Mutant and Shameful – X-Men: First Class (dir. Vaughn, 2011)
There’s no better example in the series of Magneto being a more sympathetic and interesting character than Xavier, and the rest of the X-Men, than this movie. We are introduced to Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) as children. Xavier is in his mansion, whining because his mother won’t make him a sandwich, while Magneto is in Auschwitz, having his mother shot in front of him by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a sadistic maniac who wants to experiment on him. Twenty years later, Magneto is on the hunt for Shaw and the other Nazis that slaughtered his people. That’s right, Magneto is a badass Nazi hunter on a just cause to make evil men pay for their crimes. Meanwhile, Xavier is chugging lager at his toffee-nosed university and attempting to manipulate women into sleeping with him by raping their minds, which apparently we’re supposed to find highly amusing. Magneto is on a heroic mission, and we sympathise entirely because we’ve seen the hardship he’s been through, and Shaw is a genuinely evil man who’s trying to destroy the world. Yet we’re supposed to side with Xavier, judging from his position of privilege, when he tells Magneto not to kill Shaw. When Shaw is attempting to kill Magneto, I might add. And Why? Because it’ll send Magneto down an inescapable dark path? His logic makes no sense to me. I mean, is anyone really hoping that Magneto spares Shaw’s life? No, I didn’t think so. If you want an audience to side with your hero, make sure their cause makes sense. And cutting out any mind rape might help too.
One thing that doesn’t make sense to me about Magneto’s cause, though, is why after he’s killed Shaw does he want to kill all humans? I understand sending the ships’ missiles back at them, that’s perfectly reasonable, they started it, but why kill ‘all’ humans? Shaw was a mutant! The man responsible for all his suffering was one of his own kind, so why decide to carry on his cause and wipe out all human life? Magneto’s hatred for humans made sense in the original trilogy, they killed his family, his people, making the author of his pain a mutant really confuses things. But apart from that, he’s totally badass, and I’ll support anyone with a theme this cool.
Sadly, although Magneto remains a badass, his previous (or future, depending on which way you look at it) ally, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), has lost all her edge. There’s an attempt to give her depth by showing her at odds with Xavier’s more passive attitude, as it won’t allow her to show her true self, but it all boils down to she turns evil because Xavier doesn’t fancy her. Just one example of the atrocious gender politics in this movie. This, along with the mind rape and the female cast being perennially dressed in their underwear, really doesn’t support the series’ central theme of equality; neither does the one black character being fridged halfway through.
Entertaining because of Magneto (Fassbender’s performance, especially when he’s interrogating the Swiss Bank Manager (James Faulkner), makes him my favourite for the next Bond), but one day I’d really like to see him win, or at least see the series add some ambiguity by sympathising with his cause more and highlighting Xavier’s hypocrisy and immorality.
What Kind of Monster Are You? – The Wolverine (dir. Mangold, 2013)
A competent action movie, an immeasurable improvement from Origins, but not really that interesting. Wolverine, mourning the loss of Jean in Last Stand, must prove to himself that there’s injustice worth fighting. He does this by going to Japan and finding and saving a new love interest. It’d all probably be a lot more effective if the love story held any weight, but it’s pretty standard fare. In fact, I can’t even remember the name of the love interest; can’t even picture her actually, and I only watched it a week ago. The plot doesn’t really make any sense, but you don’t notice when watching, only if you start deliberately pulling it apart afterwards, and it ends with your typical showdown with the ‘Big Bad’. Perfectly enjoyable stuff, though. Clearly, a concerted effort’s been made to add a bit of style and class to proceedings and to return some mystery and respectability to the tormented hero after the embarrassment of his previous solo outing. All things deserving of praise.
