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Thursday, 9 June 2011

X-Men First Class Analysis: Elements of Story

Warning: Beware! A few minor spoilers ahead. ;)

This is not a film review; it’s what the title says it is.

My housemates took me out for a cinematic treat today and thank God they did. I’ve watched all X-Men movies of course, but like with almost any other series (film or literature), I grew uninterested right about installment three. Like with any good story, it is hard to keep the interest and original idea without stepping into the cliché pitfall. However, there is one element that, if presented at the right time, can overturn this effect, and that’s the prequel.

Think about it. Everybody resists the prologue in the beginning of books. Why?
Because people like to hear the story without knowing what happened before that. They want to guess at it as the story unfolds. Naturally, if a prologue adds to the mystery element, which is rare, it’s okay to include it or so I’ve heard. More importantly, however, the prequel carries such power with it that no other story element has: the power of REFLECTION.

Reflection makes you re-evaluate what you already know about the characters and match it to their actions in the past, present and future. But this only works if used in retrospection. So if you lead with the prequel, there’s not much point, is there? It’s the same as the prologue debacle. Essentially, the readers/viewers would like to know how the world they have fallen in love with had come to be. But they want to guess at it first and then see if they were right.

And THAT’s the power of releasing the prequel AFTER the series.

That’s exactly what they did with X-Men First Class. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations because of my exasperation with the last installment, but I gave it a chance because my housemates wanted to see it.

I am very glad that I did. To witness the amazing journey of two friends: Xavier and Magneto was a delicious cinematic treat, indeed. (Not to mention Raven’s essential part in the story, torn between men as she were). Xavier’s unrelenting morals and sympathy for humans was countered by Erik’s (Magneto’s) drive for revenge. Each was right in their own way and that was the exciting part. It’s brilliant really because it makes you ask the question: Whose side would I choose?

To fight alongside my fellow mutants against the people who don’t accept me and wouldn’t hesitate to fire missiles on me. OR to hold onto my beliefs in human kindness and never kill an innocent soul. And which is the easy way when everything goes to hell, or when your life’s at stake? Is there such a way?

Morals. This is yet another element of story and it’s a BIG one. It’s hard to sympathize with someone who’s trying to kill you, yet it comes natural for some people. It’s also hard to leave your friend behind in order to do what you believe has to be done. In this respect, the friendship forged between Erik and Xavier was beautifully portrayed and developed.

So the film dabbed into strong existential questions and those moments truly touched me. I was outraged when the CIA agents made fun of our heroes calling them freaks. I was rooting for Raven to embrace her mutant identity and appearance. And in the end, I had to accept that both of my favorite characters: Xavier and Magneto, even though friends, had to go their separate ways. It happens.

After the movie, a friend and I had a heated debate about who the good guy and the bad guy were. I explained that intentions were not the ultimate judges of character. Ultimately, the consequences of one’s actions matter just as much because even the best intentions can bring on a war.

OK, Magneto wanted to defend his own people. But. He did not hesitate to kill. He did not blink when he killed and he did not differentiate between humans. Xavier on the other hand, was too sympathetic and that was his weakness. Isn’t this beautiful though? This illustration of good intentions as weakness and ferocious drive for revenge as strength. One is obviously good and the other bad, but with good stories and good characters, there comes a point where it’s not just one or the other.

It’s both.

All great stories have one thing in common. There is no absolute good or absolute evil. There’s just shades of grey. So even though I was on Xavier’s side the whole time, I secretly wished that Magneto would get his retribution. (He certainly deserved it.) In moments like this the line between right and wrong blurs and it is in those moments that we show our true colors.

Similarly, if you ask me to pinpoint the most influential character in Harry Potter was, I’d say Severus Snape without blinking or thinking about it. That’s because he was the enigma of the series. Is he good? Is he bad? Rowling craftily inserted the prequel scenes in book 5 (the Marauders) and book 7 (Snape/Lily and Dumbledore/Grindelwald/Ariana), and she did that at the right time because we had reached a point where we NEEDED to know the origins to understand the characters’ present motivations.

