Tuesday, June 14, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Yes, we got the metaphor.

Note: I was a huge fan of the X-Men comics, back when there was only the Uncanny X-Men and there was only one incarnation of the team. Claremont wrote good stories and the metaphor was there but not blatant. Good stories were told and sometimes there was fighting, but the best issues involved things like Wolverine betting Nightcrawler to walk down a street to see how people would react. I abandoned ship right around when things got shitty, that way, I still have fond memories of the X-Men stories.

The X-Men comic was always about metaphor and subtext. But it was subtle enough that it didn't overtake the story and it could be relatable to many different things: civil rights based on race, gay rights, gender equality--essentially whatever might be oppressing you, the X-Men was there to provide a relatable metaphor of how to deal with the injustices of the world.

Later in my reading, other less subtle metaphors began to creep into the stories: the Legacy Virus (AIDS) and the Mutant Registration act (which popped up around the time that the idea of people having the join a registry if they have AIDS was being tossed around). However, for the most part, even these more blatant metaphors still took backstage to the story.

With this incarnation of the X-Men, however, the metaphor was blatant and the subtext was replaced with obvious text. X-Men: First Class is a story about gay rights and LBGT acceptance, understanding and tolerance and how that was responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Don't get me wrong, I really did enjoy the movie. It was a good one. However, they were less than subtle about the metaphor, so I'll recap the movie and parse the metaphor for them.

So, our story begins in a concentration camp, where young Erik Lehnsherr was been incarcerated for being Jewish. However, his secret mutant power gayness is detected by the camp overseer who is also a closeted mutant homosexual, and wants to develop the mutant powers of out Erik.

Meanwhile, young Charles Xavier has found Raven, a young mutant lesbian, who has been rejected by society because of her obvious physical mutations she's flaming. He outs himself to her as well, and agrees to protect and shield her from society as he teaches her how to fit in live in the closet.

So years pass and Erik is bent on vengeance and Charles is questing to find acceptance from society. Charles and Raven are still close, but there is no sexual tension between them because they are both mutants gay. Charles' quest for acceptance brings him to the US military where he out himself before them to prove that despite being a mutant gay, he is still capable of doing things just as well as everyone else. He accidentally out another mutant homosexual already in the CIA with his mental powers gaydar. In response, the outed military man tells his commander officer, "No one asked, so I didn't tell."

Anyhow, the story moves along to the point where Charles and Erik team up and find young mutants gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and offer them a place of acceptance. Each is surprised and happy to be around others like them. They had each thought that they were the only ones who were born felt that way and they take to one another quickly, even as the military soldiers around them mock them for their genetics orientation. Soon, they sit around and begin to take pride in who they are and accept themselves for who they are, despite society's pressures for them to conform. This outing and acceptance is symbolized by each of them accepting their mutant gay persona by coming up with a flamboyant code club name.

There is a subplot where Hank McCoy and Raven do not fully accept their nature and wish to suppress their mutations feelings even to the point where Hank works on a "cure", to which comes the question: does it really require a "cure"? Raven comes to accept who she is and Hank finds out that repressing what he is does not work. There is a true side to him that cannot be masked.

Oh, and during all of this, the Russians and the US are ready to start World War III, but the group works together and use all of their mutant gay powers to stop them.

So, despite the parsing of the metaphor above, I did really enjoy the movie. I liked it more than I thought I would. It was not at all actiony schlock and instead told a good story. I just wish that Hollywood wouldn't think that we are such idiots and did not have to make a metaphor so blatant and obvious. Messages are deeper and more meaningful when we unlock them in our subconscious, rather than when you have people running around shouting "Mutant pride".

A couple of quick comments though:

*Both Charles and Erik were cast and acted so well. Each threatened to upstage each other and when either was on screen, no one else mattered. They were both excellently acted.
*Emma Frost was horribly acted. Really, she was just terrible.
*Kevin Bacon should stop making movies unless they specifically require Kevin Bacon to play himself. He takes you out of the movie and you cannot help but think, "Hey, that's Kevin Bacon on the screen".
*I am beginning to believe that it is utterly impossible to have the blue "Beast" form of Hank McCoy to be portrayed in a non-distracting manner in any live action X-Men movie.
*X-Men purists will cringe at the new backstory and the fact that Havoc and Mystique were original X-Men; let alone the fact that Mystique was Xavier's foster sister and Juggernaut wasn't his step-brother.
*The movie was much more sympathetic to Erik's plight rather than Charles' dream.

Molly: (Molly's portion of the review will be in Q&A form. This is due primarily to her age. She's by my computer now and I'll transcribe our conversation and format it later.)

Chuckie: So, Molly, what did you think of the movie, X-Men: First Class?
Molly: Um, I liked it.

Chuckie: What did you like about it?
Molly: Um, that there was nice people.

Chuckie: What nice people?
Molly: The ones that were fighting the bad guys.

Chuckie: Do you want to tell me a little about those people?
Molly: Why?

