Professor Xavier Is A Jerk

February 13th, 2015

We were so hot for Plok‘s extensive and illuminating reading of Guardians of the Galaxy (you know, the one with the raccoon that thinks it’s not a raccoon) that we invited him back to talk about X-Men: Days of Future Past, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen page and their role in a series of movies that are just full of “great” men…

You all know this guy, right?

Right, then.

We’re ready.

…So, goddamnit, after all this time, they finally have a chance to make a genuine statement about difference in these X-Men movies. Or, rather: the X-Men franchise itself has that chance, and takes it. They don’t want it to, obviously…would like it to somehow be other than it is, even though the way that it is, is all their own doing. Oh, it almost breaks your heart, doesn’t it? Watching them floundering around trying everything they can try just to miss the point, yet the point still comes through, the meaning still comes out, inevitably. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind, and all that. Instant karma…

Or, maybe not “Instant Karma”, actually. Not primarily.

But maybe something else.

I have to be honest with you: this is the only lens through which I can view X-Men: Days Of Future Past where it even counts as a movie that’s about anything. For what’s really happened here? I am, I freely confess, just a bit too old to have been tagged by the famous Kitty Pryde Nerd Crush – myself, I always liked the skinny, scared Jewish kid from the suburbs who was smarter than she thought she was, with the fairly-useless power – Chris Claremont used to talk about how maybe if she phased her hand through some loose rope for about an hour, maybe gradually the fibers of the rope would unravel – but Ellen Page was so astonishingly born to portray a film-version Kitty Pryde that she threatens to make actual even ALL the different kinds of Kitty Pryde out there, even for me who never really believed in about half of them. The Chess Grand Master. The Yogic Flyer. The Pro-Solar Mechanic. The Perfect Girlfriend. And just look at her whaling away on the thing, for heaven’s sake! From the second she wheeled to face Vinnie Jones in X3, perfectly improving on a Paul Smith cover (uh, it was a Paul Smith cover, wasn’t it?), my nerd-breath was absolutely taken away. Every time she’s been on screen, she’s been acting the CRAP out of this real-life-Kitty-Pryde thing…but you hardly get to notice it, because I think she’s been given, all told now, about ten-and-a-half minutes of screen time to do her thing. Even here, in what was really HER story in the comics, she’s doing dramatic things, badass things…even when it seems all she’s being asked to do is be hurt by Wolverine’s abduction of her storyline, she is heroically soldiering on and doing everything you and I probably couldn’t without breaking down and breaking right in two. Holy shit, and does anyone imagine that Ellen Page couldn’t have carried an X-Men movie? Wolverine would still be in it, you know. He would have a pretty cool part, in fact! Why you could even still have given Hugh Jackman top billing…but it would’ve been Kitty’s story, and so it would’ve been the right one, instead of the wrong one.

Look: it’s hers anyway, deep down. Who’s surviving in the DoFP wasteland, who’s got the plan and the power and the power in the plan? Kitty does. Who’s making the hard decisions for her team, and risking everything to save the world? Kitty is. Ellen Page, were she a reader of Mindless Ones, would probably say “hey, you’re being pretty hard on all my moviemaking friends, I was happy to work on this project and bring to it what I could, along with all these other great and generous people!” Yes, Kitty; well of course that’s exactly what you would say.

But there’s more to it than that, too.

For consider, as well, the character of Mystique.

