Despite all the ups and downs of the X-Men franchise, it’s undeniable that Michael Fassbender’s take on a younger Magneto is one of the ups. From FIRST CLASS to DARK PHOENIX, Erik Lehnsherr frequently toes the line between what is morally right and wrong. Regardless, he always does what he believes to be justice which often goes over the border into revenge territory. He also does whatever it takes to protect and further mutant kind. Let’s take a look at Magneto’s journey in the reboot era.
FIRST CLASS: Eric Lehnsherr Becomes a Hate-Fueled Weapon
FIRST CLASS gives us more details about Eric Lehnsherr and his youth than we get in the first three X-MEN films. After Nazi guards tear him away from his parents in the concentration camp, Eric’s mutant abilities manifest themselves, giving him the power to manipulate all forms of metal. This draws the attention of Sebastian Shaw, who shoots Eric’s mother in front of him in order to fuel his powers via hate, shaping him into a tool he can use for his own gain.
Years later, Eric is on a path of revenge. On the hunt, he desires to kill Shaw for what has been done to him. His path to what he sees as justice crosses with that of Charles Xavier. While Shaw escapes them both in a submarine, Xavier convinces Eric to let Shaw go for the time being. After this, they form a team alongside the likes of Mystique, Beast, Havok, Banshee, and others. During this time, Charles shows Eric that he can do more with his powers when hate or revenge isn’t the focus. The newly-formed X-Men go after Shaw and his mutant followers in Cuba. They hope to prevent him from causing a nuclear war, leaving mutants to rule in its wake.
Eric Evolves After Revenge
They succeed, however, Eric can’t let go of his hate. He kills Shaw, ignoring Charles’ protests, wearing Shaw’s helmet in order to block Xavier’s telepathy. After this, both the U.S. and Russian Navies receive orders to open fire on all of the mutants, and Eric stops all of their missiles in midair. Eric then starts to turn the missiles back on the humans who fired them. Xavier tells him that there are thousands of men aboard just following orders. Eric responds:
“I’ve been at the mercy of men just following orders…never again.”
He tries to send the missiles back with his powers but is stopped by the X-Men before they can make it all the way. In the process, Xavier’s spine is accidentally struck. Dismayed, Eric wishes for Charles to join him. He says that he and Charles want the same thing, but Charles disagrees.
Mutant Revolution: Magneto is Born
Eric speaks to all of the mutants on the beach: their real enemy is humanity. They are united in their fear of the unknown. If society won’t accept mutants, then they will form their own. The humans played their hand, so it’s time that they get ready to make theirs. Shaw’s followers joined him, as well as Mystique. It’s right then when he decides to go by the name of Magneto, leading the charge for mutants to stand tall as the superior race. Under his leadership, humans will kneel before them.
It’s a tragic origin story, one where it’s hard to blame Eric for his darker deeds. His experience with man’s fear and hate are two-fold: first being Jewish during WWII, and later on as mutant. Like Charles, he wishes for all mutants to embrace that which makes them different. However, Eric goes further, believing that it makes him superior whereas Xavier would seek to find co-existence with humanity. It’s a pretty dark tone for the start of Magneto’s journey.
DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: Magneto Does Whatever It Takes
Time has passed since FIRST CLASS, and it’s now the 70’s, the setting for the majority of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. One can imagine that Eric began doing exactly what he said he would in FIRST CLASS: unifying mutants together against humanity. However, we first found Eric incarcerated by the U.S. government underneath the Pentagon. This is allegedly due to the belief that he killed JFK, providing a solution to the magic bullet factor. In actuality, it was an attempt to save him, as Magneto later reveals JFK was a mutant.
When Wolverine comes from the future with a plan to save said future, it involves Eric. Therefore, with the help of Quicksilver, Wolverine and Xavier break Eric out of his prison. Once freed, Magneto agrees to assist in finding Mystique, as she is the spark that ignites the dark future that awaits when she kills a mutant-fearing scientist, Bolivar Trask. During their search, Eric reveals that many of the Brotherhood have died due to humanity’s fear and desire to control mutants. He blames Xavier, saying that he abandoned them all when he could and should have joined them.
When it becomes clear that Mystique can’t be talked out of killing Trask, Magneto attempts to kill her. While it brings him pain, it’s clear that he’s willing to do whatever is necessary to prevent the extinction of mutant kind. Mystique escapes and later goes on to make a second attempt at ending Trask in D.C. It all comes to a head when Wolverine, Beast, and Xavier once again try to stop her.
A New Tomorrow That Starts Today
At the same time, Magneto gets control of Trask’s mutant-killing robots, lifts an entire stadium off the ground, and brings it down around the White House. He faces several cameras so the world can see his actions. It’s an awesome display of his superior power, followed by an equally powerful challenge to humanity:
“You built these weapons to destroy us. Why? Because you are afraid of our gifts. Because we are different. Humanity has always feared that which is different, but I am here to tell you, to tell the world, you’re right to fear us. We are the future. We are the ones who inherit this earth and anyone who stands in our way, will suffer the same fate as these men you see before you. Today was meant to be a display of your power. Instead I give you a glimpse of the devastation my race can unleash upon yours.
Let this be a warning to the world and to my mutant brothers and sisters out there, I say this. No more hiding. No more suffering. You have lived in the shadows of shame and fear for too long. Come out. Join me. Fight together in a brotherhood of our kind, a new tomorrow that starts today.”