Chuckie: Um, because it'll help the review.
Molly: Well, um, they showed their powers. Um, one can fly and I forget the one that sticks his head in the water.
Chuckie: He could adapt.
Molly: Huh?
Chuckie: He could adapt to survive.
Molly: Oh. I was going to say the one that kind of slowed things. (Molly's kitten, Pond, jumps and attacks her feet as she is talking to me.) Hey! Pond, we're doing a review now so I can't play with you.

Chuckie: The one that slowed things?
Molly: Mm-hm. The one that said, "Stand back."
Chuckie: Oh! Havoc. He didn't slow things, they just showed him shooting in slow motion.
Molly: Oh.

Chuckie: What did you think about the girl who could change forms?
Molly: Um, I liked her. I liked that she could change forms. Probably she could change into me. If she was pretending to be me she'd do everything that I'd do. She could even turn into you. But if she turned into you, what would you think she would do?

Chuckie: I don't know. The comics implied that she'd kind of like to hang out with Mommy.
Molly: It would be funny if Mommy kissed her.

Chuckie: Yeah. Well, what did you think about the girl with the wings?
Molly: I liked her.

Chuckie: So, was there anything you didn't like about the movie?
Molly: Yes.
Chuckie: What?
Molly: The exploding.
Chuckie: All the fighting and explosions?
Molly: Mm-hm.
Chuckie: What didn't you like about that?
Molly: 'Cause there was exploding and there was fighting.

Chuckie: Tell me about the movie and what it was about.
Molly: Um, people was fighting. People was , um, um, pretending.

Chuckie: Pretending what?
Molly: Well, they were actors. They weren't really those people. So they were pretending.

Chuckie: Okay, true, but what happened in the story?
Molly: There was bad guys and they fighted the good guys and the good girls.

Chuckie: Now, you disagreed with me when we left the theater. I said that the actor who played Emma Frost was terrible, but you defended her. Do you still think she was a good actor?
Molly: Yes! 'Cause I liked her.
Chuckie: But was it just the character that you liked?
Molly: Yes.
Chuckie: But the acting was bad.
Molly: I liked the acting!
Chuckie: Really?
Molly: Yes.

Chuckie: Okay. Fine. So tell me about the differences between Charles and Erik.
Molly: Um, well, I liked the mind guy a little bit better, but I liked the other guy little less better.
Chuckie: Why?
Molly: Because the metal guy after he got the helmet blamed the girl that the mind guy got hurt but it was really his fault. And he also broke out the diamond girl which was bad and that's why I liked him less.

Chuckie: Did you feel that they pressed the mutant acceptance metaphor a little too strong?
Molly: I forget that part.

Chuckie: Fair enough. So, how do you want to rate the movie?
Molly: (laughs) In my head I thought it would be funny if I said I hated it. But I liked it.

Chuckie: Yeah, that would really trick the movie-goers who rely on the opinions of four-year olds before choosing their feature.
Molly: (laughs) Daddy!

Chuckie: So, do you want to give it stars?
Molly: Yes. And moons. That will be it.

Chuckie: Okay.
Molly: If I was to rate the movie, I would give it one star.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of nine. Because that's the only number I could think of.

Chuckie: And how many moons would you give it?
Molly: Hm. One.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of one.

Chuckie: Okay. I guess that's pretty good.
Molly: Yeah, it's great.

Chuckie: Okay. So who do you think would like this movie?
Molly: Um, the people who watched it.
Chuckie: But I mean, what kinds of people would like to go and see it?
Molly: Um, everybody.
Chuckie: You don't think anybody wouldn't like this movie?
Molly: Yup, I think that everybody would like the movie.

Chuckie: Even with all the fighting?
Molly: Yeah. Why wouldn't they?

Chuckie: Because didn't you say that you didn't like all the fighting when we first left?
Molly: Yeah. But I meant everybody that isn't me, so I don't count.

Chuckie: Okay, so anything else you'd like to say about the movie?
Molly: Yes. (She waits a long beat and doesn't say anything.)
Chuckie: Okay. What?
Molly: Well, the people came to I think that it was a house and the people wrecked it. The people that had the powers.

So, that's our review. I really liked the movie. I wished that they could accept that the audience wasn't so stupid and let the subtext remain subtle instead of beating us over the head with the message. It happens to be a message that I believe in and agree with totally anyhow. There wasn't a need to make it blatant. You risk offending those who disagree with the message instead of letting it sink into their subconscious.  And the lack of subtlety was even more disappointing because the story was really a more cerebral story (for an X-Men movie, at least) instead of a fighty action flick. If Hollywood would trust it's audience more, it could have produced a much better movie.

I give it three and three-quarters out of five stars. Erik and Charles's characters were both compelling and masterfully acted and were, fortunately, on the screen much more than Emma Frost's cardboard acting. I would have given it a half-star more if the movie would have been a little more subtle in its message: gay people should be accepted because they have cool superpowers.

Molly gives it one out of nine stars and one out of one moon. She also thinks that Emma Frost's character was played by a masterful actor capable of emotion and depth. That and the fact that she is four makes me wonder why anyone would take her portion of our reviews seriously.

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