Preachy Morality Tales Are My Jam: On Why I Love X-Men
Not because of Hugh Jackman’s abs, but also not NOT because of that.
I don’t come from the land of comic books. As a kid, I read a lot of Elfquest but otherwise I didn’t have much interest in comics. I grew up reading Stephen King novels so books under 400 pages tend to leave me wanting.
I do come from the land of science fiction, though, and I line up as eagerly as the next geek to see movies like The Avengers and X-Men. I might not know the intricate backstory of each character but I do love spending 2 hours watching people blow up aliens. If a movie has aliens, serial killers, space ships, time travel, dragons, monsters or weirdness, I’m in.
I’ve come to realize that a lot of my love for science fiction and fantasy isn’t as much about the special effects as it is about the messages. I like walking away with something more than 2 hours of entertainment.
Star Trek: The Next Generation began airing when I was about 9 and made a huge impression on me. The utopian ideals that the Trek shows espouse helped form my own beliefs about the world. I believe we can conquer war and poverty; that we can learn to embrace our differences instead of hurting each other.
Gross, I know, but that’s why I work here at Can’t Talk. I believe in the message we’re trying to send with every article and podcast we do: people matter.
I’ve been missing a sense of idealism in my science fiction these days. All the new movies seem to be bigger, badder, and explodier but they are missing heart. Even in The Avengers, which I really liked, the moral of the story seemed to get lost beneath witty dialogue and faceless enemies. Mere mortal humans are often expendable in these stories, maybe because it’s easy to kill so many with CGI. This element is also missing from the Trek reboots. They’re great flicks, but missing the thoughtful compassion that Roddenberry brought to the original series. Even the smallest of moments were an opportunity to say something meaningful. Check out astronaut from the past from the episode Tomorrow is Today, making an outdated assumption:
I’m not saying I like this clip because of Kirk’s butt but I’m not NOT saying that.
All this is why I really liked the new installment of the X-Men series–Days of Future Past. X-Men can be counted on to retain a message apart from the blowing up of famous landmarks. From it’s origins, the X-Men universe has acted as allegory for everything from racism to antisemitism to anti-LGBT sentiments. The X-Men are eternal outsiders, a minority culture that is feared just because it is are different (and sometimes might crush your face). Watch this interchange between Mystique and Nightcrawler in the second X-Men movie, just a small bit of dialogue but so important:
In the new movie, the various factions of X-Men have joined forces against a common enemy, and they are losing. They are driven to combine talents and set their differences aside to protect themselves and the world. This enemy–the Sentinel–was originally created to attack mutants directly and protect humanity. Predictably, the robots went crazy once let loose on the world. They started to target humans who might one day produce mutant progeny. Eventually, nearly everyone in the world becomes a target.
Throughout the movie you see people who have believed they were enemies join each other, because they are able to look past their conflict at the bigger picture. Mutants and humans with strongly-held stances are actually shown changing their minds when provided enough information to make a better choice.
The powerful optimism of Charles Xavier permeates the movie, making me as the audience believe things can change for the good. I left the theater wanting to emulate Xavier’s call to peace and togetherness rather than Magneto’s “might makes right” philosophy.
That’s the message I want my kids to get out of their media. I want future generations to be on the side of Professor X. The movies do a great job of fleshing out these competing philosophies as well as the human fear of all things different (and the consequences of that fear gone unchecked). The movie wasn’t just about entertainment, but about what’s right and wrong in a nuanced way. There’s more than one right answer and more than one kind of person. I like the way X-Men makes that clear without damning anyone (even the “bad guys”).
The movie certainly has some down sides and plot holes. My biggest issue with the movie was the lack of female characters with any depth. Mystique has her time in the sun and I liked her a lot. Jennifer Lawrence plays the character with the perfect mix of bad-assery and tenderness. Storm gets few lines, though, and Kitty Pryde does more whining than acting despite being a major part of the plot. I want more women in sci fi, period.
Overall, though, I really liked Days of Future Past. Movies like this prove that you don’t have to actually be preachy to deliver a message of hope, optimism and togetherness that is badly needed right now. I hope we see more movies with depth and attention to making the world a better place alongside all the cool explosions.