I never really found the comics version of Mystique all that magnetic, myself. Well, Chris Claremont and I sometimes part company on what we consider interesting, dramatic, even sexy! But, y’know…if he’s okay with that then so am I. However the movie version of Mystique is a completely different kettle of fish, because right from the beginning, the sexualization of that basically not-too-interesting character has just been brutal, hasn’t it? This is the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants by way of Basic Instinct, it sometimes seems – is she so sexy because she’s so dangerous, or so dangerous because she’s so sexy, amirite fellas? YICCH. This has been awful since Frame One, I think we can all agree. Dude, she’s naked under that body paint! Dude, it saddens me to say that I believe you are correct, sir. You talk about your Male Gaze! Mystique’s power seems chiefly to be that she can bring it crashing in against her wherever she goes, as the mutant power so easily summarized in a line or two in OHOTMU is supplemented by a chthonic feminine darkness that is capable of just about any unspecified thing just so long as that thing is deadly. Femme Fatale power is Plot Power, not just mutable but arbitrary; it will be years before this raw femaleness acquires anything like the quality of a woman rather than an object. Look, I mean really: she is not really even naked, you cannot really even see a nipple, I don’t know if there’s much evidence of a belly-button, if you feel like taking your daily dose of objectification in absolutely nothing more complicated than a shapely gleaming blue ass, then you couldn’t ask for a better delivery system than this poor unfortunate Everyman’s Kinky Blue Barbie Desire. And when the Cure of X3 changes Mystique “back” to Raven, note that for Magneto she simply turns from a useful object to a non-useful one, and a practicality of emotion that we should all be sadly familiar with (“then we leave her flat for being a fat old mother hen!”) means that his love for her and reliance on her is stripped away without even any need for Stages Of Grief…just as for the humans set against Magneto she turns from being an object incapable of being degraded by them, to one they could potentially now “have”. And the sexiness don’t come into it, really. Because the sexiness is just a meaningless slug of metal, until it has some government’s stamp of consensual value forcibly imprinted upon it. Oh, they talk an awful lot, the people do, about the X-Men being symbols of Difference, whether that difference is the difference of this sort of man or that sort of man or some other sort of man…but I’m not really seeing it, are you, Green Lantern? Away back in Claremont’s “God Loves, Man Kills” there was another sort of diffraction with approximately this effect as well, if you recall…in the episode where young Kitty’s dance instructor Stevie Hunter, a black woman, tells Kitty not to make such a fuss over being called “mutie”…to which Kitty responds, to this day quite controversially:

“What if he’d called me a nigger, Stevie?!”

Which, if you think about it, is interestingly wrong. Because Kitty’s probably too smart not to see that the real retort is:

“Well, what if he’d called me a kike, Stevie?! Okay to be upset then?!”

Or is it still not fucking okay, would seem to be the concealed ultra-sting, here. Oh my God, what could be sadder, O Comics People, than to have your trusted adult friend use the recognition of your mutant-ness as an excuse to avoid acknowledging your Jewishness?! I don’t really know how a 13 year-old processes that without help from somebody, and so that’s at least one place where the Mutant Difference Analogy blows an fairly-unmendable tire, don’t you think? Because mutants may be hated and feared in a world that doesn’t understand them and all that, but being Jewish is forever…

And I don’t know if Professor X, or even Magneto, really has much to communicate to anyone on such a subject. Probably Kitty would have more hope of solace and guidance by talking to Elrond about it in fucking Rivendell…?

“Hey, being an Elf isn’t always easy, young Kitty…”

But: sorry, that was a bit of a digression I guess. Well, I only mean to say that there comes a certain point, if you’re using superpowers to paint out intersectionality, where the power of invisibility doesn’t really make all that neat an illustration of the problems of invisibility, after all? As being able to absorb the male gaze doesn’t really, when you get right down to it, mean you’re immune to the male gaze. “What if he’d called me a whore, Stevie…?!”

But don’t let me get too far off-topic now, because there’s a through-line here. We were speaking, weren’t we, of the “unsafe” feminine…something set up from very early on in X1 for the most purely base of reasons, and permuted through the X-years until it finally arrives in possibly its most condensed form in DoFP, where Mystique is revealed as the ultimate mutant: the mutant whose particular mutation is revealed as the key (i.e. solution) to all mutation-related problems. Difference becoming Difference, halfway through the transformation from Cute Little Girl to Terrifying Chthonic Monster! Boy, if we could just bottle that, fellow cheeseballs. If we could just manage that middle, eh? How few worries we would have, then! But it’s a tough business, getting from here to there without disruption: sure, the movie tries its best to barricade the feminist implications of all this, but unfortunately it has nothing more convenient to use as material for the barricade but still more implications…since between the poles of Kitty and Mystique run all the lines of power in this discussion, but who the hell wants to see a superhero movie starring Ellen Page and Jennifer Lawrence, right? Right? So quick, stack up the Wolverine, the Magneto, the Professor X! Batten the fucking HATCHES, damnit Mr. Mate! And pay no attention to the fact that Peter Dinklage is playing a dwarf, a DWARF, with a really severe case of Small Man’s Syndrome! “These giant killer robots will be my proxies! All shall bow before my phallic moustache once I have obliterated the Woman by possessing her totally, cell by cell, with my all-devouring impotent eyes!” I swear to God, in a way you can’t argue that it would be a complex characterization…somewhere, after all, there must be some Persons Of Small Stature who are fucking assholes…and not without a point, given the long and fruitful friendship of superheroes and weird sex stuff …

