X-Men: Dark Phoenix — Michael Fassbender on how he traced back Magneto's enmity to his traumatic past
Recently, Thor writer Zack Stentz revealed that when Marvel was undergoing a crisis of underwhelming antagonists a decade ago, the studio asked him to "give them a villain as good as Magneto". Enter: Loki in The Avengers, one of the most appreciated baddies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Clearly, the iconic X-Men villain Magneto was the benchmark for super villains across the board. The character, created by Stan Lee and designed by Jack Kirby, was first introduced in the comic The X-Men #1 back in 1963. Sir Ian McKellen infused new life into the character when he took to his cape and helmet in Bryan Singer's 2001 film X-Men. Pitted against Patrick Stewart's Professor X, McKellen played Magneto like a menacing villain determined to eradicate the human race. However, in some scenes when he interacted with Charles Xavier, McKellen's Magneto revealed a vulnerable side that hinted at a past that forced him up against a wall.
When Michael Fassbender took on the role in Matthew Vaughn's origin film X-Men: First Class, he signed up for a double whammy. He not only had to step into the shoes of an antagonist made popular by a seasoned actor, but also had to also penetrate the layers of mystique that Magneto was buried under. He had to decode the bad guy and also pose his means as an alternative route towards exactly what his friend-turned-nemesis Professor X had set out to achieve — the survival of the mutantkind.
"I relied heavily on the source material given to me. Through Eric's (Magneto) past, one got to know why he did what he did, and why he wanted to eliminate the humans. What happened to him justifies his means to an end, that separate him from his longtime friend and rival Charles Xavier. There is a rich and traumatic history to his childhood, which explains where his resentment towards the human race comes from," says Michael Fassbender, in an interview to Firspost during the X-Men: Dark Phoenix promotional tour in Seoul, South Korea. "Ian McKellen is one of the greatest actors we had. I had the honour of meeting him during the shooting of Days of Future Past," says Fassbener, while adding that he was completely aware that he could not approach Magneto the same way McKellen did.
Fassbender's Magneto was not introduced as a conqueror who wanted to establish the supremacy of the "homio superiors". He was projected as a victim of disfranchisement, owing to the Nazi rise to power in his childhood and subsequently, owing to the racial discrimination against mutants in his adulthood. Having lost his family to a violent mob of mutant-haters, Magneto evolved into an avenging, relentless leader, hell bent on enslaving mankind. "In First Class, Charles helped Erik become Magneto. In Days of Future Past, he was a terrorist and a prisoner. In Apocalypse, he was more of a family man. And in Dark Phoenix, he has formed Genosha, a retreat inhabited by mutants away from the interference of human control." While his ideology has remained the same, Magneto has taken to a more passive role, and returns to his ferocious self only post a trigger.
The 'trigger point', Fassbender believes, has been different in the four films he has played Magneto. McKellen's Magneto acted as a constant force against mankind irrespective of how much blood was at stake, but after he helps reverse the chain of events that led to mutant persecution in X-Men: Days of Future Past, he makes way for a more humane Magneto. In fact, Genosha symbolises the state of mind Magneto is in after the events of Apocalypse. His only aim is to maintain sovereignty as he abstains from hurting people more. "I've hurt and killed people all my life. But after a point, it didn't do any good to me. So I stopped," Fassbener's Magneto tells Sophie Turner's Jean Grey in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
But as the film progresses, Magneto encounters yet another 'trigger point' that forces him to resume his path of destruction. "In Dark Phoenix, Magneto becomes a cult leader in Genosha. But when he gets the knowledge of an old friend's death, his old testament of revenge takes over. In his mind, he does not really have an option but to avenge his friend's death," says Fassbender, explaining that like in every instalment so far, what propels Magneto to fight one of his own is the death of one of his own. "He's certainly a character of contradictions within himself. But in this film, all of them (X-Men) are struggling with their own conflicts, Jean in particular," adding that he was mildly jealous of Sophie's character, since it was not only him causing all the trouble in the final instalment of the X-Men franchise.
The most fascinating part of his character, besides representing the "people who are on the outskirts of society", is the relationship he shares with Charles Xavier. X-Men: Dark Phoenix, in fact, exposes a more controlling side of Xavier during his confrontation with Jean, Mystique and Beast. "Charles' vanity and ego is something that James (McAvoy) kind of introduced in First Class. It wasn't of great consequence back then but it's cool that he did it back then. Because the seeds of Dark Phoenix were really planted then before it came into full bloom in this episode. In Dark Phoenix, Charles becomes more of a politician-type figure."
The diplomacy, with shades of vanity, is a latent quality of Charles that Magneto always recognised and warned him against. In Dark Phoenix, Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique accuses Charles of harbouring a selfish streak and putting his fellow mutants to danger in exchange of saving humans. In that moment, one realises that this is something Magneto has been accusing Charles of since the two characters first interacted onscreen.
"But that's the cool thing with Charles and Erik. They never go, 'I told you so!'. In a way, they represent two different schools of thought, say the 'us' and the 'them', but they often bridge the gap between the both. They set an example by coming to each other's rescue whenever the other is in a deep crisis. Even in Dark Phoenix, they have sort of a fatigued moment in the beginning but the film ends on a very emotional note. They sit back for one last game of chess, which kind of completes the circle that began in First Class."
Dark Phoenix changes the X-Men landscape by depicting Magneto in a more passive, non-interfering mode and Charles as a selfish, protective-yet-controlling leader. As the final scene leaves the two engaging in a game of chess, Fassbender claims it is a poetic end to the relationship of perpetual sportsmanship they share with each other. "The relationship between Magneto and Charles is similar to that of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. That's really the approach we took in First Class. It was a great 'in' for me."
As he hangs on his helmet and bids adieu to a character that he has repainted in grey shades, Fassbender confesses that he is secretly glad that he does not have to 'fly' anymore. "The wire work is kind of uncomfortable now, especially in the good ol' private parts. As I grow older, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get used to the wire work. Don't get me wrong. I love action but I'm now at a stage that I'd prefer it to engage in it on the ground," quips Fassbender.
Here is a Magneto at the mercy of metallic wires. But that is just how Fassbender plays Magneto at his best — as a man full of contradiction.
All images from Twitter.
Updated Date: Jun 02, 2019 09:44:31 IST