we rewatched the first two x-men movies (y’know, the good ones)

x-men (2000)

i came here prepared to talk about how this is a problematic fave, i didn’t expect to have new things to say about the experience of watching it. this is one of the first movies we had on dvd when i was a kid and i watched it over and over. it was one of my favorite movies. and in all that time, i never noticed how HYPERACTIVE this movie is?

there are SO MANY CUTS and they are SO FAST, you guys. it doesn’t hold on ANYTHING. scenes come and go abruptly. conversations last seconds and don’t have any time to sink in. i was tempted to make sure we weren’t watching this on 1.25x speed or something. singer missed john ottman something fierce here. (this movie had THREE EDITORS.)

it’s kinda cute and refreshing how characters just kinda waltz up to each other and tell each other what their entire deal is, but you don’t get the impression that anyone in this movie has an internal psychology that exists outside of its hyperactive scenes.

as an example, there’s a scene where senator kelly is having a conversation on the phone where he goes from a combative question to “well that’s fair enough” with like a SECOND in between, like, what could the person on the other end of that call POSSIBLY have said to provoke that reaction? and then he just immediately launches into a rant at his subordinate (who is actually mystique in disguise because this entire movie is clever reversals which would have more effect if it weren’t like two players in an uno game just playing nothing but reverse cards and bouncing back and forth to each other the entire time) and like… you genuinely get the impression that ALL THIS GUY EVER TALKS ABOUT is how eeeeeevil mutants are. like you ask him for his lunch order and he’s like “THE MUTANTS ARE TAKING OVER” and you’re like that’s great sir but do you want a chicken salad sandwich or what. seriously it’s so strange?

please give jean grey a personality??? she’s a great doctor probably but is she a good enough doctor to give herself a lifesaving personality graft?????? she’s in critical condition right now. the reason you want to shout “JUST FUCK ALREADY” at cyke and wolvie is that you need all three people in a love triangle to have personalities otherwise it just ends up feeling hella homoerotic between the dudes. it’s the same reason victorian literature is so hecking homoerotic. when you pretend women aren’t people it’s hard to be interested in relationships involving them.

there’s still plenty i like about this movie. ian mckellen and patrick stewart were pitch perfect castings. jackman probably was too but i’m the wrong person to ask because i usually hate wolverine, this is the only version of him i can particularly stand in large doses. i love “i have a shot! … i’m taking it.” i love the music. the three editors might be a poor substitute for ottman but michael kamen (cutely styled “michael k-men” on the soundtrack cover) is a more than adequate substitute for him in his other role.

and like… i genuinely do love most of these characters even if it’s kind of in spite of the movie? like… something about them shines through even though the movie actively fights you noticing. even though i’ve been ranting about a lot of the seriously weird filmmaking details, and even though the director is the human embodiment of toxic waste, i do have to admit that i can’t help but enjoy this movie in spite of itself.

(the rest of this is cw: kink and cw: explicit discussion of sex)

magneto’s polycule is pretty cute. toad is the smart brat, sabretooth is the dummy brat, mystique is a switch and an interesting one at that. with magneto, she’s a loyal submissive. but she’s so formidable in her own right, he must feel so lucky to have her wearing his collar. and she’s very selective about who deserves that kind of power over her. in fact, he seems to be the only one. with the x-men she’s very clearly dommy, weaponizing her sexuality at times (like blowing logan a kiss during their fight) and smacking people around with her feet and clearly finding them pathetic. help i’m gay.

ok. obviously part of this is me doing my thing where i read polyamory and kink subtext into things. but not all of this is subtext. in x2, mystique literally tries to hop on wolvie’s dick because he stabbed her with his claws in the last movie. i’m not making this up, guys. she literally says this out loud. i’m not projecting here, she’s at least as freaky as i am.

(b-rank)

x2

(cw: sexual assault, abuse)

ok time to talk about the patrick-stewart-led franchise that features a large (though troublingly mostly white) group of distinct characters that come together as a team that’s greater than the sum of their parts and are faced with relatively simple, frequently allegorical ethical dilemmas that the franchise takes great pains to present as more complicated than they really are, and proceeds to tackle these dilemmas with a spirit of optimistic humanism that is unavoidably occasionally hampered by liberal ideology in spite of the more revolutionary politics this setting would seem to naturally lend itself to.

no, the other one.

i only recently learned of a much more unfortunate parallel between the two franchises, that gene roddenberry and bryan singer appear, by all accounts, to have been serial abusers.