But I’m sure I’m not alone in saying: WHOA! Did not expect you all to just say it out loud like that, movie! WOW!! Did that just really happen…?

Hey…(says the movie)…

…But PIPE DOWN in the back, there!! Magneto’s here! You know you love Magneto! Remember that whole “Magneto Was Right” thing…?

Gentle Reader, I hate to break it to you, but if there’s one thing this movie proves it’s that if Magneto was ever “right” about anything it’s because of a stopped clock not being able to avoid being right, twice a day. Though it probably would if it could. Finally, I think we really do see it: the movie version of Magneto is a fucking idiot. Even old Magneto can’t trust young Magneto, you know? Because it isn’t just that when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, but it’s that even a guy with a hammer can usually be relied on to stop short of trying to tie his shoelaces with it, except NOT MAGNETO. I think it was Henry Adams who said it, that a few people out of every hundred obstruct by instinct, and invent rationales for it later. And Magneto’s kinda like that, isn’t he?

Xavier: “Erik, in order to save both humankind and mutantkind, we have to work together for FIVE SECONDS!! After that, we can go back to zapping each other! DO YOU AGREE TO THIS TRUCE?”

Magneto: “Of course I agree, Charles! Only an idiot wouldn’t!”

Xavier: “All right, then! One! Two! THREE…!”

(Magneto zaps him)

I’m telling you, if you asked this guy to put his finger down so you could tie a bow on his own birthday present, he would pick up his finger as you started to pull, and jab you in the eye with it. Then probably use the present to beat you to death. So Old Magneto should probably tell shitty, shitty, boringly shitty old Wolverine something like “I’m back in the past too, in prison. And you should LEAVE ME THERE,” but even Old Magneto is a fucking idiot when it comes to Magneto…

But, you know, it isn’t like Xavier’s any better, or any less self-deluding at other peoples’ cost. In the one really affecting scene in DoFP, we flash back to X-Men: First Class to see a little blue girl finally smile, as she thinks she’s at last found a friend…but time will tell that all she’s found is a particularly-charming exploiter. Oh, Professor X, that pious hypocrite! If only Mystique had known then, what it took Kitty to find out!

“Professor Xavier Is A Jerk!”

He really is, you know. There Kitty is, with her team, surviving up in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Until Xavier just sort of swans in with his oh-so-brilliant plan, that risks everybody’s life and effort and allegiance except his own. “Here, Kitty, old good student, do you mind if I gamble everything you’ve fought to save, on a chance to be the world’s redeemer?” He brings dull old shitty old dumb-cluck Wolverine along with him, that walking ingot of a man with no relevant skills whatsoever except “not dying though we wish he would” – Wolverine doesn’t even remember the Seventies, you know? So it’s nothing to him to see a lava lamp – to be his pawn to steal Kitty’s life en passant. And from then on it is just ALL about Xavier’s heroic struggle with drug addiction and Magneto’s good looks and worthless promises and Wolverine’s tremendous good-guy pain...oh, the PAIN!

…And when it works, and the new timeline is built up out of the shakiest and most dubious components imaginable, until for some completely unknown reason bloody Jean Grey is back alive (that’s gonna be trouble, I predict), and New-Timeline Wolverine is a teacher at the school…

Do you notice, as I do, that Xavier treats him much as Magneto treats post-cure Mystique in X3?

