X-Men: First Class is a new prequel to the successful X-films triliogy. Set in the sixties, it details the early relationship of Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr, and the first gathering of mutants. The movie is already being haled by some reviewers as the greatest super-hero movie ever, and it is, indeed, pretty damn amazing. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are in particularly good form as Eric and Charles. Their bromance is both believable and well played, to the point that their inevitable falling out (not really a spoiler, right? I mean, you KNEW that was going to happen) is tragic in all the right ways. The super-powered battles are fantastic without being too unrealistic. I will probably own the movie when it comes out on DVD as I could quite easily watch it again.
As a life-long fan of the X-Men, seeing some of this stuff done so well on screen was practically nerd-gasm inducing.
So why am I left feeling let down and a bit disappointed?
Warning, lots of spoilers contained below the cut!
One of the things the X-Men comics have always been about is the different, the misunderstood, the alienated. Mutant kind have acted as a cipher for everything from different races to different sexualities. There, behind the super-powered punch ups, is the theme that no matter how different a person is, they should be treated with dignity, respect, and equality.
So how did the makers of the new movie miss that?
Lets look at the sexual elements first.
How do you tell if a woman is bad in this film?
Hint, she is the least bit sexualized. Which, by the way, is every female mutant in the film. Yes, that’s right, the only really powerful women in the film are all, ultimately, villains. Some go so far as to betray their former friends and even try to kill them. Some just sort of get forced into the role of villain thanks to the ignorance and bigotry of humanity. Regardless, they are all, at the core, villainous. They are also highly sexualized.
Sure, this in part plays to either the source material (Emma Frost as a semi-dominatrix in white) or the previous movie designs (Mystique’s blue nude body), but with as many changes as they made to the canon, those things could also have been different if they’d wanted them to be. Our first turn-coat is actually an ex-stripper, which I suppose goes to justify why, once she’s betrayed her companions, she decides to wear so little clothing.
The only good woman in the movie, Moira MacTaggert, though she is forced to strip to her (oddly sexy considering she’s on a stakeout) underwear, for the rest of the movie she shows absolutely no extraneous skin to the point you practically forget that earlier scene. She is not only the most sympathetic of humanity, she is a chaste object of affection for Xavier.
I think the part that made me groan inwardly the most was when our heroic team first dons their Classic X-Men black and yellow uniforms. Everybody looks pretty cool in their real world adaptations of their comic prototype costumes. But Mystique decides that her outfit, which is designed primarily to protect their otherwise fragile bodies, really needs to show off some blue-cleavage. So, unlike her male companions, she has her outfit unzipped down to her boobs. This completely ignores the fact that she has only just begun to accept her true physical appearance instead of hiding it.
It seems an out of character choice on her part done entirely for fan-service.
But all of this doesn’t compare to the racial politics at work in the movie.
Who are the bad guys? A diverse group of ethnic mutants, one of whom is middle-eastern, all led by a powerful white guy. Angel, one of the only two non-white heroes on Xavier’s team, turns coat the second the chips are down and seems to have little issue with attempting to kill her former companions later in the film.
The only other non-white mutant, Darwin, who has what is probably the most awesome and powerful mutation in the movie, is killed quite quickly to show just how powerful the white guy villain is.
Yes, the black character dies first. Sigh.
At least he doesn’t turn bad I guess. That’s something.
So in the end, what do we have? One racially and ethnically diverse group of evil mutants, battling it out with a group of white, All-Americans. Even Banshee, who is Irish in the comics, is just some standard American kid. We couldn’t even get a good European in our line-up of super-heroes.
The battle is joined and, of course, the villains are defeated by our star-spangled, all white cast. But in the end, when the bigotry of humanity proves that mutants and humans are doomed to be enemies, who is revealed as the ultimate villain?