A Darker Path – X-Men: Days of Future Past (dir. Singer, 2014)
Here we go again. Killing truly evil people will send you down an inescapable dark path to damnation. Blah, blah, blah. This time, it’s Mystique who must be saved from killing the bad guy. In the comic, the bad guy is Senator Kelly. In fact, he’s not a bad guy as such. He’s described as “a decent man, with what he feels are legitimate concerns about the increasing number of super-powered mutants in the world.” He’s a man who has the power to change, but the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants plan to kill him, which will result in the public turning against mutants and electing a president with extremist views, which results in an apocalyptic future. Sounds like something worth fighting against. In the movie, the bad guy, Trask (Peter Dinklage), is bad. In fact, he’s pure evil. He’s a psychopath who experiments on, tortures and kills people without reason or remorse, and he plans to enslave an entire race and give them the same treatment. The thing is, if Mystique kills Trask, it’ll turn the government against mutants, she’ll be captured, and her DNA will be used to develop the Sentinels; robotic, mutant killing machines that will threaten to end the world. Well, the right path is clear, isn’t it? Kill him without being seen or captured! This would solve everything! The bastard deserves to die. Sorry, but I can’t help thinking this as there’s nothing redeemable about him. Let him live, and he’ll carry on being evil. He deserves to die, and Xavier and Wolverine are hypocrites for stating otherwise. “It was the first time she killed”, says Xavier. “It wasn’t her last”, says Wolverine, bitterly. You monumental hypocrite! You kill three people as soon as you’re sent on your mission to stop her! And how many have you killed in the past in defence of yourself and your people? And what more is Mystique doing than defending herself and her race? What more was Magneto doing when he killed Shaw? Perhaps if the X-Men’s deeds were shown to change Trask, I could appreciate their perspective, but he’s beyond help, so screw him, and these passive, sissy hypocrites. Magneto was right.
Sparing Psychopaths – Deadpool (dir. Miller, 2016)
Simple themes – love conquers all, it’s what’s inside that counts, you can’t run away from your problems, stick by the one you love – a nice restrained plot (no apocalyptic threats), and a story that’s not preachy or pretentious (although sometimes it thinks it’s a lot funnier than it is and verges very close to cliché considering its subversive aspirations). Its greatest moment comes when Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) holds a gun to the villain’s head, Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) gives a big speech about what it means to be a hero, and Deadpool just blows the guy’s brains out. This criticism of the X-Men films’ ridiculous, trite moralising is the highlight of the film, and if the sequel concentrates more on this kind of genre subversion and satire, while avoiding cliché, we’ll be onto a winner.
The Third One’s Always the Worst – X-Men: Apocalypse (dir. Singer, 2016)
“The third one’s always the worst”, says Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as the young X-Men leave a showing of Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983). This is supposed to be a dig at Last Stand, but the joke has backfired, as the third film in the First Class trilogy approaches X-Men Origins: Wolverine levels of badness. There is no debate here, just a series of unmemorable action sequences as the X-Men attempt to stop Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the ‘Big Bad’, from destroying the world (the most cliché of all movie villain motivations), and mutant after mutant is introduced (so they can show off their powers in the trailer) without any of their characters being developed in any interesting ways. True, we’re used to underdeveloped characters in this series, but X-Men: Apocalypse goes one better (or worse), it destroys the series’ most sympathetic character. Yep, they turned Magneto into a pussy. He’s given a family just so they can be fridged, which apparently justifies him bending to Apocalypse’s will. At first, I thought Apocalypse must be brainwashing him, but no, the main plot revolves around Apocalypse trying to steal Xavier’s psychic abilities, so clearly Magneto freely chooses to follow Apocalypse, without question. This just makes him look stupid, weak, and completely robs him of his agency; the one character left in the series who had any. There was always reason behind Magneto’s motivations, however wicked the end results, but not anymore.
These are not the only problems. The dialogue is atrocious, reminiscent of Colossus’ speech in Deadpool, which was meant as parody. Like Origins, it’s more interested in needlessly joining the dots together so everything fits neatly with the rest of the series than with telling a proper story. The tone is all over the place. A prime example being the comical sequence where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) saves students from the exploding X-Mansion being followed by jarring seriousness as it’s revealed he failed to save Cyclop’s (Tye Sheridan) brother, Havoc (Lucas Till); a character killed off for convenience in a far less delicate manner than anything in Last Stand. Xavier is worse than ever. Not only is Cerebro corrupted by the bad guys again and its morality is still not brought into question, but the honourable Professor commits his worst case of mind rape yet; this time on the woman he supposedly loves, robbing Moira (Rose Byrne) of her memories without permission because he thinks it’s best for her. He is never judged for this, in fact, it’s joked about, and when he tells Moira, her response is to passionately kiss him, and we’re expected to go all gooey over this beautiful romance. Boring, cringeworthy, and insulting.