Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gay mutant minority persecution: Action films with ambition.


I saw X-Men: First Class last night.  I actually attempted to start this post then, but it turned into talking about how awful the film was.  To get it out of my system, the following things were wrong with it:

  • Its understanding of genetics and evolution.
  • The plot.
  • The acting.
  • Everything else.

I realise "Everything else" is a pretty broad category, so here are some examples.

  • James McAvoy's hair greying (to show the passage of time, I initially thought), then being brown again, then having a definite grey streak, then being brown again...
  • Conservation of energy being a superpower, and then not existing.
  • hiuojnqwiqfrnfiqo DON'T MOVE SOMEONE WHO JUST GOT SHOT IN THE BACK.  DON'T TAKE THE BULLET OUT WITH YOUR SUPERPOWERS.  STOP LIFTING HIM AND PUTTING HIM DOWN AGAIN.  CHILDREN LEARN THIS IN PRIMARY SCHOOL, DON'T MOVE SOMEONE'S WHO'S INJURED JUST WAIT FOR A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL.  GOD.  (This one I do consider to be a "Think of the children" flaw, it will put the wrong ideas about saving someone's life into their little heads.)
  • How do you grow up in upstate New York and end up with a British accent?
  • For a telepath, Xavier sure has no idea how people work.
Now that that's out of the way:  X-Men follows a pretty standard superhero film plot.  There are individuals with superpowers, and there's a group for whom we're meant to root, and then there are a group of super-powered people who use their powers for evil, and we don't like them.  And then the goodies win the day!  The problem arises when X-Men tries to Make A Point about persecution.  The most obvious parallels are between being a mutant and being queer ("How long have you known you were.. um..."  "That's your real name, isn't it, Raven?"  "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell."), so I'll probably mostly use that.

I think using your superheroes to teach kids acceptance is a great idea.  The blue furry guy who has adventures just wants to be loved and have friends, just like you!  And so does the kid who gets a funny feeling in his tummy over boys rather than girls!  The evil mutants make things a bit blurrier though.  The Good Mutants just want to fit in and get along with Normal People ("You're not one of those gays."); the Bad Mutants are a threat to our way of life.  In the first film, Magneto turning that politician into a mutant looks a lot like a vocally anti-gay spokesperson turning out to be gay, but in this case he was turned gay mutant by the Bad Gays Mutants.  Problematic.

My general discomfort with the Bad Mutants is that the group is comprised of the ones who don't feel they should have to hide and conform.  At the end of the new film, Magneto is joined by the villains of the film (one of whom looks like Satan and is named for a demon), Mystique (who wants not to have to hide her true form) and Angel (who was a stripper before being found, so, y'know).  None of the 'good guys' go with him, which could have shown the issue to at least be a little fuzzy.  Also, the good guys are the human-looking ones, who won't make Normal People uncomfortable or anything, I mean it's not like they're bigoted, it's just, you know, it's not normal, is it?  Throughout the films, when humans are trying to pass anti-mutant laws, we're expected to root for humans and the Good Mutants, and against the Bad Mutants who react badly to being persecuted.  Lots of the plans aren't even particularly harmful.  (Like turning all the world leaders into mutants.  Aside from the lack of consent, what was so wrong with that?)  First Class clumsily makes much of the fact that Magneto's experiences in the concentration camp shape his view of humans, but a WWII film painting a group of Jewish resistance fighters as the wrong kind of Jew would be in incredibly poor taste.

It is certainly sweet of the films to try, and I don't think it's tactless in any meaningful way,  but to be successful in what they're doing they should ideally shed some genre tropes, or accept being nonsense action films.

For the sake of balance, the positives of the films:  James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence were there.  Unfortunately, everything else.

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