What I Learned from Charles and Erik

x_men__days_of_future_past_poster__2014__by_camw1n-d7ahfneIt’s fitting that after my last post on warriors trained to use the light, I would see a movie with heroic individuals—namely, the latest X-Men movie: Days of Future Past (directed by Bryan Singer; script by Simon Kinberg based on a story by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn and the comic books by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin). Though I totally understand the objections to it (click here for those), I still enjoyed it and learned something from it. So in case you were wondering, the Charles in the post title is Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy) and Erik is Erik Lehnsherr/Max Eisenhardt/Magneto (played by Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender), though I’ve also learned useful things from Charles Yallowitz.

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michael-fassbender-magneto-x-men-days-of-future-past-1024x1024Though Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) played huge parts in this time travel movie, I’m focusing on Charles and Erik, because they’re like two sides of a coin. Watching these characters interact is a lesson in crafting well-rounded characters. You should run for the hills if you don’t like spoilers. I can’t tell you what I’ve learned if I don’t use spoilers. So, you’ll want to avoid the text between the bold subheads. Trust me, I won’t feel insulted if you decide to bolt. Hopefully, I’ll see you next time. 😀

***SPOILERS***

If you’re familiar with the X-Men franchise, you know that Charles and Erik are mutants (people born with special abilities like metal manipulation [Erik’s ability], psychic control [Charles’s ability], weather control, etc.). They’re also friends who became enemies due to their diametrically opposed views on how to deal with prejudice toward mutant-kind. But in this movie, the scriptwriter flipped a switch by having them become uneasy allies once more in a common cause—saving the lives of all mutants.

Here’s a list of what I learned through this movie (aside from the fact that Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are easy on the eyes):
The stronger the villain, the stronger the hero needs to be. Charles and Erik (and other mutants) were in jeopardy and had to figure out a way to stop the seemingly unstoppable mutant-killing Sentinels, their creator (Bolivar Trask played by Peter Dinklage), and one of their own kind—Mystique, whose well-meaning but misguided act of murder led to the horrible deaths of mutants in the future. This reminds me of a quote from an Entertainment Weekly article by Anthony Breznican (“A Villain Will Rise”) that I’ve mentioned a number of times in this blog (like here):

The better you make your villain, the better your hero has to be. . . . We call it the Hans Gruber theory. One reason Die Hard is a great action movie is Gruber never makes a mistake, but he’s still defeated by John McClane. McClane is a great hero because he’s up against such a formidable adversary. (47)

The movie provided a great twist by later making Erik “unstoppable” when he donned a helmet that blocked Charles’s psychic control and later took control of the Sentinels. How he did the latter was quite ingenious. Now that he became part of the problem instead of the solution, he had to be outwitted by Charles.

Characters with light and dark parts to their psyches are compelling. That became apparent when we first met the younger version of Charles after Wolverine’s consciousness was sent back in time by Kitty Pryde to enlist Charles’s help and that of Erik to keep the mutant-killing Sentinels project from launching. (Reminds me of the Terminator movies.) Charles, usually the hero, was apathetic and wallowing in his own pain. He didn’t want to be the hero any more. But he later willingly broke the law (breaking Erik out of prison) to get Erik to aid their cause. Erik, usually the antagonist, was content to be the hero when it suited his purposes. We catch a hint of his loneliness as he tried to reconnect with his old friend Charles over a chess game, but was rebuffed—a moment I found poignant.

The best characters never stop being who they are. Erik didn’t suddenly decide, “Wow, I’m a hero, so I’m going to do things by the book.” Instead, he tried to solve the problem his own way, even if that meant killing innocent people in the process. Better that humans die than mutants, in his opinion. But he’d kill a mutant who stood in his way if necessary. (Looking at you, Mystique.) I’m reminded of another quote in that Entertainment Weekly article mentioned earlier: “The strongest villains are often motivated by . . . misguided sense of justice” (47). Charles, on the other hand, despite enormous provocation by prejudiced humans, never stopped working toward a greater understanding between humans and mutants—an extremely difficult choice under the circumstances. Neither could persuade the other to change his viewpoint.

***END SPOILERS***

There are many other aspects to appreciate about this movie and the characters. All point to the enduring quality of well-rounded characters and an author’s ability to make them memorable. Keeping them true to themselves while allowing them to still surprise us helps.

Breznican, Anthony. “A Villain Will Rise.” Entertainment Weekly. 8 November 2013: 46-47. Print

Michael Fassbender as Erik/Magneto photo from nerdacy.com. James McAvoy as Charles photo from digitalspy.com.

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13 thoughts on “What I Learned from Charles and Erik

  1. Very cool that they call it the ‘Hans Gruber theory’. Loved that character and that movie. This also reminds me that I should probably watch ‘First Class’ at some point. Thanks for the shout out too. Though, I feel like I should mention that Xavier has better hair than me. 😛

  2. You would make a wonderful movie critic, Linda. 🙂 I agree with all of your points on creating well-rounded characters. I especially agree with “The best characters never stop being who they are.” There’s nothing more disappointing than a character who does something so out of character, especially during a climactic scene.
    Happy Weekend!

  3. OK, I can’t read all of this because of spoilers. This is one of those times when I get mad that we don’t have a movie theatre around here. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, though!

  4. I’m looking forward to seeing this movie (didn’t mind the spoilers, though), primarily because it’s another chance to see what my daughter and I have dubbed The Sirs (McKellen and Stewart).

    When I do see the movie, I’m also going to be looking to see how similar the hero and villain are, because I suspect that’s some of what drives great character conflict.

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