in both cases, these franchises are bigger than any one man. i can recognize the way that they’ve been tainted by the behavior of people so intimately involved in their creation. i can also recognize the role of the larger culture of filmmaking and capitalism in general which insulated them from the consequences of their behavior. and i can recognize that equally important contributions were made to the film by, say, patrick stewart. an unspoken advocate for abuse survivors who recently denounced singer.1

i’m not going to tell you not to write off movies that have toxic directors/etc. i’m not going to tell you that “you’d have to write off almost every big budget movie!” (which some people do btw, it’s not an impossible position to maintain) because i know it can be helpful to decide where you’re going to draw the line. and i’m not going to tell you where you should or shouldn’t draw that line for yourself.

anyway, ESTABLISHING SHOTS!!!! SCENE COMPOSITION!!!!!!! TRANSITIONS THAT AREN’T CUTS!!!!!! CUTS THAT MAKE SENSE!!!!!!!! sorry. i just. these are really basic elements of filmmaking and wow i missed them when i was watching x-men 1. like, i got excited here when a character had one shot to introduce them, a cut to a thing they were going to react to which you yourself got a second to react to, and then it cut back to them for their reaction. it honestly doesn’t get much more basic than that??? but it was just such a sigh of relief after the weird, abrupt composition in x-men 1. scenes had time to breathe. characters had time to be characters.

this is still an x-men movie though, so you still get characters just transparently telling you their entire deal through dialogue and i still am not nearly as bothered by this as i should be. and you do still get a much higher than recommended dose of manpain, which… look, you know what you’re getting into.

notice how much less annoying the forced love triangle between jean, scott, and logan is when jean actually gets to be a full-fledged character though? it’s not just two dumb boys fighting over a girl while you yell “JUST FUCK ALREADY!!!” at them. and you actually get the impression that jean and scott, like, like each other and stuff!!! they’re all affectionate and shit. what an idea!!

i still kind of can’t stand monogamous love triangles, but i don’t think that’s a fight with hollywood i’m winning anytime soon.

it’s a bit disheartening that a movie that is not especially subtle about equating being a mutant to being gay doesn’t have any actual gayness (apart from the fact that erik & charles are clearly ex-boyfriends), but you know how it goes.

oh hey look there’s mind control in this movie i’ll just be over here uh definitely not being horny yep that’s for sure what i’ll be doing and if i WERE horny it would definitely be for completely unrelated reasons ok BYE don’t @ me thanks. (listen, it’s not THAT far-fetched that i’m horny for different reasons. mystique is in this movie!!! please step on me, mystique.)

hey uh but like. considering the whole mutant mind control thing… maybe we didn’t have to brutally murder lady deathstrike???? there was even a scene of her mind control starting to wear off and him pushing her head down to give her more of the mind control fluid or whatever. why not like… have that happen a few more times, plant the idea that stryker occasionally forgets to dose her, and then have it wear off during the fight??? you know, so you don’t have to murder her for the crime of being under the influence of mind control??? idk. maybe i’m the only one bothered by this.

(the rest of this is cw: explicit discussion of sex/kink)

so, mystique and magneto’s polycule took a bit of a beating (and not the fun kind) in the first movie. both brats are gone. they actually went to the trouble of setting up like sabretooth might come back by having him land on a car but he was such a non-character that it isn’t surprising they never end up following through on that one. toad technically landed in the ocean after being struck by storm’s lightning so movie logic would normally say yeah sure he can come back later but i don’t think anyone was ever going to come back after being on the receiving end of “do you know what happens to a toad when it gets struck with lightning?”

not only does this only leave mystique with no one but magneto, but it leaves her all on her own at first since magneto is locked up!! she manages to spring him, but they need to do some recruiting or their polycule won’t be a polycule anymore!!

mystique goes for logan which would ordinarily be the most boring, cringey choice ever. but her reason for wanting to hop on his mutant dick is that he stabbed her with his claws in the previous movie, and that’s a level of masochist that i haven’t even quite reached, so serious props there. but when she’s rebuffed the only person they manage to recruit is the most boring x-man ever, pyro, whose power is uh idk fire and stuff, and whose character is uh idk angry white kid and stuff, so i pretty much just need to stop reading this as a polycule don’t i. oh well. it was fun while it lasted.

(a-rank)

notes

1. mclean, craig. “patrick stewart on marijuana, leaving labour, and working with bryan singer: ‘i had problems too.’” the telegraph, 12 february 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/patrick-stewart-onmarijuana-playing-merlin-leaving-labour-party/

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