I wrote a post here, called X-Men: Days of Boresville.
This part of the sample critique I was writing was going to be all about how you don’t do it… how you say unkind things and mock the story. So! The snark demo seems to be covered in the pre-existing post.
Wow, I hated this film. It made me so angry. The central problem I had with the story, the part that offended all of my sensibilities, was that the past-tense storyline played out in 1973, during the U.S. military action in Vietnam. There were scenes set in a number of interesting Vietnam-related situations, including the Paris peace talks.
How cool, right? You could do a million things with that!
Part of the point was to show how the military industrial complex is always looking for their next big villain, the next reason why billions of dollars have to be spent on bigger and shinier weapons instead of, you know, food or bandaids. It’s Germans! No, it’s Communists! Brown Commies! Wait, it’s mutants! OMG!
So far, so good. The possibilities for exploiting this historical period, of creating a mutant-flavored alternate history of the Vietnam War are incredible. It wouldn’t have been off-topic, or separate from the point–we’re talking about a movie that already made the time and space to use this material. But instead, 1973 and its events were set dressing. Meaningful use of the historical subject matter verged on zero.
As a single example, let’s talk about the way Charles is taking drugs that mess with his telepathy so he can walk. The so-called serum is pitched as medication, but there’s also this ongoing cinematic dance, within the direction, that has Charles looking more than a little like an addict. They don’t have the guts to actually make him one, though.
Do I want junkie Charles? Not necessarily. Addicts and their stories are not my favorite thing. But if I’m going to have to watch him inject himself and act all withdrawaly anyway, why not take the opportunity to do some bravura characterization on this so-beloved character?
Consider: you have a teacher whose whole life is about saving mutants from their own powers and from societal discrimination. Now his school is in ruins because his students are being drafted and sent to Asia. But Charles is gleefully shooting chemicals into his arm not because he cannot bear that terrible reality. And not even because he’s a telepath, and if he keeps his powers he might feel those kids he’s linked to as they kill and die and experience unimaginable horrors. Good heavens, no!
He’s taking the serum because he doesn’t like being in a wheelchair.
Now being shot and paralyzed is a traumatic thing, I’ll grant you. And I understand that Charles isn’t meant to be all grown up and stable yet. But what’s stronger? Taking the opportunity to imagine how a compassionate and caring guy like Xavier would be affected by a war that would inevitably use his people more and harder than ordinary folks? Or being asked to care because he has to choose between superpowers and walking?
My own critique of the X-Men movies is that it elides a really important point: in this universe, mutants really are intolerably dangerous to everyone else.
They’re not just “different” or funny-looking; they have real POWER. They can do things ordinary people just can’t, and they can often do it without any real possibility of retaliation.
Dislike of and hostility to mutants in this ‘imaginarium’ is therefore not an irrational prejudice. Given the premises of the series, it’s based on very real factors of risk and power.
It would be profoundly irrational not to suspect and fear people who could throw buildings around with a thought or reach into your head and rewrite your programming or turn undetectably into the form of anyone they want.
Who would you trust with that power? Ordinary people are bad enough. Imagine a telepathic, immortal, invulnerable Kim Jong-Il… or the Beast of Bezos, for that matter. I wouldn’t trust -me- with that power.
And there’s Magneto & Crew, going around threatening to exterminate all the normal humans and making a good old college try at it. The only reason they don’t succeed is “good mutants”.
But having to rely on the “goodness” of people with power you cannot contain or match is sorta doubleplusungood. “But who will watch the watchmen?” as Cicero said.
You exist at their whim, and historically that is not a good position to be in. I don’t give a crap how noble Xavier is, that’s irrelevant. What if the next Xavier-style mutant happens to agree with Magneto, or just likes screwing with people for giggles and ***ts?
The more powerful mutants in this universe are like living Gods, and as a Greek sage observed, “we are to the Gods as flies to wanton boys; they kill us for sport”.
Yes, very true. If the rest of the film had been well-written, though, I’d have been willing to see them skate on that, as it’s a big convention of both the films and the comics they’re derived from.
Kind of the reverse of the situation with Arthur Miller’s Crucible. Miller used 17th century witches as a deeply flawed metaphor for mid-twentieth century American Communists. Except of course that whereas there were almost certainly no real witches in New England, or if there were they were harmless herbalists, communist subversion was a very real and very dangerous threat that needed to be sought out and stopped in order to protect our democracy. It would be a better metaphor if Satan was a reified enemy that had genuine diabolist agents in the midst of good-hearted New Englanders. The Jews, Gays, Blacks, etc. for which mutants stand as a metaphor are not an ontic threat to our free society the way mutants are by their very existence. Ask how many people would feel entirely comfortable with private citizens owning nuclear arsenals, regardless of private ideology, and that is exactly how comfortable we would be with the existence of real-world mutants the way they are written in the X-Men.
I have no trouble believing there would be a Mutant Registration Act in play if mutants existed–you’re right, of course, about them presenting a real danger to society. That said, I do also believe there’d be resistance to any kind of registration, and a human rights argument for privacy would probably be made in court.