X-Men: First Class part 4
Moira MacTaggert, temporarily a protagonist and looking for an expert on mutants, travels to Oxford to find Xavier, who has just received his degree. Meanwhile, Erik travels to Argentina to Find Dr. Schmidt, who he doesn’t yet know is really Sebastian Shaw. He comes to a bar that serves German beer and finds a couple of regular patrons who, as luck would have it, are pictured in a photograph up on the wall, with Schmidt, on a boat (a boat with anachronistic Trajan font on its stern). The tables have turned, Nazis are the Other now and these two pals of Schmidt are hiding in South America. Erik reveals himself and kills the two men and the German bartender. One of the men tries to defend himself with a Nazi knife (“Blood and Honor” it says on its blade) while the bartender approaches with a Luger, the Nazi pistol of choice. Even though Erik went in to get information about Schmidt, he got none from the men himself — he learned everything he needs to know from the boat photo with the anachronistic font. He kills two of the men in self-defense and one out of vengeance. Or, since he has control over all the metal objects in the room, he kills them all out of vengeance. The one with the knife gives the old Nazi excuse of “We were only following orders,” an expression that was hugely popular among escaped Nazis at the time: Adolf Eichmann had just been captured in Argentina and was tried in Jerusalem in the spring of 1962 and used the “only following orders” defense as his excuse. Eichmann had just been executed at the time this scene takes place, the knife-wielder’s use of the quote could not have been more germane, or more ill-timed to garner sympathy from Erik.
As at the top of the movie, a dramatic shift in tones as we switch from Erik and his steely, grim quest for vengeance, to Xavier, who seems to have everything. We meet him, drunk, having just given a presentation, with Raven hanging on him, obviously in love, and Moira come to learn about mutation. There’s a terrific beat where Xavier launches in on his “mutation is groovy” seduction spin and Moira cuts him off, wanting to focus on business. Before, Xavier’s expansive belief in the awesomeness of mutation was either academic or deployed toward the acquistion of sex (except in the case of Raven, who wants the sex but Charles won’t think of her that way, in spite of her being naked all the time). So, there is a man who loves mutation but only to get sex from “normal” women, not mutants, and he’s met by a sexy woman who doesn’t want sex but actually wants to talk about mutation, while Raven, a hideous mutant, glowers jealously in the corner. Xavier puts his fingers to his temple (apparently he can’t read someone’s mind without doing that) and sees Moira’s whole story, with Shaw and Emma and Riptide and Azazel and the whole schmeer. A challenge has been laid before him: move your theories out of the lecture hall and the barroom and into the real, and dangerous, world.
And look, here’s a chunk of that world now, as Shaw confabs with Col Hendry on that very boat in Miami. Miami, of course, was a key city during the Cold War, being America’s front porch to Cuba. It was the Miami mafia who, in real life, was conspiring with the CIA to kill Castro, and who, legend has it, then conspired to kill Kennedy. And here is Shaw in the middle of it with his team of mutants, with Col Hendry trying to extort money and peace of mind out of them. Shaw calls his bluff, revealing his own mutant superpower: he can absorb, hold, and release energy. That, it would seem, answers the question of “Why didn’t Erik just kill him?” and “Why hasn’t he aged?” Here, the Other have the Establishment Man cornered, on their own turf, as it were, and Shaw uses his power to kill Hendry. (What happens after that, I don’t know — certainly people will come looking for Hendry, not that they could really get to Shaw if they wanted to.)
While Shaw is killing Hendry, Xavier is at CIA headquarters at Langley to give a talk on mutation. Direcrot McCone has, apparently, given Moira another shot at proving herself. Again, I’m not sure why — operatives don’t generally get the ear of the director without a good deal more than a gut feeling — but here she is again, having brought Xavier in to back her up. McCone, for his part, lets us know where he found Moira — in the typing pool. It makes sense, but a jump from typist to operative is a huge one, even now, and I would imagine unheard of in 1962. No matter, the point of the scene is, again, in reflection of the previous, the Other and the Establishment. On Shaw’s boat, the Establishment tried to put its foot down on the Other’s turf and failed. Now, the Other has been invited into the inner sanctum of the Establishment (CIA headquarters! A meeting with the Director! And Raven, whose only qualification is “Xavier’s sister,” is there!) and, like Shaw, hands the Establishment its ass. Xavier reads everyone’s minds (including a high-ranking officer who is the father of William Stryker) and Raven shows her true colors. The Establishment reacts with horror — “They’re god-damned spies!” blurts McCone — but their horror is not of mutation but of, of course, Communism. At the back of the room is the guy who is always hanging around the corners of CIA offices, the guy who would later become the Smoking Man of the X-Files (although, in 2011, you couldn’t smoke in a movie, even one set in 1962), who sees opportunity in the weird. The Man in the Black Suit, which is what the movie calls him, is a prototype of the weird edge of 1960s intelligence, the kind of guy who would later chase after UFOs and employ men to stare at goats. First Class is stuffed to the gills with genuine history, which gives it a resonance that other superhero movies don’t.