Monday, June 6, 2011
The "Y" of Character in "X-Men: First Class"
I saw the latest installment of the X-men franchise on the weekend and I can't gush enough about it to people. Smart, funny screenplay. Great sets and action sequences. Love the 1960's setting. But the best part, for me, was the way the screenwriters developed the characters so that for those of us who have been fans of the whole franchise and have seen the older versions of the characters, we now get to see not just the "X" but the "Y" of the way they are. It's all about the motivation - why ("Y") a character does what he or she does sells the story - for me anyway. And the X-Men writers did a great selling job.
The two characters whose motivation are best revealed in First Class are the two that are the villains in the original movies: Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Magneto is given such a rich history - Nazi concentration camp survivor, what the villain in this movie did to his mother, how it was done and how it affected Magneto, how the young Magneto's mind and emotions now work because of it, his complicated yet respectful friendship with Professor X. All of this was backstory in the earlier movies but now becomes its own story here. Each facet of this character's emotional make-up is done with action/tension and we are shown how all of what preceded in his life leads directly to his later actions. Because we are shown all of these bits and pieces of him - many not very pleasant - we understand "Y" he does what he does. He's not a typical hero character - how could he be when he becomes a villain later on? Yet he is definitely the hero of this movie. Nothing he says or does makes the viewer think, "Well, where did THAT come from?" We absolutely believe it when he finally becomes the Magneto we know at the end of this movie. And though we know he will do despicable things, we still have sympathy for him because the writers have shown the complexity of who he is - the good and the bad. THAT is great character building people.
Now, Mystique. Wow. I so loved what happened with this character. I was so surprised to find out what she was like as a child/teenager. The role in the earlier movies was so much more one-dimensional and, had I known her backstory in those movies, I would have been more sympathetic to her. I knew Mystique had this obsession/love/commitment to Magneto. But I never understood it because it was never really explained that well. "Y" was she was so devoted to this villain? In X-Men: First Class we are shown "Y" she became who she became. It was done in two or three small scenes with Magneto, it didn't take up a lot of screen time, but because the writers had shown her insecurities - had shown her weak spot - we could understand "Y" she would turn from the 'good' to the 'bad'. She did it because Magneto saw and loved the real her when everyone around her wanted her to 'fit in'. Magneto encouraged her to embrace her mutation - to be herself and proud of it. So we believed it when she made her choice. It was a natural evolution of her characters thoughts, feelings and, eventual, actions. Just so well done.
I love it when movies teach me how to evolve characters in writing. X-Men: First Class is a master class in character motivation. If you haven't already seen it go forth and enjoy.