I feel like movies should be judged on how well they achieve what they set out to be. A dramatic biopic is not trying to be good in the same ways an indie comedy is, you know? This gets tricky in the case of X-Men: First Class, because I don’t know if they intended it to be the homoromantic superhero movie of our times. But that they achieved this, harder than anything that has come before or since, is honestly an accomplishment that nearly stands independent of whatever the intentions may have been.
The prequel/origin story First Class was actually the first X-Men movie I ever watched, over five years ago. Through some remarkable cultural blindspot, at that time I had zero idea that Magneto is the franchise’s villain, and was under the perfect impression that I was watching the story of two people finally finding their soulmate and deciding to raise their adopted children together. If anything, I think that the blast radius of my devastation over their break-up might have obscured even what led to it, because on rewatch, my god if Charles and Erik aren’t even hotter for each other than I remembered. Else, maybe this movie just gays with age.
Now, the X-Men franchise has always been interested in making mutation a metaphor, broadly for all who are not white, straight, able-bodied, and male. Our heroes and villains both are basically engaged in a superpowered fight against discrimination. This is great and I’m all about it. What is frustrating though, is that the movies don’t actually commit to representing the sort of people who are discriminated against in our own world. The female and non-white mutants are sidelined (or flat killed) more often than not, leaving more room for the two white guys in the lead, with their relationship always readable on the bro side of -mance. They shouldn’t do any of this. Put your mutant money where your metaphor mouth is. Give us more characters of other colors than white and blue. Let your shapeshifting woman shift into other shapes. Go further than just having sweet nerdy Hank explain why he hid his mutation from his boss with: “You didn’t ask, so I didn’t say.”
While we continue to wait for more diverse casting, at least we can say that they don’t backpedal from the level of love story First Class established, as the follow-up feature, Days of Future Past, does absolutely nothing to disavow anyone of the belief that we’re watching the Rope of superhero franchises. The honest-to-goodness plot hinges on Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s older versions of Charles and Erik (from X1 and X2) coming together to send Wolverine into the past to bring their younger James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender versions together as well, so they can try to save the world like they couldn’t save their relationship. How romantic is this shit? I’ll tell you: this shit is maximally romantic.
In said past, both Magneto and Xavier seem to have dealt with this break-up exceedingly poorly, though occasionally it’s hard to tell what is the result of emotional trauma and what is just the universally bad, brown stylings of the 1970s. What was even going on in that decade. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, in the X-Men world we may never actually know! There is a whole lot of time travel and slate wiping, but honestly it hardly matters. You could stack up a list of things that are important in an X-Men movie and “consistent world ramifications of actions that unfold” is going to lag way behind things like “two exes play a loaded game of chess.”
And the thing is, I get the feeling this franchise knows this. The X-Men are weirder than the Avengers. The characters are less heroes with the weight of the world on their shoulders, and more a bundle of misfit children who can control metals but not their feelings. There’s an inherent silly soap opera quality to the X-Men that the films embrace, which lends a refreshing looseness to the whole splashy escapade. Costumes are bolder, plots more unpredictable. These movies will literally slow down for an extended comedy sequence of über-fast Quicksilver whizzing around a room setting up slo-motion slapstick, because they know that we love that character, and they know that the reason why we love Peter Maximoff is because Peter represents this fundamental truth: that the point of a superhero movie is to have a grand old time. And I have faith that if we keep talking about it, someday the studios will make room for everyone at this party.
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