The story is engrossing. But unlike “First Class,” “Days of Future Past” doesn’t have anything to say. Except “young men of America: give us your $12!”
Basically, the film concludes that Martin Luther King was obviously right, Malcom X was definitely wrong, and militant mutants are bad. Maybe this is all true, but it doesn’t make for an interesting sequel.