So this week I saw the new X Men movie, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Overall, I enjoyed it a great deal and you can read my (non spoilery) thoughts HERE as a Storify [along with spoilerific chat with the Bang2writers afterwards, so stop reading at the break if you don’t want spoilers!], or click Wolverine below.
My Xpectations (arf) were low for the new movie, as I hadn’t really enjoyed FIRST CLASS, which I’d found (in comparison to just about everyone else in the known universe) both dull and a self congratulatory nerdfest. So I was pleasantly surprised to find XMEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was exciting, had some BIG ideas to it and even had some intriguing story elements we don’t often see in Hollywood movies. Of course, it wasn’t perfect and there were things I would have changed had they employed *me* as its script editor (provided of course I could have stopped staring at Hugh Jackman at the read-through. Actually let’s not pretend, we’d never make it to the read-through ‘cos I’d kidnap him and keep him in my sex dungeon. Anyway, moving on).
As ever, I’ve heard many observations, arguments and complaints from the blogosphere and various conversations I’ve had on social media and IRL. I’ve attempted to round them up here as questions to answer, so let’s go:
1) It’s too scary for a 12A?
For those unfamiliar with the plot of X MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, its main “A” story is basically about a dystopian future in which giant robots called Sentinels identify, track down and destroy mutant DNA. They’re extremely successful too, which means there’s very few X Men actually left (or indeed humans, since Sentinels started to identify those who would go on to have mutant children, so started eradicating them as well). Essentially this part of the story is about destiny and culpability, two very common themes in the Science Fiction genre. Another common element in the X Men franchise is violence and whilst it’s certainly true violence has always been key, most of it is highly stylised and does not often linger on the pain of its victims. The films can even combines violence with comedy (ie. Wolverine’s beating in ORIGINS in the boxing ring) or plot points (Rogue “stealing” Logan’s power in the first movie). In comparison then, I found DAYS OF FUTURE PAST much darker and scarier than its predecessors, with various characters suffering sudden and gruesome demises, with a focus on their suffering, if only for moments of voyeuristic clarity for the viewer. That said, it did add to the excitement and the wonder of whether the survivors could turn the situation around in time.
VERDICT: Ultimately, I think the above observation is justified. Burning and impaling feature heavily in the fights of this movie and ultimately I was glad I had not taken my WG, just eight years old, as I think she would have been frightened. I would prefer to have seen DAYS OF FUTURE PAST classified as a 15, so other parents whose kids like mine have seen other X Mens would not make this mistake and set themselves up for weeks of undoubtedly sleepless nights! So, I say YES.
2) It’s nothing like the source material?
Adaptation is a tricky beast. What fidelity means and how it works is complicated, but I think it’s important to remember film and books/graphic novels are two completely different mediums, thus are governed by different things. For example, the comics may well have had more diversity, especially regarding gender of the main characters (ie. more women in the comic; more white dudes in the film), but whether we like it or not as writers, the likelihood is that the number of people who HAVEN’T read the source material wanting to see an adaptation – of anything – will probably outnumber those who HAVE. On this basis then, if Hollywood is to follow the money, then they need to appeal to the most people possible. In the case of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Wolverine, for whatever reason, has proved himself a significant draw to audiences for over a decade now. That may be down to the character of Wolverine; or the fact Hugh Jackman now enjoys a BIG career as an A List star; or it may be a combo of both (and likely is). Whatever the case, putting Wolverine in a new movie such as DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – when the story can so easily be “adapted to fit” him in – seems a complete no brainer. Incidentally, I also found intriguing how Wolverine was used in *this* instalment: whilst he did all the same stuff he usually does – fighting, arguing, stabbing people, yelling, running around, making quips – Wolverine’s stature as a traditional “hero” is compromised IMHO. Instead, he is arguably the “glue” that holds the A thread and B threads together and can only act as a catalyst to get OTHERS to “save the world”, not “the solution”?
VERDICT: Whether this argument is justified I think depends on how you approach the movie. If you’re a comic fan, I think your enjoyment may well be affected by the apparent liberties taken with the source material. However, if you do not read comics (or have not read this particular one), then you may well enjoy it more on that basis. In addition, as a writer it may frustrate you Wolverine is “shoe-horned” in on the basis of $$$ and audience draw and that would be perfectly understandable; equally on the flipside, you may approach it more philosophically, as I do. I don’t believe it’s possible to change Hollywood in the course of one film, especially when we think of how the system works and how we ALL participate in it, not just in making films but also consuming them. Remember those distribution questions: “What’s it about?” versus “Who’s directing?” versus “Who’s in it?” are key in driving sales. From my POV we can fight that and lose (and never get off the starting blocks, possibly?), or we can accept it and try and work out HOW to get more diversity in *around* those expected/desired elements like Wolverine? So, I reckon MAYBE.
3) People of Colour don’t do any of the important stuff ?