That’s what great storytelling is all about: morals and timing. At least in my book.


Post-script: The following elements of story were omitted for editorial purposes: emotional response, effects, and humor. The third has already been discussed here. Any similarities between the author’s logic and actual real-life logic is coincidental. Thank you for reading and feel free to add your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below.

And go see the film, it’s truly spectacular.


Anonymous said...

You make some interesting comments. First, when it comes to X-Men, I thought the movie was magnificent. I rooted for Magneto the whole movie.

Second, I wrote a blog on why movie prequels are bad, but X-Men proved how they can work. It went back far enough in time and took time to develop the characters. Most prequels are made just to cash in on a property and give us a story that we don't care about.

When it comes to prologues we have to be careful. If a prologue is just convenient backstory or an info dump, get rid of it. As an author, that's cheating. Now, if your prologue is giving information vital to the story, then put it in. I can talk about this more, but this is just the comment section.

Great blog, Violeta!

Lyn Midnight said...

Thank you so much, Terrell! You're the best crit partner, truly.

You know what, I could agree with you about prequels BUT if it's done the right way (meaning good plot and the right characters), then it's good, is my point. Will have to read that article of yours, though.

Actually, I'll give you an example which I had to edit out of the post. Have you read Holly Lisle? You don't have to answer here but my thought was: her The Secret Texts series (fantasy) is very good. However, the prequel is even better. Like you said, it was done a good amount of time back and it was done beautifully. I recommend it. :)

Agreed on prologues. I was going to write one for my fantasy novel but thought better of it. :)

Amy said...

Wonderful take on the movie! I watched it the other day and absolutely loved it from beginning to end. Being a prequel, it was actually pretty sad to know how it was going to end. I kept wanting Eric to be not Magneto, but then he isn't really all that bad. It was weird seeing Xavier as a young man, very interesting. :)

Lyn Midnight said...

Hi Amy. :) Haha, yes that's the downside of prequels. I like them nevertheless.

Yeah, he's not that bad, I mean a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, right? As for Xavier, very savvy with the ladies, no? *loves young him* :D

Thanks for stopping by!

Marcy Kennedy said...

My husband and I saw the movie last Sunday afternoon, and we walked out knowing it was one we'd have to buy when it goes to DVD.

I had a little trouble believing the Raven/Mystique character, but I absolutely loved how they developed the friendship between Charles and Erik, and the way it did make you ask "who's right?" and "if I was a mutant, whose side would I honestly choose?"

I'm with you. A well done prequel can be spectacular. I think they have added suspense because you're dying to know how the characters got to where they were in the original series.

Angela Wallace said...

Why is there no "like" button here? I'm going to see the movie tomorrow and am super excited! Great post. =)

Alex Megas said...

Well Lyn, you have changed my mind. As "alpha-nerd" as I am, I was going to skip this one because I felt let down by the third movie. After your critique I will go ahead and watch it. Ditto to Angela, why is there no "like" button :D.

Lyn Midnight said...

@Marcy I guess you're right about Raven. But at least I now know why she joined Magneto. :) Yeap, definitely gonna buy that DVD.

@Angela Hahaha, I'm wondering the same about Twitter all the time. Everything on the Internet should be like Facebook you know. :D Enjoy it!

@Alex I love changing minds! More so when it's about a movie. *happy* Well of course I'm sure not everybody will like it but it's worth a shot. :)

Thank you guys so much for commenting!

Ava Jae said...

So true! Prequels have a completely different feel than prologue's and you're right--it's because we've already connected with the characters and now we're unfolding new layers to help us further understand them.

I love X-Men and loved the movie. It was interesting, I actually was secretly rooting for Eric (which I NEVER thought I'd do) and James McAvoy played an awesome young Xavier, even if he DID have hair.

Lyn Midnight said...

Haha. Well it would have been hard to flirt with the ladies otherwise. :D Though I do have a bald cousin who's doing just fine, TYVM. :D

Yes, I was totally rooting for Eric too. I loved his character. Like I said, good/bad guys always win the day. Xavier just didn't have bad enough in him, lol.

Thanks for commenting, Ava!