Sunday, June 5, 2011

x-men first class: a rant [spoiler warning]

Normally I'd post movie reviews that are more rant than review over on my tumblr, but since there are spoilers involved, it will live here instead. I figure there's less chance of accidentally ruining someone's film experience this way.

Okay! Plot spoilers ahead!

So I thought X-Men First Class was pretty enjoyable. Mostly solid. Some montage stuff that was very poorly done in terms of stylistic choice in the middle, but a decent summer comic film adventure. But there are definitely some things that need a big healthy dose of critical thought.

First problem: Black Dude Dies First. I mean, come on. ONE Black man on the team, and he dies first? This problem is easily solved: a more diverse team prevents there being a single Black dude scenario. At least the character, Darwin, was well written. I liked him. And then he died.

Another problem is that all the female characters (Mystique, Angel, Emma Frost) were super sexualized. Two words: male gaze. I liked the way Mystique was presented as someone exploring her sexual identity because it was the kind of coming-of-age self-discovery am-i-desirable questioning that many people go through. Her character was well done, I thought. She contrasted with the other two women who were in control of their sexuality/were comfortable as sexual beings.

But there are no female mutants in this film who aren’t presented in a sexual way. Why is that? It bothers me. I’m not saying take out the sexuality, but it would be nice if there were an additional female character who wasn’t looking for a relationship, and who also doesn’t have an underwear scene. The men don’t all end up nearly-naked. So why do the women? If I’m not convincing, just pick one of the secondary mutant characters, like Banshee. Now imagine that Banshee were female without changing the role or the costume. Suddenly there’s a female character who isn’t sexualized for the camera. (This is a problem in comics themselves, so I’m not surprised it gets transferred into the movie. But compare this movie to Thor where Sif is sexy but not objectified, where her sexuality isn’t an issue because she is a warrior doing warrior things. Thor got it right, First Class didn’t. Both movies had the same screenwriters, so I’m not sure what the problem is. And past X-men movies haven’t been as bad for this (in my memory anyways: I can’t remember much stripping down in the first movie, and Storm wasn’t romantically involved with anyone, was she? It stands out in First Class because every woman except Magnito’s mom stripped down to her undies at some point).

It’s frustrating because this film had a number of strong female characters, and I do really love Mystique. Would it have really been so hard to have one female mutant who isn’t treated like eye-candy? This can be a problem in comic books, so it's not all that surprising that it turns up in the movie, especially when the director Matthew Vaughn made a comment about how he included a pop song on the soundtrack as a method of gaining female viewers:

What I wanted to do, because I think this one movie out of all the X-Men movies, I think there's a lot for women to enjoy in this film. And remember Armageddon, with the Aerosmith song? That got girls, who probably wouldn't have traditionally gone to see Armageddon, to see maybe there was something in the film.

I bumped into Gary Barlow in LA. We were just talking, and said, "Do you want to come and see a rough cut of it?" And he came and wrote the song. I listened to it, and I said, "I think it'll be a hit, and if we can do a video that gets girls more interested...'"

And they were going on tour, so they're playing to one and a half million people that might not traditionally be interested in an X-Men film, then we might get them to come and watch it. So, it's pure commerce, to be blunt. But I want women to see this film.

--Matthew Vaughn

Patronizing much? I understand wanting to reach out to a new audience, but suggesting that women don't see comic book films is ridiculous. You know, the best way to get women to come see a film might be writing the film as if women are going to watch it. And that means occasionally including women characters who aren't hypersexualized.

A comic book that gets that right? Manhunter. (Yeah she's DC. I don't know much Marvel canon outside the X-men, okay?). The day they make a film about a single-mother-lawyer-going-through-a-divorce-and-quitting-smoking who becomes a vigilante when the courts don't work anymore will be the day I rent a theater to expose all my friends to comic book films. Until then, X-men will do, I guess.