The irony that a franchise like the X Men that supports and celebrates diversity has placed white dudes at the helm is not lost on the blogosphere and nor should it, IMHO. Of course there should be more diversity in ALL Hollywood movies; that goes without saying and I DO look forward to the day that the best actor for the job is hired, instead of 90-95% of the roles going to white people. But let’s also get real: people of colour are ALWAYS relegated to seconday roles. It’s simply too easy to suppose white people do the “important stuff” in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, whilst PoCs appear only to tick a so-called “diversity box”. The reason I say this is NOT because I don’t want diversity either – I just said I did – but because, as already mentioned both here AND in other posts, I think it is unrealistic to suppose just one film can turn everything around as we want, *just like that*.
Also worth a mention, IMHO: if we look to film history, it’s apparent PoCs frequently occupy the so-called “expendable hero” role, especially in Action/Adventure. Is this down to institutional racism, as in PoCs are “worth less”? Perhaps once upon a time yes, hence various parodies on the Horror “convention” that “the black guy dies first” as in he is literally expendable. But genre-wise Action/Adventure is not Horror and it’s important to note the term “expendable hero” refers to the plot and NOT the colour of the character! Expendable heroes can be PoCs AND white and frequently are. Also, audiences DON’T WANT him (occasionally her) to die. From there, we can also note in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, there is not just *one* expendable hero, but multiple ones and unusually, of BOTH genders. Beyond this point, it’s also worth remembering that if they can’t be the protagonist or antagonist, ALL actors love dying spectacularly and as already mentioned in section one, there’s certainly enough violence in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST to ensure *that*!
VERDICT: The lack of diversity in primary roles in general in Hollywoods definitely frustrates me and the irony of X MEN essentially following suit when its theme is diversity is irresistable. But I think, to keep the conversation going resist this argument we must, because it’s simply too “easy”. One film cannot turn decades of institutionalised racism around overnight, plus we have no way of knowing how much impact a) writing Expendable Heroes in the Action/Adventure genre has, or b) PoCs has when auditioning for these roles. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but if we are to have more diversity on screen as a whole, arguably the more diverse a cast the better in individual movies, regardless of what role function they perform. So, IMHO: NO.
4) Kitty Pryde & Rogue Don’t Have Enough Screen-Time?
Apparently Kitty Pryde features heavily in the source material and there was a sequence in the original screenplay for DAYS OF FUTURE PAST that included Rogue which ended up on the cutting room floor. Given the formiddable talents of both Ellen Page and Anna Paquin – not to mention the latter’s history with the franchise, especially that impressive first movie – this DOES seem a mega-shame. However when it comes to filmmaking and editing, difficult decisions DO have to be made for various reasons that don’t automatically have to include misogyny. We don’t know what agony went into those decisions, or whether either actress was even available for shooting for very long. Given most filmmakers want to make the best film possible with what’s available, I find it unlikely it was a case of “Oh who cares, it’s just the girls”, especially given @FerretPrincess had a hand in the story. Plus it’s also worth remembering that without Kitty Pryde’s powers, the world would have ended.
VERDICT: Kitty is cool and does get to run around a bit in the prologue sequence, at least; maybe even as long as she does in X3, though it’s been a good while since I’ve seen it (and frankly, I wanted to see MORE of her in that movie too!). Also, given the DAYS OF FUTURE PAST marketers stuck with Rogue as one of the poster girls, if only on social media, I found it a little disingenuous she’s in the movie for about 5 seconds! So, overall, is this observation justified? I say YES.
4) Isn’t Mystique too nude and a cipher?
Mystique was my favourite character from the first X MEN movie by far: she’s totally bad ass and unapologetic for it. Also, for a nude superheroine you don’t actually really *see* anything, so for me it’s the best of both worlds: she does not have nipples and nor do we see pubic hair or similar. The addition of scales makes me think of a lizard or chameleon – as we’re supposed to, no doubt, given her powers – and I can’t say I’ve ever looked at a reptile and thought, “Nope, should definitely be wearing some clothes.” Mystique is sexy, it’s true, but I see that in a powerful way, using her entire body as a weapon; hands, legs, feet, eyes, brain. Why WOULD she wear clothes that could restrict most of that, especially when she can manifest them from thin air if she needs them when impersonating someone else?
But whatever the case, if Mystique is “too nude” for some people, I wonder why they’re watching an X Men movie at all? Most important characters are objectified in some way in this franchise, whether we are invited to see them as sexy, swarthy, stylish or animalistic or strong (sometimes all five, such as within Wolverine himself!). This is something that happens in ALL Hollywood movies to some degree; stars by their very nature are usually very attractive, based on audience demand. If we want to change that, then we need to be looking to other movies – especially indie movies, starring unknowns – and throwing our support and money behind them. Surprise. NOT.
