Saturday, June 4, 2011

X-Men: No Class

Warning: Spoilers of a sort. I am ranting away, got my Catholic feminist hat on; buckle up!

I love the X-men.  As a kid, I bought them faithfully from 8th grade on; indeed I met my future husband because we both collected comic books.  I spied an X-men on his dresser when a group of friends had dragged me to this quad of boys' room for pizza.  We spent the next two hours discussing in nerdy detail, the plot twists and variant characters of Marvel's band of teenage mutants.  It resulted in me not leaving with my friends and getting a gentelmanly offer to walk me home in the rain to my college dorm across the street. (It was a mile and a half walk).   The result was a college romance that began three days into school and has lasted since, bringing 10 children in its wake.  

So not that I've established my bonifides as a fan, let me say I went to see the movie "X-men: First Class" last night with my best friend/husband and while I enjoyed the film, I have to pause and say "Boo. Hiss.  Baby, we've got a long way to go." to the producers/director/writers of this film. 

The men were beautifully rendered; complex and compelling with a gradual growth in maturity, friendship and accomplishment.   The story was great as you understood the relationship between Charles and Eric (Magneto) and the development/mistakes of the fellow male mutants that included humor, challenge, failure, loss and revenge.  There was much to recommend.

However, there were also five women in the movie as main characters; Mystique, Moria McTaggert, Magneto's Mom, Emma Frost and a girl who became a villianess who never warranted even a code name or a regular name.   With the exception of Magneto's mom, who was sent to the concentration camp and then shot before her son, all the other women were either naked or stripped to their very sexy lingerie.

I realize it's comic books, but it's 2011 people.  Garters people?  Really? 

Emma Frost wore that sort of corsette and not much else other than an occasionally discreet cape for playing peek-a-boo with the boys reading the magazine in the comic books of yore, so when they introduced the Hellfire Club, she was as dressed as she came in the original. 

Naturally, Moira McTaggert is a CIA operative trying to bust this secretive club and so she dresses as part of the entertainment to blend in; there are just scads of scantilly clad ladies walking everywhere in this club, but the back drop is Vegas and so we're not supposed to think too much about it. 

The nameless mutant woman with dragon fly wings who shoots acid naturally works as a stripper.  She gets called Angel as a nickname as a form of comic book irony. (She's a stripper but she's got a holy sounding name.  Cue titters).  We're supposed to feel her struggle and decision to become part of the bad group of mutants as a misguided attempt to maintain control over her world, as protection against being an object because of her mutant ability just as being a stripper allowed her to have control over her beauty by being the director of her sexual power beforehand.  Bleah. 

Then there's Mystique; a woman who has blue scaly skin, auburn red hair and yellow eyes.  She first comes into Charles Xavier's home as a ten year old thief but naturally, she's au naturale.  We're not supposed to think too much about this either, as she's Les Miserable type poor and Xavier's ultra aristocrat rich and offers her a home.   It's set in the 1950's but again, and maybe my studying of history is weak but I don't remember naked ten year old urchins running around Connecticut in any studies of that time period, blue, mutant or otherwise.  She later morphs into a beautiful blonde to blend in, but attempts and fails to seduce Xavier and the Beast as she walks around in a terry cloth white robe whenever she decides go blue to be "the real her."  She eventually gets to bed with Magneto who actually says, "I want you to be free."  Got that?  Get naked and you're real.  Get in bed with a man and you're free.  Ugh. Boo.  Bad. Stupid. Irritating. Annoying.  All of that. 

As a side note, neither Mystique or Angel even bother to train to hone their abilities or advance, while the men are shown struggling and engaged in self discovery about the limits or lack thereof of their gifts. They just watch.

I was mostly annoyed because X-men is part of my own story and I'd like to have been able to tell my older kids who also love Manga and superheroes and read comics and play hero clix and Yugi-oh! and Magic that they could go, but I don't want my daughters thinking this is what women do.  And I don't want my sons thinking this is what women should do.  So I can't say, "Go, you'll have a blast."  I can't say, "It's just mental eye candy."  Because the film sends a message I don't want and that ought to have gone extinct long before the Cuban missle crisis that is set as the backdrop of this storyline. 

Here's the bottom line, Hollywood needs to evolve it's mental DNA past using women as a backdrop and making their sexual coming of age in the bedroom as the ultimate manifestation of a female's identity.  This should be older than old by now, and this sort of idea should not get a reboot by virtue/vice of a remake of an old comic. 

For those who say "Hey Sherry, it's the X-men.  Lighten up."  I'd say, "It could have been so much better if they'd just grown up a bit."   Sigh.


BlessedMom said...

Oh...this makes me sooo sad!! Hubby and I are huge X-men fans as well. We already had our date night planned to go see it. Thanks so much for the warning. We would've been very upset to have been surprised with all of that.

EegahInc said...

I'm not too shocked at this. I lived and breathed comics from the 70s to the mid 90s and watched the art change to match the aging demographic. I think the latest figures show the average comic readers these days are 30 year old males. That's the Maxim crowd. So it seems the movie is just pandering to that audience. Not excusing it in any way, just saying I'm not surprised.

Ami Angelwings said...

