Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Hero's Journey: X-Men-First Class

One of the most powerful story structures, in my opinion, is the Hero's Journey. In this and other blog posts, I plan to trace the Hero's Journey through different characters in film and literature. First up: Erik Lehnsherr, also known as Magneto. Of course, while Charles Xavier and other characters play a huge part, the story is really about the transformation of Lehnsherr. While he is not a "hero" in the traditional sense, he is the protagonist of the story. Warning: spoilers ahead.

1. Ordinary World: Erik is seeking out people who murdered his mom and his people during World War II. We are given a glimpse of his early life under the Nazi regime as Sebastian Shaw tries to get him to use his powers. Unable to do so, he watches as his mother is murdered. Now, he is a loner, his only aim in life the extermination of those who tried to exterminate his people.

2. Call To Adventure: After tracking down Shaw, Erik tries to kill him on Shaw's boat. Using his powers to manipulate magnetic materials, he is dragged under the water as Shaw escapes in a secret submarine. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier, a mutant who possesses the powers of telepathy, is present at the encounter and senses Erik drowning in the water and rescues him. This meeting will start their friendship, propelling Erik into the Special World of friendship and using his mutant abilities for the benefit of others.

3. Refusal of the Call: After an offer to join a special branch of the CIA, Erik chooses to leave. He has received all the information he needs to track Shaw and kill him; he does not feel that he needs to embrace this journey. Charles does not hold him back, and Erik leaves.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: Charles Xavier functions as Erik's mentor.

5. Crossing the Threshold: Erik returns the next day, teaming up with Charles to track down other mutants. However, it must be on their terms. As their friendship develops and grows, Charles functions as the mentor, guiding and pushing Erik in the direction of using his abilities for good and to bridge the gap between mutants and homo sapiens.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: Erik meets the rest of the team, the other mutants who will join the branch of the CIA. As he tries to help the government stop Sebastian Shaw, he is still distrustful of many of the non-mutants around him. While tracking Shaw to Russia, Erik ignores orders and rushes to confront Shaw, only to find Emma Frost in his place. Erik and Charles learn of Shaw's plans to cause a nuclear war and realize the seriousness of the situation. Meanwhile the other mutants are attacked by Shaw and some of his men at the CIA compound.

7. Approach: After the attack at the CIA compound, Erik and Charles go with the other mutants to train and live at Charles's mansion. It is here that they all train. Erik learns from Charles how to harness his powers and use them unlike he ever has before. As Shaw's plan falls into place, Erik and Charles discuss what they need to do. They decide that they must try and stop Shaw from causing the nuclear war.

8. Ordeal: The Ordeal for Erik is to try and stop Shaw, who is hiding aboard a nuclear submarine. First, they must find the sub.

9. Reward: Erik and the team of mutants find the sub and bring it ashore. However, not all is done. Erik must still help Charles find Shaw and stop him. As the other mutants fight Shaw's minions, Erik travels into a hidden part of the sub and confronts Shaw once and for all, killing him.

10. The Road Back: Now that the enemy is stopped and Erik has had his revenge, he must try to re-enter the Ordinary World. However, as with all heroes, this is not easy. They have changed, and can never go back to life as they knew it. In Erik Lehnsherr's case, this involves using his new confidence to rise to a status of greater power. He encourages the mutants to side with him against the humans, asking whose side they are on. As the ships fire their weapons on the mutants, Erik turns the tables and sends them back. A fight ensues, and Charles is injured in the fight.

11. Resurrection: Erik needs to demonstrate that he is a different person as a result of this Journey. Unfortunately for him, this change is one of bitterness, anger, and resentment. Where once he was simply out for revenge, going after those who murdered his mother, now the anger has fueled into something greater. A rift has formed between him and the rest of the world. He is now the leader of a group of mutants who do not seek to reconcile with humans, but to protect themselves. The old Erik Lehnsherr is dead; he has been resurrected as Magneto.

12. Return with the Elixir: The elixir for Erik/Magneto is his newfound confidence in his powers. He has brought together the mutants who seek a common goal, forming a new Brotherhood. His elixir is the idea of mutant power and supremacy, the notion that there is no need to back down or to fear others.

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