Why do pigeons think they’re better than us? They have nests, feathers, and droppings. We have satellites, nuclear submarines, and Sherlock. In every conceivable sense, a human is better than a pigeon. Now, I confess I’m hardly the manifestation of physical perfection – indeed, I often get out of breath brushing my teeth – but I reckon I could best even the most athletic pigeon in any challenge. Intelligence, strength, endurance… we are superior. So why is it that, whenever you walk down a street, there’s always some smug ball of feathery pretentiousness glaring at you with an air of natural superiority?
They seem to delight in terrorising humanity. They strut in front of advancing people, only to fly away at the last possible second, screeching in glee at their own brilliance. Great swarms of them group on buildings, heckling passers-by, glorying in their pathetic pigeon-banter, before descending like feathered Stuka dive-bombers to rain excrement on their unfortunate victims. These flying rats are the avian equivalent of a bunch of yobs crouching on the roof of a bus-stop and yelling “Tosser!” at old ladies.
But do not be fooled into thinking that these jumped-up, anti-social sky-louts are a harmless nuisance. Because, beneath the plump exteriors, pigeons are merciless killers. I can name literally two examples of slaughter inflicted by genocidal pigeons. In 2007, Craig Taylor was crushed to death by an awning which collapsed under the weight of pigeon faeces, whilst 35 people died when kamikaze pigeons brought down an airliner in 1988. Combine that with the deadly diseases spread by pigeon droppings, which may or may not include the bubonic plague, typhoid, leprosy and AIDs, and we have a creature, on balance, more dangerous than telling a Scotsman you like his dress.
More worrying still is the close relationship pigeons have traditionally enjoyed with the military. Who knows what nefarious experiments pigeons have undergone in top-secret army laboratories? We’ve all seen X-Men, but what about an X-Pigeon? Super strength, no fear, massive size; a creature genetically-engineered to seek out the Taliban and steal their pack lunches. What if one of these monsters escaped? I have an eye-witness report of a pigeon “the size of a swan” roaming Oxford at night.
So, remember, next time you see a pigeon, don’t sink to its level. You’re better than it. Just take the moral high ground and walk away. Unless it’s a muscle-bound super-pigeon, in which case you’d better run. Fast.
The year is 1962, people; and in case you forget, here’s a bunch of mobsters and playboy bunnies listening to rock and roll. Holocaust survivor Erik Lehnsherr is on a quest to track down the man responsible for his mother’s death, a sinister mutant supremacist using the name Sebastian Shaw. Meanwhile, promising scientist Charles Xavier is at Oxford (background glimpses of the Sheldonian and Rad Cam sure to generate involuntary squealing) preparing his thesis on, you guessed it, mutation. He is approached by Moira MacTaggert, a CIA agent who has witnessed Shaw’s shenanigans first hand and begs Xavier to help stop Shaw from provoking a nuclear war between Russia and the US. With Xavier and Lehnsherr’s paths now fully intertwined, the two set about training a group of young mutants to avert global disaster.
After a few uncomfortably clunky scenes early on, the film really gets going once the set up is out of the way, tightening into a briskly-paced actioner with some nice nods to the comic mythology and to the previous films – one brief cameo will have any fanboy/girl melting into their chair with glee. McAvoy and Fassbender are fantastic in the leads, particularly McAvoy’s refreshingly cheeky characterisation of Charles Xavier, although we really needed more screentime to buy the deep friendship they are supposed to have. The Swingin’ 60s vibe is used with welcome self-restraint (Fassbender knows how to wear a turtleneck), with the exception of Shaw’s groovy villain submarine, rather too reminiscent of Austin Powers for my liking. Kevin Bacon is clearly loving the role, though, hamming it up like nobody’s business, and making Xavier’s bunch of earnest youngbloods look a little dull in comparison. Of these, the only standout is Nicholas Hoult doing a fabulous impression of Phoebe’s boyfriend David in Friends; but he gets slightly frittered away in a banal plot strand about accepting who you are, yadda yadda.
At one point, Erik Lehnsherr, soon to become infamous as Magneto, tells an anguished Mystique: ‘You want society to accept you, but you can’t even accept yourself.’. And if you miss that line, don’t worry, because there are about ten more practically identical scenes. Apparently paranoid that we might not get the message, the movie hammers the ‘Be yourself’ mantra into your head until your ears start to ring. So, subtlety may not really be X-Men: First Class’ strong suit, but be assured that its combination of pace, energy and two devastatingly assured lead performances make it one of the better summer blockbusters of the past few years.