[Opinion] - The One Element An X-Men Movie Needs To Use, And Hasn't

This past weekend saw the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and as I mentioned in my review, along with the original cast and the clear vision of director Bryan Singer, a much needed element returned to the series: message. The reason that Stan Lee's creations at Marvel made the company stand out form it's DC competition in the 60s was because everyone comics was allegorical. Spider-man was about the teenage experience; Fantastic Four was about the changing family dynamics emerging after the 50s; Avengers was about how awesome it was to hang out with veterans; and the X-Men were about civil rights, with Professor X and Magneto filling in for the contemporary Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, respectively. This isn't new information (if any of what I've just said was new to you... you need to read more).

When Marvel's properties starting getting adapted into films starting in the late nineties, message was the furthest thing from the producers minds. They wanted fight sequences and money, and if that meant dressing Willem Dafoe up like a Power Ranger, then that's what they did, dammit. And that trend has not changed. As good as the MCU films generally are, they lack anything resembling a message. They are about CGI fight sequences, and making money, and raccoons grabbing their crotch. The exception to this was, briefly, the X-Men films. Singer, aware of the heritage, was not interested in simply throwing a bunch of explosions on screen, he wanted it to mean something. Of course, as soon as he left, that all got pushed to the side in favour of more, less well known, not entirely properly identified mutants.

With the arrival of Days, there have been seven X-Men films made, with Apocalypse on it's way sooner rather than later. In all those films, there is one element from the comics that has a real world analog, that is still relevant today, and would make a great setting for a film: Genosha, the nation of mutants.

Hit the jump for my argument, which includes spoilers for all the X-Men films, including Days.

Before we get to where the franchise should go, let's look back at where it has been.

The message in the original X-Men film isn't as strong as it would be in X2, which is understandable considering it was Marvel's first shot at the whole movie thing (that didn't involve talking ducks or vampires). But Singer did manage to include a heavy amount of subtext to the film. Remember, this is a film that begins in a concentration camp, so maybe subtext is the wrong word. Magneto's ploy to convert the populace into mutants shares echoes of the actions of Christians since... pretty much there were Christians. And while the notion of the United States congress arguing a law that required a certain type of people to register might have seemed like a fanciful "not to distant future," in the 14 year since various US states have proposed similar measures relating to immigrants. Of course, at the time, all it was calling on was the historic memory of McCarthyism and the Red Scare that paralyzed the public consciousness during the Cold War.

Singer really got to brings things to the forefront in the sequel, when mutantism became a stand-in for homosexuality. Singer and co-star Ian McKellen specifically crafted the scene above to play as a coming out scene, and to have the characters of Rogue and Pyro in that moment give voice to the reactionary ends of the spectrum within the gay rights movement, much as Xavier and Magneto do for the larger issue. Stryker's single minded vendetta against an entire people after he discovers that his son is "one of them" draws on the stories of broken families and parents disowning their children after they came out. Nightcrawler's years of shame-based isolation for "what he is" and self mutilation also are a cold reminder of the damage done to those not accepted by society. And while X-Men: The Last Stand cannot be accused of being a complex work, it does have some carry over. The twin notions of suppressing one's true nature, and a complex where the "afflicted" can come to be cured certain have similarities to faith-based camps claiming to be able to cure homosexual urges.

X-Men: First Class attempted to bring message and meaning back into the fold, most likely as a remnant of Bryan Singer's early intention to direct the film. Eventual director Matthew Vaughn's script is a muddle of ideas, and despite taking place in the era of the X-Men's invention and the start of the civil rights movement, they opted for more of a political message. Unfortunately, the backdrop of the Cold War, a time when communists were undoubtedly the Bad Guys, having Xavier and Magneto, or mutants in general stand in for the dominate minority doesn't work as well, so there is an attempt to touch on the idea that not all communists are dangerous by having the good mutants work for the US government and the baddies work for the Soviets. Then there is the incessant refrain "mutant and proud," which if the film were taking a civil rights stance, would make great sense. As it is, it just stands out.

Days Of Future Past finally returns the characters to those civil right roots. In the derelict future, the Sentinel program has decimated humanity because it became unable to distinguish between those that were impure and the rest of the population. And it returned to the concentration camp imagery that the franchise was born of. In the past, unstymied racism and a morbid scientific fascination with mutants is the chief adversary. Trask tells stories of Homo sapiens wiping out Neanderthals, drawing comparisons to the idea that there are speciest divisions separating one group fro the other. The Sentinel program is designed for forced segregation. Trask is seen using his special mutant detector to identify the threat within the comfortable company of his human (and not coincidentally, white) companions. And in the end, there is the great ideological divide that originally defined the characters of Xavier and Magneto. One strives for discussion and assimilation, while the other argues that if the world treats them like animals, then they will act like animals.

Which brings us to the untapped potential of Genosha. In the comics, Genosha began as a direct comment on slavery: a place where mutants were property. It was a modern interpretation of the pre-Civil War American south, where prosperous land owners treated an entire people like livestock, as well as the apartheid in South Africa, which was a more current and socially pressing concern at the time Chris Claremont introduced the African island to the comics in 1988. How the island has been used since has differed, though it often returns to a core concept, and one I feel would make for the most interesting adaptation to film: as a sovereign Mutant nation. The modern political analog should be obvious: Israel.

With the changes made to the timeline at the end of Days, there needs be no further concern for the continuity of the original films. And, by the time Wolverine wakes up, things appear to have progressed rather nicely for mutant kind. Technology has improved, and the hate-motivated events of the previous films which lead to some character's deaths appears to have been negated. Is Wolverine's new future a more welcome one for mutant kind? Seeing as future films will follow the First Class cast, that remains to be seen. By the end of First Class, mutants were still viewed as something of an urban legend. By the end of Days, they are publicly known. The widespread knowledge, and persecution, of mutants, is required before Genosha can work as a concept. Perhaps a blending of the original and eventual uses of the island. Begin with an apartheid state attracting Xavier's diplomatic interests and Magneto's desire to incite an uprising among the mutant population Once the mutants have declared independence, the conflict can conform more closely to that of Israel and Palestine: both refusing to recognize the right of the other to exist.

By establishing a mutant state, you extend the metaphor of a persecuted and challenge minority. You also extend them a certain amount of credibility. By organizing, they can demand recognition as a race, a culture  and an international partner. They can be viewed as a united front rather than a series of splintered cells. Since Xavier and Magneto already exist on opposing ends of the ideological spectrum, there is the opportunity to explore the concept of terrorism, in the transformation of groups like the Mujahideen into the Taliban. It sets up much larger issues that can be explored through the lens of mutants, and expands the established world of the X-Men into grander arenas. If FOX is intent on seriously branching out into new spinoffs, a concept like Genosha would only be a good thing. It creates new, more complex story telling potential (since they haven't shown any interest in going into outer space, which is probably for the best).

But the reason that is most likely to sway FOX: it pretty much the biggest element from the books, associated exclusively with the X-Men, that hasn't been touched on in any way by any of the films thus far. And FOX, in order to keep the film rights from lapsing back into the hands of Marvel, will plumb those books for every bit of material they can get. My request, if you are going to do something, take a lesson from X2 and Days (or more importantly, Last Stand and Origins), and do it right.
Share on Google Plus

About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


Post a Comment