By David Beilstein
IT is the 1940s.
In the movie X-Men: First Class, Erik Lehnsherr – the infamous comic book super villain Magneto – a child of the Nazi concentration camps, watches as Nazi SS soldiers seize his mother from him and march young Erik through the sodden, mud-caked earth. Stricken with rage, Erik thrusts his hands out, unearthing his magnetic powers, and rips apart the camp gates into a twisted mass of metal – a metaphoric image of what will become the torment of his own soul.
The X-Men: First Class movie trailer highlights the parallelism at the core of the X-Men: First Class. Both trailer and feature film incorporate the ephemeral aspects of the morality play with the high-octane set pieces of the commercial popcorn movie. Images come reflective and stark – the camera pushes in cinematically, on the features of each character. But when the trailer ends, we see Magneto, perched on the landing gear of an SR-71 Blackbird above the ocean, pulling a submarine out of the ocean depths and into the air with his magnetic powers.
Movies adopted from comic book material have changed since 1989’s Batman, directed in gothic surrealism by Tim Burton. Epochs come and go. With 2008’s The Dark Knight, Christopher and Jonathon Nolen imagined an epic superhero movie couched in dystopian realism that would deliver realistic action scenes combined with dramatic weight for an audience starved of both. The filmmakers of The Dark Knight realized the highest level of the morality play; introducing the audience to a triumvirate of powerful lead characters exuding the deepest complexities of the human experience. If one could imagine William Shakespeare writing and directing feature films, both The Dark Knight and X-Men: First Class, entail what the master might have imagined.
The trailer assumes a bridge between previous fans of the X-Men film series and the desire to ‘reboot’ the franchise and gather new fans. By organizing the trailer with images from the original trilogy of feature films, combined with haunting clips of the original main characters, the X-Men First Class trailer creates a reference point both story wise and thematic wise. Interestingly enough, the faces of the original actors who portrayed Professor X and Magneto – Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen – are not shown, but the clips clearly come from the original X-Men Trilogy. Interspersed with the old movie clips are new scenes shown in slow, contemplative images of the new actors – both youthful and undetermined, layered with poignant dialogue spots. Hence, the new film shown in the trailer is a beginning – without stars, organised in such a way visually to allow the audience to invest in these new, younger actors portraying the roots of their iconic alter egos.
A straight line can be drawn between X-Men: First Class’s trailer and the feature motion picture. That is, both appeal to the same audience: one that is both an eclectic audience with varied cinematic interests and one that also craves popular entertainment done with dramatic respectability.