Monday, May 26, 2014

Mystique Isn't A Robot, Stop Making Her Into One (X-Men: DOFP)

It's not super on topic, but I've recently noticed that I really have a thing for frenemies in fiction. Like, I would probably totally hate having a frenemy in my life, because I dislike ambiguity in my relationships, but I totally dig it in my stories. Charles and Erik in X-Men. Enjolras and Grantaire in Les Miserables. Jean Valjean and Javert in Les Miserables as well, for that matter. Steve and Bucky. Faith and Buffy. I love them because they're like opposite sides of a coin: pragmatism versus idealism.

Anyway, I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past on Friday, and I would like to discuss it now.

If you want to be totally technical, I could have written this article and posted it on Friday itself, because I saw the movie early enough, but the good friend I saw it with was kind enough to agree to come over to my house and help me clean, and you never decline an offer like that. So I write to you now from my super clean room in my super clean place, and I am very content with this situation. Also, the movie was pretty good.

Maybe even more than pretty good, if I'm being honest. I really enjoyed this film, and I have to say that I wasn't expecting that. I kind of had an inkling going in that this was either going to be awesome and amazing or effing terrible. I was definitely leaning towards effing terrible, just because the previews did not inspire confidence, and it looked so stuffed with characters and feelings - I just didn't know how they were going to pull it off. To be honest, I'm still not sure how they pulled it off, but they did and I appreciate that.

So, for all of you who only read up until the part where I say whether a movie is good and worth watching or not, yes, it is, and you should go see it. This movie is totally rad and you will enjoy it. That doesn't mean I had no issues with the film, because that would be virtually impossible, but merely that it's thoroughly enjoyable and worth the ticket price and fantastically executed.

Okay. Now let's get down to brass tacks. SPOILERS.

A basic recap for those of you who aren't going to see it or have already forgotten: The movie starts out in the future, sometime distantly past the timeline in the regular X-Men movies. Our heroes, the X-Men are a weary and harried group, forced to fight for survival against terrifying giant machines called Sentinels that seem able to anticipate their movements and act against them. Even managing to transform to adapt to their powers. The mutants are fighting a losing battle, and it's pretty clear that they're some of the only ones left: Bishop (Omar Sy), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Iceman (Shawn Ashcroft), Sunspot (Adan Canto), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). 

Fortunately, our little group of heroes has a couple of tricks up their sleeves. Namely, that whenever the Sentinels attack, Warpath warns them as quickly as he can, and then Kitty Pryde and Bishop run like hell so that she can use her powers to send his mind back into his body of a few days ago to warn them about the attack before it even happens. Then, when the Sentinels show up, they're gone, because they were never there.

Boom. Time travel. Explained really early in the film. Good job, guys!

The plan is a good one, but you can only run for so long. Instead, they need to think longer term, and Professor X (Sir Patrick Stewart) has an idea. He and Magneto (Sir Ian McKellan) have teamed up (along with Wolverine - Hugh Jackman - and Storm - Halle Berry), and they want to use Kitty's powers for something a little more, well, powerful. Why not send Professor X back in time, to his younger self's body, in order to stop the events that would lead to this horrible dystopian future?

It's a good plan, but it has a small snag. Kitty can't safely send someone back that far. If she did, his brain would shred itself. 

Fortunately, there's a solution for this. We'll send Wolverine back, because he can heal from anything ever, and he had a body in the 1970s, so he'll at least not get confused about how he looks. Far from it, actually. He looks almost exactly the same. Then he'll just have to use the limited time he has - which is pretty much as long as they can spare before Sentinels attack their new hiding place, since this is an all or nothing plan - to convince the younger Professor X and Magneto to work together to stop Mystique from killing this random dude and starting a giant massive war. Simple.

Obviously, nothing really goes according to plan. Wolverine wakes up in the wrong city, has to fight his way out of a mob ambush, steals a car, drives to Westchester, and then comes face to face with a shockingly not blue Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). Said not-blue Hank/Beast then turns blue and furry and tries to throw Wolverine out of the house. The house that is sad and decrepit and overgrown and like a visual monument to depression.