I ttlly agree with you about everything you wrote here and their treatment of female chars -_- (found you thru an awesome friend :) that linked this )

But with one caveat, I rly associated with Mystique's character so much. I'm trans, and a lot of what she had to deal with and what she was talking about to beast rly hit home for me, and it was very similar to discussions people have had in trans comms I've been involved in about passing and body image, etc... It DOES bother me a lot that Mystique's entire problem w/ mutant acceptance has to do with her being accepted as beautiful and the focus on that just cuz she's a woman :\ But I also understood how she felt about it... especially when all this is still new to you, about needing to hide, and wondering if nebody in the world could find you beautiful if they knew. I didn't see her as trying to seduce Xavier, Beast or Magneto, I saw it as her needing to know somebody could give her a chance and have the possibility that she COULD be loved. :\

And I know that when she doesn't rly have ANOTHER arc, it becomes annoying in the way that it seems like the writers are saying "this is the most important thing to a woman, being pretty"... and I wish they'd have done MORE than that, or at least not focused on every female char that her looks were the most important thing -_-;; But I also rly understood that it's also something that is important that a lot of ppl take for granted, not that every cis woman is pretty, or that every non-mutant woman is, but I when you start from a place where you're told by societal narratives and even what ppl around you are saying, that you're a freak if you don't pass, that you'll never be pretty to ANYBODY if you don't, and you've never found acceptance before, it can become something that is a big deal to you and something you just rly wish to know isn't true. :\ (I'm not speaking to every trans person's exp, and I think all sorts of other ppl can empathize with this too, so it's not "only trans ppl etc etc the rest of you are so lucky" thing :) )

It's just something I wanted to add to your excellent analysis, as kinda like a layer to the onion, or an intersect, with the stuff you pointed out about how her char is being portrayed. :) While I understand that it's problematic in the large picture, esp w/ everything else in the film, it also felt very real to me... she's been so isolated also, she's basically only been around Xavier all her life and sees all these women and men finding love and people who like them, and Xavier just tells her to keep hiding. :\ I can see why she'd want SOMEBODY to be willing to touch her and tell her she's a beautiful person as she is.

Baines said...

Angel is a preexisting character, but the movie version is a rather noticeable departure.

In the comics, her name is Angel Salvadore. I don't know if it was meant to be the Spanish pronunciation. I figured she used the English "Angel" as a codename after joining the X-Men. Comics don't let you know such details unless the writer makes them blatantly obvious, and I don't remember if Grant Morrison (the writer) did.

In the comics, she was not a stripper. She was a teenage mutant rescued by the X-Men and brought into the school as a student.

Whether she was a villain is a bit iffier. While she sides with the X-Men at first, she does side with Magneto when he reveals himself. To be fair, she was one of his students, and his other students also side with him. While she does eventually turn on Magneto, she also stuck with him longer than some of the others. (Unlike Beak, she is willing to accept Magneto killing all the humans in New York.)

She would later (under a different writer) lose her powers. She was then given tech-based non-mutant powers and got a new codename and costume.

Sherry said...

Didn't know about Angel Salvadore, she was after my time of being a avid reader; the only Angel I remember was the rich Warren Worthington who later got morphed into Arch Angel when he lost his orriginal wings and received ones made of blades.

I'll add that to me, Mystique was rendered boring because of what she wasn't allowed to do --use her power in inventive and creative ways as the others had.

Perhaps I shouldn't have said seduce; she was searching for affirmation through sex is exactly what I wanted the writers NOT to use as the tired old crutch that it is, to substitute for engaging in self discovery/the struggle to attain some measure of self acceptance.

Ami Angelwings said...

I guess that's the difference with what I saw :) I didn't see it as her wanting validation thru sex, but just needing to know somebody would want to even think about it, that she could ever have nebody think of her as a normal person when she's herself and not pretending (I assumed she didn't actually have sex with Magneto) I get that it's problematic esp when you have so much focus of "being sexual" as some sort of important thing for the female chars :\ But at the same time I guess I understand it and I think it's realistic for somebody who grew up the way she did being treated by Charles the way she was and watching male/female interaction int he world just thru being around Charles :( (at the same time I also understand that the writers' created this scenario and for her character to be in it)

Ami Angelwings said...

I think the other thing is that after what Beast said to her "you'll never be considered beautiful" right after she just insisted to him (rightfully) that it shouldn't be on them to "pass" but on society to change, on top of everything before with Xavier, she needed to know she was right, that acceptance, normality and beauty were subjective... and I understand it is kind of stereotypical and problematic for "I want to be attractive" to be important to a woman, but it is something important to a lot of ppl (just knowing that it's even POSSIBLE for nebody to like them as themselves), and it makes sense for her, given that thanks to Xavier, she's gotten thru life being the pretty girl who was always hiding and being told how beautiful she was, and Xavier basically making her think that otherwise she was never gonna be treated that way. :\ That regardless of her personality, when ppl found out who she rly was, they would run, and then you start to wonder if it's even your personality anybody ever liked :(

Sorry about the posts... I just wanted to explain it from what I saw and how similar what Mystique's char dealt with felt to me, and that I dun think it's rly about sex at all. And maybe the writers' didn't intend this at all. I'm pretty sure they didn't. And I think you're right about their motivations, but I just wanted to share my point of view. :]

Sherry said...

I think Ami, that would be giving the writers in this flick WAAAAY too much credit for thinking.

MightyMom said...

why am I not surprised??

why am I not surprised that I'm not surprised??

OH YEAH!! I remember why!!

read it and not be surprised.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!