“Professor…I gotta talk to you…”

“Yes, Logan, well what on earth is it NOW? Don’t you have someplace you should BE?”

“No, Professor…it’s me, Old-Timeline Wolverine…I just leapt back in…”

“Welcome home old friend.”

It’s sickening, really. This is what exploiters do: they switch it on, then they switch it off, depending on who they think they’re talking to. Xavier doesn’t give a fuck about New-Timeline Wolverine, is actively irritated by him, because this is a Wolverine who fails at being his adoring audience, because he doesn’t remember Xavier’s magnificent world-rescuing triumph. Listen, I’ve got my problems with the “dark” Xavier of the last twenty-or-so years of comics, too, but this movie Xavier borders on predatory. And it doesn’t really have to be that way.

Didn’t have to be that way.

But boy, it sure lays it all pretty bare because of its having been that way!

You know what I mean?

The real movie here, the one from the other and excluded timeline that never got made (Faction Paradox hat-tip!), is the one where Kitty helps Mystique to change, by liberating her from the utterly useless Xavier/Magneto tug-o’-war of Visionary World-Straddling Dreams. Great Men, tchah!  You see where it fucking gets them, right? This unmade movie begins in the future, with the emotional shock to Kitty of Wolverine’s death…then meets up with Wolverine in a past where he has no reason to believe anyone about anything…finally resulting in a new timeline that contains, instead of Xavier’s revoltingly “perfect” status quo, something one could identify as actual hopefulness. Along some lost path of eventuation, such a harmless and helpful and probably quite pleasing Bechdel-compliant superhero movie with two female leads doubtless exists…because we can already see its sublimed influence’s shape poking through this awful oil-slick shrinkwrap of ex post facto objectification masquerading as a Summer Blockbuster, and in this one the overly-insistent self-proclaimed saints actually get to be genuine martyrs, instead of mere manipulators. Hey: and in a way, the faintly repulsive backing-and-filling away from that movie is the only thing that saves this movie, because you can see, can’t you, for goodness’ sake CAN’T YOU SEE, that they never used the X-Men movies to talk about difference, but only as an elaborate and profitable excuse to grandly and piously and conspicuously avoid talking about difference…!

And, where would we X-fans truly be, without at last having that admission in our hands, for good and all.

Mind you, they try everything in their considerable powers, powers as great as those required to lift a popular monument, to stop you from reaching that conclusion…but…

Hah!

The joke, as it’s turned out, is on them!

Because what keeps going around, even in (especially in?) serial superhero fiction, also keeps coming around. So I guess what they wanted here was a “First Class” version of X2, right? Real simple fist-pumping heroic-sacrifice story with delusions of poignancy for the proles. But if they’d achieved that then there wouldn’t be much to say about DoFP besides “don’t bother seeing it”…however luckily for me (and, arguably, you), they couldn’t help ending up with something a lot closer to X3 than X2, because the movie they wanted to be making could never be the one they made, not when everything they’ve ever been doing here has wanted nothing more or less than to find a higher resonance with the audience. Well, you just can’t throw in all this stuff that’s begging to be related to the real world, and not expect it to eventually really do it, can you? It all starts innocently enough, with the “movie-izing” of four-colour melodrama for kids…you sharpen it up, you find ways to hang lanterns and doctor scripts, shift focus around. Try to get the serious stuff to a point where it can be taken seriously. That’s what it’s all about, right? In the superhero-movie business? Just to get anyone to take any of it seriously…

But somehow you never expect seriousness to COST. Maybe because you don’t really expect to ever achieve it. Or maybe you just don’t really know what you’re doing. But one way or another, one thing’s for sure…

Which is that you can tell what this mark is, by the scrupulous way it keeps getting missed. Over and over again, by the iron law of superheroism, we keep returning to the status quo…but after a while of this, doesn’t it become painfully apparent that the status quo’s own stubborn changelessness is more a provocation than it is a reassurance? As the stranger coming home does not make himself at home, but makes home strange, at some point doesn’t it just look practically PATHOLOGICAL to us, to have a situation in which the women are taking all the risks and paying all the prices, and the men’s heroic narratives consequently need so much support that we are actually asked to believe that RICHARD FUCKING NIXON saves the day by failing to be a paranoid piece of shit at the last hurdle?