Magneto is so done with humanity. He’s been driven to the point by humans themselves where he can’t possibly see a tomorrow where man and mutant can coexist. While Magneto is more than ready to show the world what happens to those who attempt to challenge mutants, Mystique stops him. She saves the president and Trask, thus altering the future. She takes off his helmet, allowing Xavier to control Eric’s mind. Xavier allows Eric to leave, with Magneto’s journey being uncertain.
APOCALYPSE: Eric Unable to Escape Magneto
More years have passed, and it’s now the 80s. Remarkably, Eric decides to move on from being Magneto. Choosing to leave that life of vengeance and hate behind, he creates a new life for himself, going by the name Henryk. He finds a wife, and together they have a daughter. Unfortunately, after he uses his powers at work to save a co-worker’s life, humanity’s fear once again comes to bear.
His neighbors grow suspicious and discover his past life as Magneto. Armed with crossbows, they confront him and his family. His daughter grows nervous, displaying her own mutant powers. Several birds flock to the scene, which frightens the men. One of them accidentally shoots both Eric’s wife and daughter. In an instant, any hope and newfound love Eric had found is gone and destroyed. He kills all of the men. With his family in his arms and blood on his hands, he screams at God if this is what he wants from him. If being Magneto is what he’s meant to be, damn if he desires differently. He then goes to the factory with the intent to show them who he really is.
No longer Henryk. He is Magneto.
Magneto’s Journey: Lost and Found
Before he can kill the workers, Apocalypse arrives with his 3 Horsemen, wishing for Magneto to be his fourth. He takes him to Auschwitz, the birthplace of his power and foundation for his trauma. At that moment, Magneto’s journey comes full circle. All of his pain, anger, rage, loss. Apocalypse augments his powers, giving him even more power over metal. As he pulls metal from the Earth itself, all of those feelings come rushing back. He sees his abuse from Shaw, the deaths of his parents and his family dying. With a primal scream of rage, pain, and loss, Magneto becomes the fourth Horseman, completely destroying the concentration camp.
Using his heightened powers, Magneto creates magnetic disruptions around the world, creating mass chaos. This is all while Apocalypse is attempting to transfer his mind into Xavier’s. Mystique and Quicksilver go to Eric to try and sway him away from Apocalypse. Mystique tells him that she knew he was unable to save the family he lost. She then adds that he hasn’t lost everything. He has her, Xavier, and that he has more family than he knows. He then decides to join the fight against Apocalypse. After they defeated him, Eric assisted in rebuilding the mansion that had been destroyed earlier. Xavier offers to let Eric stay with them at the mansion but Eric refuses and leaves, going down his path.
DARK PHOENIX: More Loss For Magneto With A Change Of Heart
Magneto’s journey continues in the latest and most likely final installment, DARK PHOENIX. It’s now the 90s and the US government gives an island of land for mutants. Run by Eric, he guides and leads his mutant brothers and sisters in peace, apart from humanity. It seems like his days of violence are over. Jean Grey comes to the island and asks him how he copes with the murders he’s committed. She won’t tell him who she killed. After the military comes after her, she leaves the island.
When Erik later learned from Beast that Jean absorbed the Phoenix Force and killed Mystique, he then regains those familiar feelings of loss, rage, and the desire for revenge. Magneto once more, he joins Beast to go find and kill Jean. This once again puts him in direct conflict with Xavier and his X-Men, who want to try and save Jean. After finding success in getting through to her, Xavier and Cyclops convinced Beast and Magneto to help save Jean from the aliens wishing to take the Phoenix Force, which would kill Jean in the process. Magneto helps defend her at all costs, for the time being on the side of the X-Men.
After it’s all said and done, Jean sacrifices herself, saving the world from the Phoenix Force and the alien empire. Eric found Xavier in Paris, now retired. Rather reluctantly, Xavier plays a game of chess with Eric a callback to the games of chess they used to play in FIRST CLASS, as well as the games played by their older counterparts in the original trilogy.
Magneto’s Journey: A Tale of Tragedy and Justice as Hard as Metal
The journey of Eric Lehnsherr is one that is circular. Personal tragedy strikes, his rage consumes him to seek revenge-tinged justice, and then someone manages to bring him back to stability. The circle could be broken, of course, with the removal of the personal tragedies, but that’s just not how things work out for Eric in these films. Not only do his parents die, his friends die, his family dies, and most recently Mystique, the one who helped bring him back before, dies as well.
Furthermore, the persecution and abuse he’s faced in his life create a logical reason for his actions and beliefs, however immoral and/or dark. He’ll do whatever has to be done to protect what he loves, and he’ll do even darker things to those that threaten or take them away from him. Magneto is by far one of the most dynamic and interesting characters in the X-MEN film franchise, and I’ve loved every moment of his arc. His moments are always among the best ones in my book. Michael Fassbender’s performance makes those moments even more perfect.
Even if I do have some qualms with DARK PHOENIX (no resolution for Magneto being Quicksilver’s father, or that quick change of heart to protect Jean), when you take Magneto’s journey and look at it from end to end, it’s pretty dang incredible. He could have been your standard two-dimensional villain. Thankfully, Magneto gets and deserves far more than that, being an incredibly dynamic character over the course of FIRST CLASS to DARK PHOENIX. What do you think of Michael Fassbender’s Magneto? Let us know in the comments below![divider style=”shadow” top=”12″ bottom=”12″]
X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX is now in theaters.