As for Mystique being a “cipher”, I guess I wasn’t watching the same movie as those who think this. Given the entire storyline is underpinned by her actions – or lack of them – in the “A” thread, plus her motivations were explored in detail and clash with both Magneto’s and Charles’ counter motivations, I guess I wonder what the problem is. I thought it was really interesting Mystique’s actions as the antagonist actually drove the plot forward, something that hardly ever happens in a Hollywood blockbuster, since female antagonists – such as Viper in The Wolverine – are usually demoted to a secondary Henchwoman in comparison.
VERDICT: The debate of what constitutes the “strong woman” will rage for decades yet no doubt, but when I think of my notion of the “men with boobs”, I will be honest and say I have never once thought Mystique deserved to be within that category. That in itself is a personal opinion of course, but then what a “strong” character is – male or female – is down to that too, so it would depend on who is watching, perhaps? Regarding whether it’s justified she’s a cipher, I would out and out reject that based on actual plot details and Mystique’s motivations/actions. So, deciding on this section? MAYBE/NO.
6) Why isn’t Trask’s Motivations/Backstory Explored More?
The creator of the Sentinel programme in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is a scientist called Trask, who also performs an antagonist role function in the plot which is unsurprising, given he is basically responsible for Earth’s entire downfall. Like in many Science Fiction stories, being a scientist in the X MEN storyworld brings with it great responsibility, power and consequence and in that sense, Trask is no different. What DOES make Trask “different” is that he happens to be a Little Person, as he is played by Peter Dinklage, who some Bang2writers may recognise, especially from TV’s GAME OF THRONES. Yet there are no jokes or even observations made about Trask’s size. I found this very refreshing: after all, there is absolutely no reason why a Little Person cannot be a great scientist. As far as I was concerned, his desire to do great work and supposedly protect the world was outlined in the following beats:
i) Trask worries we may become extinct, just like Neanderthals, as he points out Homo Sapiens (“That’s us”) are now the LESS evolved of the species when placed next to Mutants. Wanting to protect yourself, your family, even your species is a very human reaction and has absolutely nothing to do with being a Little Person.
ii) When he’s asked why he “hates mutants so much”, Trask replies that he doesn’t and that he actually admires them for their gifts. He goes on to say he sees capturing those gifts as a way of ensuring peace. Again, nothing to do with being a Little Person.
iii) Throughout the movie, Trask “others” Mutants in a similar way to The Third Reich when approaching the “Jewish Problem”. The moments are few and far between, but there are instances when Trask refers to mutants as “it” or as if they are specimens, especially Mystique. This ties in with those Mengeles-like autopsy photographs Mystique finds in the safe.
iv) Throughout the movie, it is clear Trask has a MASSIVE ego. He is happy to talk to reporters, sweeps into rooms as if he owns them and reacts with hot anger – “I’ll FIX IT!” – when he is called into question.
In other words then, I thought Trask’s motivations were very clear in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: he is afraid of Mutants usurping humans. Trask also believes – erroneously as it turns out – that he can control the situation through force by creating the Sentinels: a “pre-emptive strike” if you will, the best form of defence being attack (or “prevention” being better than cure, even?). It could be argued Trask could be a metaphor for Superpowers of the past like the aforementioned Nazi Germany; USSR; Cuba or America, especially given the past thread of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is set in 1973.
So I was surprised and intrigued to read multiple, multiple tweets in particular lamenting Trask’s apparent lack of motivations. The general gist appeared to be that it was a lost opportunity: Trask is himself “different”! Is his hatred of mutants an expression of self loathing? Shouldn’t Trask’s size inform his character and/or the story in *some* way? But on the flipside, why should it, when his personality informs the two via the four elements I outline above? Obviously height is part of a person and will have some bearing on their worldview (for whatever reason), but when it comes to storytelling, no one suggests a character being 6’3 or 5’3 makes a direct difference to the decisions they make in trying to take over the world, so why should being shorter?
VERDICT: Apparently Trask was an average sized man in the X Men comics (and wasn’t even in the source material!), plus Peter Dinklage is a huge star of the moment, meaning his casting in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is probably a reflection of his fame. When it comes to the character and his motivations not being clear, I would argue the story was not rewritten at all to accomodate the fact Dinklage is a Little Person and that this is actually a good thing when it comes to diversity, which we all say we want! What’s more, when it comes to character motivation, I felt it was signposted very obviously via the three steps I outline in this section and that it’s semantic noise – ie. people’s surprise to see a Little Person in this kind of role – that stops them processing those moments of exposition that relate to WHY Trask wants to build the Sentinels. So, regarding whether this last argument is justified? I say NO.
Whatever you personally think of X MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, I am hopeful its success will point to further diversity of Hollywood movies, which I think are undergoing an interesting transition at the moment. Whether intentional or accidental, I don’t believe we would have seen a woman or a Little Person in key antagonist roles in a Hollywood blockbuster as little as five years ago; plus whilst I’d obviously rather have more women and more PoCs in primary roles, the more in secondary roles the better until then to keep the momentum pushing forwards.
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