So another comic book movie with a whole lotta dudes (13, if you’re really only counting the main mutants and your “antagonist”) and (in this case) four chicks. Four chicks. Most of whom never speak to one another.
Here there be spoilers. Ish. And Feminism. Proceed with caution.
It was during the opening credits, which had literally no people in them, when I realised that I may never really be able to turn my feminist brain off and “just enjoy” a movie or a song again – not without cringing at those stereotypes that perpetuate douchebro culture, or vapid sex object culture, and sexism, or racist stereotypes, or whatever. For a moment, I was confused – I’m watching a wonky DNA helix, not a Bud commercial. Why am I freaking out at DNA? But then I thought back to the Bud commercial they’d shown just before the previews started. The commercials and the trailers did me in before we’d even gotten to the credits. I’m gonna watch Kingsmen; The Secret Service – because Colin Firth – but I will be annoyed because there appears to be only one fucking woman in a secret agent hero movie. Again. Filling the ice-queen-bad-ass-bitch trope. Again.
I tried, though, to turn off the Feminist Brain for Days of Future Past. (Failed, but I did try.) I tried to say to myself, you can watch this movie once without picking shit apart. When you watch it the second time – and you will, because you really do watch everything that has James McAvoy in it over and over and over again – then, you can pick shit apart and cringe and be sad about the failed Bechdel test you already know will happen.
Like I said, I failed to turn off the Feminist Brain.
But I did not hate this movie.
Yes, having only four major (I use that word loosely) female characters was irritating in a cast with 13+ major (still using the term loosely) male characters. Note, I’m counting Blink, Kitty Pryde, Storm and Mystique here as the females: Charles and Professor X, Magneto and Eric, Wolver-‘uckin’-ine, Colossus, Iceman, Hank/Beast, Trask, Bishop, Quicksilver, Sunspot, and Warpath as the males.
It was nice that they gave Kitty some phasic powers (that even almost make sense for her to have) to place her as integral to the plot, and didn’t then later sacrifice her for the sake of Logan or Bobby, or even Professor X – though they could have, given Logan’s freak outs. It was less nice that Blink had, like, zero lines … but I can get over that, because she is hardly known and Bishop, Sunspot and Colossus had like zero lines, too. (That Storm had actual lines made me sad, but that’s because I’ve never been a fan of Halle Berry as Storm. I just haven’t.)
But then it looked like they were kinda gonna make the movie about Wolverine being That Guy Who Will Muddle Along To Fix Everything. Yes, you needed to redeem him after X-Men Origins. I get it. But … well. I guess, as much as it is clear to me that Hugh Jackman’s acting chops have, in fact, gotten stronger, I am not that much in love with Wolverine.
So here I am, watching the Wolverine Makes Everyone Hug It Out show, enjoying for the sake of it the scenes between younger Charles and Eric though feeling like there’s not quiiiiiiite enough time taken for that tension. (I should note right here: I love Fassbender and McAvoy. I love them so hard, and I hope that, in 40 years, they are as super adorbs as Stewart and McKellan are together, and that they do Rep theatre of Oscar Wilde and Molière on Future-Broadway that I will totter – or hover in a future-time no-wheels-chair – to NYC to see.) There are little interludes of what’s happening in the future, as well as what Mystique is up to, and what Trask is up to – but it’s mostly about this Wolverine-Charles-Eric-and-oh-yeah-Hank’s-here-too party.
And I found myself sad. Not super, super sad … but a little sad. And wondering at the pacing, which was kinda slow for a comic book movie. Not hatefully slow, just unexpectedly slow, and also a bit disappointing. Until the scene in the airport, where Charles tries to convince Raven to leave off her murderous mission – and says the absolute wrong thing.
I realised – this movie literally hinges on Mystique’s choices. Hell, it literally hinges on Mystique herself. Both her choices and her actual physical self are the key to everything that is happening. Everything that the other characters are doing, they are doing to try and change one woman’s mind – or to stop that woman from falling into the wrong hands, depending on whether they are ultimately “good” (Charles) or ultimately “bad” (Eric). And the thing that caps that choice is Charles, in the crux moment, saying to her that all her life, he’d been trying to control her – and that trying to control her is shitty, because he can’t and he shouldn’t, so he’s going to stop. There are other men (Hank, at this particular time) telling him to use his power to shut her down, but he refuses. He’s leaving the literal future of the entire world up to her.
It’s set up rather beautifully – in the scene earlier that I mentioned, in the airport, where Charles tries to convince Raven – his Raven, he says, not Eric’s Mystique – to come home so that they can fix this big, world-ending problem. But what he says is, “You have to come home.” And Raven looks at the projection of Charles and is like, dude, I am DONE with you telling me what I have to do. I know what I have to do, and it is pretty much not the shit you’ve decided I have to do. His words suggested that she had no choice, and she wasn’t having that. This woman was going to do what she wanted, not what Charles wanted.
And she does. Whoa, she does. I didn’t think about it until after, but literally every thing that Mystique does in this movie she makes her own choice to do. She is solo, and brutally effective, through almost all of her storyline. She doesn’t even let Eric get into her head, though he makes an argument she clearly feels is – ahem – compelling, because while she agrees that sometimes you gotta break and egg or two to make an omelet, she is not all about Eric’s desire to break all the eggs and all the skulls and really all the things ever as long as it makes his point. (Really, Eric? You needed an entire baseball stadium plus all the sentinels plus ripping metal boxes up outta the White House? REALLY? That dude is seriously melodramatic, y’all.)
Sure. You could argue that Charles is saying what he says in the end to manipulate Mystique – but I think it’s been pretty well established by this point in the movie that it’s not Charles who is actively manipulative – it’s Eric. Charles is capable of using his powers to change minds, but he is far less capable of just using his words to do so. In the way that the movie illustrates the concept of manipulation between Eric and Charlies, Charles doesn’t actually seem to have the confidence to do it – he thinks that he needs his powers for that kind of manipulation. When he tells Mystique it’s up to her, he means it. And when he tells her that he’s going to stop trying to control her, he’s going to stop telling her what her choices should be, he means it.
I admit – I almost wanted her to shoot Trask anyway. It is correct that she didn’t, because HOORAY X3 CAN TECHNICALLY NO LONGER EXIST!!!, but I appreciated the idea that her agency could end in violence.
Which, in a way, is a subject for another blog post. That I’ll prolly never get around to.