May 29, 2006
A Review of the X-Men: The Last Stand
Spoilers below and I give away the ending so don't read this unless you've seen it!!!!
I normally stay away from reviewing big mainstream commercial entities. However, the X-Men was at one distant time a staple in my life, keeping me entertained during my middle school summer vacations with a non-stop stream of psychodramatic surrealism (which I have to confess has probably formed the basis of a lot of my sense of humor).
The X-Men as a series is of course known for exploring just about every issue surrounding disenfranchisement there is. What is much less discussed, and largely unknown to fandom is just how much the X-Men philosophies and storylines draw from dystopic science fiction trends that peaked around the mid-50's, and before. There were many Russian science fiction authors that explored the bounds of normative behavior in the face of an ordered society after the Russian revolutions. Notably, Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We" kicked off a diaspora of individual verus collective thinking in both left and right wing literary/sci fi circles.
Later, we see anti-collectivist thinking mix with post-war anti-fascist writing, and we wind up with Henry Kuttner's "Mutant". If you thought Chris Claremont, Stan Lee, etc. were brilliant original storytellers, "Mutant" will rapidly dismiss that thought. We see the exact plotline of the X-Men - a world of telepathic mutants hunted down by a world that fears and hates them - being wholesale lifted into the Marvel Universe and remixed with people in tight spandex (I first accidentally came across Kuttner's work when I was 12 and digging around the scifi section in the library, concurrently while I was collecting back issues of the The Fall Of The Mutants). As mutants were all the rage in the Gold Atomic Age in pulp science fiction, Stan Lee happily mutates Wilmar Shiras's Children Of The Atom into Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters [a now unfortunate name that makes think all the kids are piped in with the short bus]. With this thread of science fiction as well as the X-Men, we see constant remixes individual in juxtaposition with collectivism, technocracy, race politics, queer identity, neoliberalism (in particular with the Genosha storylines), and in more current times biological identity itself (as transgenomic technologies become an aspect of our day to day existence).
So, back to the movie. All in all, I thought the diretors did just about as good a job as you can bringing in 40 years of plotline into a trilogy that the audience could still somewhat understand. After about 5 minutes into the movie, we are presented with the subtitle "In the not so distant future", and taken to a place where some of the X-Men are being hunted down by Sentinels. At this point my reaction was "fuck yeah! They went balls out and adopted the Days of the Future Past storyline" -- arguably the most important story arc, which firmly forever set the X-Men as underdogs fighting off a seemingly inevitable future. I was disappointed that they didn't just spin in this direction. The movie centers around a cure for the X-gene: this really nicely ties in just about all aspects of social drama. By the end, we see the villain Magneto injected by the anti-mutant "cure", lose his powers, and everyone goes home and the world is at peace. I was never really happy with Magneto's portrayal in the series, as he comes across as a bit too much of a bastard (when in the comic series, he cannot be pigeoned into a hero/villain duality easily). IMHO, the writers/directors of the movie missed out on a golden opportunity and very important political point: they should have written the ending such that after Magneto is stopped and "cured", nothing is really stopping the U.S. government/humans who then go out on all out campaign against all mutants. Instead of having peace and chance for "the Dream" to flourish, we would be then left with a movie ending where the X-Men face a truly uncertain future ahead. And more to the point: Xavier was right, but Magneto was also right: a war is coming. This would have transformed Magneto's character from one of being just a nutcase to actually being a critical question of extremism, as well as exploring issues of neoliberal interventions in intolerant societies, segueing nicely into current global politics. This approach could easily be a storyline in the X-Men saga -- there are no easy answers for our mutant heros. Instead, the movie falls back into a pseudo-political ending, where the cure is used as just a prop in a drama with fake and easily resolvable issues and woot the president is on our side.
Now, if I can only get myself to write about something useful one of these days I may actually get somewhere :)