He's stopped by Charles Xavier, the young Professor X himself (James McAvoy), who is, utterly bafflingly, not in a wheelchair. Also not psychic. What on earth is happening here?

Oh, okay. Apparently Hank has developed a serum that allows him to look normal and Charles to walk, but it does so by suppressing their mutant abilities. So, in human form, Hank isn't very strong, and Charles has no telepathy. Hank takes just enough to look normal most of the time, but Charles takes the stuff by the truckload (in a particularly smack-addict sort of way, too), precisely because it suppresses his telepathy. He's sick to death of hearing everyone's pain all the time. He wants some peace.

I guess what I'm saying is that the movie gets off to a charming and totally not depressing as hell start.

Logan (aka, Wolverine) manages to convince them of his bonafides and that they really do need to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from her mission - which is to kill Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), a weapons manufacturer who has used illegal and inhumane experiments on mutants to create the Sentinels, a weapon designed to target mutant DNA and destroy them all. If Mystique kills Trask, appealing though that sounds, she'll actually prove his point about how dangerous mutants are, and cause the US government to order thousands of the things. So, not really her best plan ever.

Charles agrees to help, not because he entirely believes Logan, but because he wants to save Mystique from becoming a murderer, and it's off to the races. But first they need to make a stop. Future!Professor X and Magneto made it very clear that only by working together could the two of them convince Mystique to stop. So, they have to go get Erik (Michael Fassbender). 

The thing is, Erik is being held in a really, really, really high security prison because the government believes he was responsible for murdering JFK. Because of course they do. The cell is buried one hundred floors below the center of the Pentagon. So, you know, no sweat.

Actually, it really would be no sweat if it weren't for that little thing where Charles doesn't have his powers at the moment. He can't help them at all. They need to go for outside help, and turn to a hilariously terrible and unhelpful teenage contact of Logan's: Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters), aka, Quicksilver.

Peter agrees to help them, and they do manage to break Erik out of jail, though not without alerting everyone in the known universe to the jail break and also there being some emotional fallout, and oh yeah, the single most entertaining scene in the movie that contains the single greatest sound cue you will see in a movie this year. I'm not saying anything more, but yeah. It's awesome.

Blah blah blah, Mystique tracks down Trask and discovers that he'll be making a presentation on the Sentinel program at the Paris Peace Accords (the end of the Vietnam War). She seduces a Vietnamese official, and then takes his place, all with the intention of straight up murdering Trask in public and then running the crap away. Tragically, Trask carries a handy-dandy mutant detector with him wherever he goes, and he finds her. Then Charles, Hank, Logan, and Erik find her before she can do anything to Trask.

And then everything goes completely bonkers.

Mystique gets tazed, Logan suffers a traumatic flashback (it seems Trask is getting some help from a young William Stryker, who ruined Logan's life), Charles has just a second to comfort Mystique before Erik goes nuts and decides that the only way to keep the world safe is to straight up murder his friend. Mystique that is. He shoots her.

Let us all take a moment to appreciate the fact that Erik Lensherr does not make sound strategic decisions. Like, ever. Ever ever. Ever. Shooting Mystique instead of running like hell away from the scene of the attempted crime is not one of his better ones, but it's also not one of his worst, sadly. I think that plan goes to the pile of crap he comes up with at the end of this film, but you know, his idea from X-Men: First Class was pretty terrible too. I'm just going to bomb the entire US and USSR navies - while they're carrying nukes - and that will make everyone leave mutants alone forever. How did this man manage to lead a mutant terrorist organization? I don't even trust him alone with a stapler.

Mystique jumps out a window and tries desperately to get away, but Erik goes after her and like clearly uses his powers, which means that since they're in front of a massive crowd of people, now everyone knows about mutants and also that they are scary and angry, and then Beast gets involved's not a good time, okay?