Boy, that Xavier!

Whatta guy!

I’m totally inspired by him!

And that Wolverine! So stoic! All “saving the day” like that!

Too bad they couldn’t have just left the poor Blue Girl alone, back in the Sixties. Or indeed the Forties. But then, if they had, how would we ever have gotten six or seven brief flashes of the best film portayal of Kitty Pryde there is ever likely to be? Just…y’know…

DON’T BLINK, True Believer!

Last chance to see.

2 Responses to “Professor Xavier Is A Jerk”

  1. plok Says:

    I sort of find it inspiring that they do it to themselves. They ramp up the importance of Mystique as a chthonic signifier and brutal sex object and then find she’s become one of their only major characters. Time spent on Mystique is like time spent on Wolverine: means there’s no time left for Colossus, or even (!) Scott Summers. A million X-characters to play with, but you’ve broken all but six down to cameos.

    So where do you go from there?

    You get Jennifer Lawrence to play “Mystique Begins”. Like Ellen Page, Jennifer Lawrence can really wring an emotional nuance out of a throwaway line or scene…these are film actresses of the old school, they draw the eye of the camera, they’ve got charisma. That “chthonic feminine” shit is beyond fucked as soon as you let JL at the Raven Darkholme role, because she attracts sincere affection too easily and puts a bit of complexity on it while you wait…but seriously, what else are you to do? She’s a big star; also she can humanize Mystique enough to make her transition to “unstoppable lizard-lady” fathomable as a transition…

    But then you run right into a wall, because though you succeed in making the transition fathomable, in the same motion you make it impossible to believe in. We’re not even slightly in the previous X-universe anyway, when First Class ends, because there’s no way for JL’s Mystique to become R R-S’s Mystique. Already First Class is referencing its predecessors as just another source of “X-Men-ness”…it isn’t tied to that other previous interpretation. This is as clear a split as Tobey Maguire from Andrew Garfield, presented as an alternate X-universe.

    Except no one wants to admit this is speciation. Come DoFP, we try to blend a Stewart/McKellan X-Men with a Lawrence/McAvoy one, and the two just don’t gear…we try to force a Stewart/McKellan blend, and it still doesn’t. Wolverine’s only act in DoFP is to put Stewart in touch with McAvoy, to push the two worlds together thrugh mental communion, and it just doesn’t convince. We are into “alternity” here: the two Xaviers aren’t linearly connected. They’re the closest of any of the characters, barring only the Magnetos (men men men men men men men), but even they don’t line up very well.

    Actually now that I think of it, there could’ve been a very decently complex, and perhaps even novel, time-travel movie here. The two Xaviers, the two Magnetos, they’re almost the same, and the stupid Wolverine is identical with the other stupid Wolverine…but that’s where these worlds’ similarities end. The two Mystiques are irreconcilable, though in business terms one necessitates the other…and JL’s Mystique is drawn on teleologically by R R-S’s Mystique, irresistibly, yet into a place she can’t go. Meanwhile Kitty is a cipher (ironic?) in each X-Universe, not even the same enough to be different, or different enough to be the same, because she is NOT an attractor of the male gaze. Hey, is it just me, or would anyone else here love to see Ellen Page play the next Spider-Man? I bet she’d be wicked at it…

    So there could’ve been similar Men Men Men Men in every universe, very different women with the same names in every universe, one dumb-cluck Wolverine who really is the same in every universe…

    …And Kitty Pryde, who no matter what she does is not considered a person of particular note in any universe, and so can slip between them freely as “herself”…uh, whver that is, so who better to set JL’s Mystique free of her retro-conditioned fate, than this ultra-charismatic nobody…?

    Pardon my wittering. I am a romantic monopole on Valentine’s Day. Gotta chew up the time somehow.

    Thread-killer!

  2. Nathan Adler Says:

    You know my biggest problem with the film is the future Sentinels having evolved from machines into biomechanical weapons. This would suggest they had mutated so would need to fulfill their programming and terminate themselves.

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