Posted by: PharaohKatt | 09-06-2011

X-Men First Class: The Good, The Bad and the Problematic

On Friday I went to see X-Men: First Class with a group of friends and fellow geeks. Overall I enjoyed the film, however there were some aspect that I found to be quite problematic. Before we start, I will warn you in avance that this will contain spoilers for the film.

The Good:

The film was interesting, with a compelling and believable plot line (for a given value of believable). As you no doubt know from the trailers, it follows the story of Erik and Charles on the road to becoming the mutants we know as Professor X and Magneto.

An image of Kitty Pryde, a white comic book character with long brown hair, pointing at the reader, looking angry. Speech bubble reads: 'Professor Xavier is a jerk!'.

The characterisation was overall very good, with some notable exceptions. For the most part I found myself drawn in to the story, and actually caring about what was going to happen.
It was nice to see the X-Men in the classic black-and-yellow, especially done in a way that didn’t look cheesy or forced. The effects were well done, and there was enough plot to keep me interested the whole time.

I really loved the back-and-forth between Erik and Charles. I could see where each was coming from; Xavier from a place of privilege, Erik as someone with PTSD. The greatest crime of this film — aside from Xavier’s arse-hattery — was that the two never kissed. I’m being completely serious here; there were a few moments when I felt that a kiss would strengthen their bond and make the story more compelling.

As it was, it was left tiredly hetero, though I admit I didn’t expect anything different.

Perhaps the most intriguing character was not the leads, but Raven aka Mystique. Mystique wasn’t just a mutant, she was an obvious mutant who had to spend her life hiding, trying to “pass” as human. Deliberate allegories are made to race relations in this aspect (unfortunately tainted by some pretty appalling racism in the film).

Mystique is pulled every which way; her privileged adopted brother (Charles) tried to tell her “Be proud!” while at the same time telling her to hide; Hank says he cares about her, but tries to fundamentally change her.
Then Erik tells her, no, don’t change, I like you now.

Is it any wonder she joined the Brotherhood?

The Bad

There isn’t much I can actually say here because most of the things I didn’t like about the film fall squarely into the Problematic category. I do wish that Raven/Mystique had a larger part, though. She was such a dynamic character, with such an interesting storyline, that it was a shame that she didn’t get to do more. She was shoved to the side in favour of the men.

A torso shot of Jennifer Lawrence done up as Mystique: bright red hair, blue textured skin, yellow eyes. She is wearing a yellow and black jacket.

Thankfully Jennifer Lawrence was a good enough actor to shine through regardless.

It also bothered me that the cast was so hugely USian. Why couldn’t MacTaggart be Scottish? Why couldn’t Banshee be Irish?

The Problematic

This is the part where I ruin the film for you, so be prepared.

Oh gods, where do I start? What about MacTaggart; in the comics she is a geneticist, but here she is an FBI agent who needs the help of Charles Xavier. Oh, and she’s given an excuse to strip down to a bra and panties inn the first 10 seconds of her appearance. Why is she wearing those heels anyway? Not to mention the stockings and garter…

What about all the strippers that are in this film? Or the pointless amount of T&A that you see? What about the fact that only once does Xavier ask permission before entering someone’s mind?
What about Emma fucking Frost?

Ok, yeah, let’s talk about Emma.

Emma Frost as she first appears. She is white and blonde. She is wearing white thigh-high heeled boots, a white corset and a white fur cloak. Speech bubble reads: 'As you say, Shaw'.

I have made no bones about the fact that I Do No Like Emma Frost. She was created to give comic book artists an excuses to put T&A into comics, as if they needed one! Except with Emma they get to call it feminist. Yeah, not so much.

But that’s not the problem I have with this portrayal of Emma.

There is a scene of Emma in her Diamond form being strapped to the end of a bed with steel bedposts, which rare being controlled by Erik/Magneto. That’s the first thing.

Then he starts to twist the metal around her neck, tighter and tighter, until… She cracks, and changes back into normal form. Uh, excuse me? Emma Frost, in her Diamond form, cracks. Shatters. I should remind you that at this point she is pure, flawless diamond, the hardest natural substance on earth!
It should be really, really difficult for Erik to crush her neck and yet he barely strains.

In a world where female comic book characters are frequently depowered (often in sexualised ways), this is really annoying.

Then there’s Angel.
A torso shot of Zoë Kravitz - a Latina woman with brown skin and dark brown hair - in her role as Angel Salvadore. She is wearing a black halter top and smiling seductively at the camera. You can see a wing tattoo on her left arm.

Angel, or Tempest, is a character with a rich history. She runs away from home at 14 to escape her abusive father, gets captured by U-Men who want to use her for parts, is rescued by Wolverine and joins the X-Men, is tutored by Emma Frost, is convinced to join The Brotherhood of Mutants, goes back to the X-Men, has a boyfriend, lays eggs…

In this film? She’s a stripper. A stripper with about 4 lines, and only one action sequence (which involves her spitting at someone for 30 seconds).

Look, I don’t mind that her story doesn’t fit with continuity, I really don’t. I do mind that someone decided it would be a good idea go turn her into a stripper, just so we could have a scene with Erik and Charles smirking as they eyed her in the strip club.
There was no reason why she had to be a stripper except for that short scene. So why do it?

The reason this is so problematic is not just because of the sexualisation of women – though that is one aspect. There is also a racial aspect to this.

Angel is the only Women of Colour in this film, and one of the few People of Clour in it. In the US there is a long history of Women of Colour, especially Black and Latina women, being hyper-sexualised. They are seen as whores, sluts, un-rapeable (by being “always willing”). Having the only WoC in this film be a stripper perpetuates this very dangerous idea. Not to mention the fact that she is the first character to be Turned and join the Brotherhood.

Which brings me to my next point.

Darwin, played by Edi Gathegi.
A torso shot of Edi Gathegi - a black man with short, very dark brown hair. He is standing side on and turning to face the camera. He is wearing a grey suit and hat, and a pale pink tie.

This character is treated so, so badly. He has very few lines, he is the only X-Man to not have an origin story and, oh yeah, he dies first in order to give the white characters motivation.

What. The. Fuck.
He is so inconsequential to the plot that he isn’t even given a spot on the main IMDB page!

Then there’s Riptide, whose name I only know because I looked it up. Riptide isn’t named in the film, and isn’t given any lines. That’s right, none. Another PoC character who is shoved to the side without nary a glance!

Add this to the fact that Mystique also ended up joining the Brotherhood… I think Skye at Heroine Content best summed it up:

“What if the filmmakers made sure that by the end of the movie, the First Class of X-Men was a group of white American men (one who had turned blue and furry) and Magneto’s “brotherhood” was composed of everyone foreign and female?”

I really, really wanted to love this film, especially since it is thus far the best X-Men film of the lot. But the more I think about it the more these horrible stereotypes and tropes piss me off.

One star.

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Responses

  1. Fuck yeah, great review. I watched it last night, and had a lot of problems with it and a bit of a nasty taste in my mouth, even though I enjoyed the spectacle and there were some great moments. You’ve just pointed out even more race/class/gender squick that I missed.

    I also fervently agree about the Just Kiss Already Goddammit!


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