Everyone escapes eventually, and regroups. Erik is a creepy creeper in his hotel room and plans his next move. Mystique gets her bullet wound stitched up and tries to figure out if she should kill Trask after all. Meanwhile, Charles and crew return to the mansion just in time for Charle's miracle walking drugs to wear off and his telepathy to turn back on. He doesn't like it, but he lets Logan talk him into getting back in the wheelchair and using his mind.

Specifically, using Cerebro to locate Mystique and convince her not to murder anyone. It doesn't work. At first it doesn't work because Charles is woefully out of practice. There's a cool scene where Charles digs through Logan's head until he reaches his present time and has a super trippy telepathic conversation with future!Charles - it's very confusing but quite touching. Then he's back and manages to have a real talk with Mystique (via all of the people standing around her and hallucinations, but that must be par for the course when you grow up with a super powerful telepath). Mystique refuses to be swayed, because they never explain why she should be, and they have to figure out another plan.

Said plan appears to be just sort of showing up at the big White House celebration where Trask and President Nixon are unveiling the new Sentinels that are going to save us all. Sentinels that Trask doesn't know Erik has already infiltrated and filled with metal so that he can control them.

Unsurprisingly, crap goes down. Choices are made. Charles gets hit in the head and stuck under something heavy because he's in a wheelchair again. Erik continues to carry out the dumbest plan in the history of ever, and then Mystique saves the world. By shooting Erik. To be fair, someone had to. 

In more detail, Erik disrupts the unveiling by turning on all of the Sentinels and then hijacking them to start attacking humans, thereby undermining human confidence in the robots. Then he drops a giant stadium around the White House, forces the President to come out and see him, and tries to murder him on live television. The television thing isn't an accident, either. He makes sure all the cameras are watching.


Like, seriously, why? This is the worst plan. Erik is trying to prevent a world war that would devastate all of mutant-kind, and pretty much everyone else. This war sprang up out of human fear. Fear specifically of mutants. How is the solution to that making everyone pee their pants in fear, Erik? Seriously. I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving my cat alone with you for a week for fear that you would decide to stop feeding her so that she learns to stop meowing for food or something.* Erik logic is the worst.

Fortunately for everyone ever, the plan fails, and Mystique becomes known as the mutant who self-sacrificially saved the President. Also, Charles does the unthinkable and takes control of Erik's mind! Juuuust long enough to get the giant piece of stadium off of him, because Erik is a dick. Seriously.

Then Erik flies away, and Mystique limps off, and it's just Hank and Charles again, like usual. Oh, and Logan, but he's sort of busy dying of puncture wounds and drowning in the Potomac. Whoops. Eventually, he wakes up in the future, and the future is much better. He's at the school - there is a school - and Rogue is there and everyone's still alive (we watched them all die in the future), and Jean is there and unfortunately so is Scott... It's a lot to take in. But yay! The whole thing worked!

After which there is some setup for the sequel that makes legitimately no sense (why on earth would Mystique impersonate Stryker?), and lots of fun times.

That was a bit more detailed than I intended to be, but I feel like with this kind of movie you sort of have to get all the plot points down before it's even worth talking about anything more theoretical. Because while this movie was enjoyable and fun and cool, it was also complex as hell. That's not a criticism, by the way, but an observation. This is not an easy movie. And as a result, we kind of have to remember what all happens in order to figure out what to think of it.

Here's what I think of it. I think that it was very fun, and totally cool, and that I am rather insulted by how the female characters were portrayed. So, the usual?

I love all of the references and jokes and the character development. I love the oblique reference to Erik being Peter's dad (comic book canon), and I love pretty much everything about how they played Peter's character, despite being pre-inclined to hate the ever living crap out of it. I love the storyline and the way they handled the time travel. I love the humor and the costumes and the emotional arc. I love the not at all bromance between Erik and Charles and how they're so wrapped up in each other it makes them stupid. I love that this movie dared to make Charles fallible and weak but still right, and I love that it made Erik deal with his crap.

