May 5, 2011

Queer Review: X-Men (2000)

Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer, and David Hayter
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Bruce Davison

The first X-Men movie was released at a time when comic book movies were at a low ebb and ended up kick starting the current modern comic book movie craze that is still going strong more than 10 years later. While there are no overt queer characters, there is an interesting subtext regarding prejudice and bigotry that is particularly relevant to the queer community.

X-Men takes place in the near future where human evolution is starting to "leap forward" and humans with strange and interesting powers are starting to come forward. Normal humans, however, are filled with fear at these mutants and one U.S. official, Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) has proposed legislation requiring all mutants to be registered with the government. There are those who oppose him, such as Magneto (Ian McKellen) who wishes to start a war between the mutants and the rest of humanity. However, there are others, such as Professor Xavier (Partick Stewart) who wish to prevent this war from starting by using peaceful methods to obtain equality.

The Queering
Science Fiction movies have a long history of using allegorical stand ins to tell general messages regarding the evils of bigotry - District 9 being a more recent example. X-Men can be seen as a part of this tradition. Magneto, who is Jewish and suffered through the concentration camps, is simply trying to prevent a second Holocaust - although his methodology leaves a lot to be desired.

However, there are many small parallels between the struggles of the mutants and specific queer experiences. For instance, the mutant powers come to exist in adolescence and many mutants hide their powers in order to avoid persecution. Openly gay director Bryan Singer admitted that he saw these similarities as well, the biggest of which is the way the mutant registration act is quite like DOMA. Also, in the comics, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) was supposed to be a lesbian, but thanks to the Comics Code, that never happened.

X-Men has a strong sense of style although it is not quite on the same level as some of the stronger super hero movies that came afterwords such as Superman Returns or The Dark Knight. Also, one can make the case that Spiderman or Ironman provide better entertainment value overall. However, the strengths of X-Men are it's diverse cast of characters which prevent proceedings from coming boring - although the large number of mutants also tends to prevent character identification - and the moral complexity of its main villain. Magneto makes for a more interesting antagonist than most comic book baddies.

Considering its strengths as a comic book movie with a queer subtext, I highly recommend X-Men.

The Rating


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