Pictured: my rage.
However. I do not love that this movie, which ostensibly could have been a film about two amazing women doing incredibly badass things, reduced both of those female characters to plot devices. I more than don't love that. I actively hate it.

Both Kitty Pryde and Mystique are central to this whole thing. Kitty because she is the one whose powers make all of this possible, and Mystique because she is the one who must be stopped from killing Trask. On their own, it seems like they are two developed female characters who contribute to the story, right? Well, they don't. 

Kitty exists only as a vehicle for her powers. She is given no character development, no emotions, and no real reason to be in the movie except as a plot device. This is particularly insulting since Kitty Pryde is the one who traveled back in time in the original comics. It makes sense that she doesn't here - since she would be about negative 27 years old, and also she couldn't survive the trip - but that doesn't make it less obnoxious.

This story could have been about two women working together to save the future. Kitty, the one who travels back in time with a message about a horrible future, and Mystique, who must then determine how to prevent that future.

Only it doesn't happen like that because instead of actually giving our female characters emotional arcs or motivation, we got heaps and heaps of man-angst. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the man-angst, just that I think we could have done better. So much better.

For starters, the film ought to have spent more time on Mystique and her actual motivations for killing Trask. From the very little we do see of her reasons, they're actually pretty legitimate. The dude has been kidnapping mutants and experimenting on them, killing many of her friends. Heck, we even see at one point that Trask had Angel's (Zoe Kravitz) wings brutally pulled off. It's horrific. So, I get why Mystique is doing this. But I don't get what I really want, which is Mystique contemplating the moral ambiguities here.

Like, the whole movie, Charles' goal, and therefore the goal of the "good guys" is to stop Mystique from killing Trask. But is that actually the goal we should be supporting? I mean, yeah, killing is wrong, but the movie makes a big deal about letting Mystique make her own choices, and it completely fails to deliver on that. Mystique is never given the option to hear out the future she could help create. She hears about it third hand, from Erik, in very brief terms. 

Furthermore, no one ever bothers to tell her all of the information, they just tell her what to do. Which, if you will recall, was her entire story arc in X-Men: First Class. Getting pissed the hell off at Charles for always treating her like a child.

I want to see Mystique trying to decide how best to build this beautiful future she hears about. I want someone to sit down with her, and give her the option of informed action. I want everyone to stop treating her like a ping-pong ball going back and forth between Charles and Erik, and to actually give her an effing choice.

Just saying.

Also, I didn't appreciate that the only female character of color from X-Men: First Class was brutally murdered and did not appear in this film, nor did I like that none of the even vaguely extraneous characters in the film were women. Like, we got a couple of secretaries, some hookers, a few people in the crowd, and that's it. Which is crap.

Ultimately, though I really did like this movie and enjoy it fully, I wish it could have been more. I wish that instead of giving us all this claptrap about letting Mystique decide, they'd actually been brave enough to follow through. Don't tell me that she's the one making this decision, show me. Give me reasons. Jennifer Lawrence is definitely a good enough actress to give us compelling scenes about the moral consequences of her actions. Give me that version.

I would greatly prefer that, even if you had to cut down some of the Charles and Erik (b)romance a bit to fit it in. I would rather have a Mystique who feels like a real character than this: a film where the only two women who contribute to the plot could be replaced by robots and no one would know the difference.

*I don't actually have a cat at the moment. But if I did, I totally would never let Erik cat-sit.


  1. I want to see Mystique trying to decide how best to build this beautiful future she hears about.

    So let me get this straight. Everything hinges on what Mystique decides to do - so nothing's shown from her perspective? Mystique is the one who's developing as she decides how to navigate between the (static) poles exemplified by Xavier and Magneto - so nothing's shown from her perspective?

    1. I'm not sure whether to call that sexist and absurd, or absurd and sexist.

    2. It makes me sad, because I so want to appreciate the feminist agenda of this movie, and I can't.